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On Poetry, Politics, and Candy Crush – The Boston Globe

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Molly BallTim Coburn

In “Pelosi,” longtime political reporter Molly Ball charts the path that led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to become one of the most powerful people in American politics. Ball has covered Washington politics for Politico, The Atlantic, and currently for Time magazine. She is an analyst for CNN and a regular on the PBS program “Washington Week.” She lives in northern Virginia with her family.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

BALL: To be totally honest, between working from home, home-schooling three kids, and doing a virtual book tour, I haven’t had much time for reading. I’ve been digging into the new Hilary Mantel, “The Mirror & the Light.” I love her. I’m not usually into historical fiction, but her trilogy transcends genre. I like good books regardless of genre. I’m not into science fiction but I love Margaret Atwood, and a few years ago I got into the South American writer Jose Saramago, whose books are kind of science fiction-y.

BOOKS: What was your last best read before the pandemic began?

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BALL: The last couple of books I was reading when this hit were books by friends. My colleague Charlotte Alter’s “The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For,” which is about millennial politicians. The writing is so evocative and the descriptions of people are really fun. The other one is Olga Khazan’s “Weird,” which is a social science-y book about how being different can be an asset in life. She also writes about being a nerdy Russian Jewish immigrant in Texas. She’s hilarious.

BOOKS: Do you read many books about politics?

BALL: I actually don’t. I mostly read literary fiction and nonfiction. Politics is my day job and I need an escape but I did read Ezra Klein’s “Why We’re Polarized” just before the pandemic hit. That is phenomenal.

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BOOKS: What kind of nonfiction books are you drawn to?

BALL: I love nonfiction novels. “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo is one of my favorite books of all time. That’s such a deeply researched book. “Random Family” by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc is another all-time favorite. It’s like 900 pages long but it’s so riveting.

BOOKS: Who are your favorite novelists?

BALL: Growing up, my favorite writer was James Jones, who wrote “From Here to Eternity.” As an adult I’ve gravitated to more women writers. I devoured the Elena Ferrante books. I love Alice Munro. My favorite book of the last 10 years was “Netherland” by Joseph O’Neill. It’s about cricket and 9/11, two subjects that interest me barely at all, but it’s so beautifully written. I picked it up because it was on Barack Obama’s reading list. I’m not necessarily an Obama fan but he has a good taste in writing.

BOOKS: Did you read any biographies as background for your own book?

BALL: There’s a great biography of one of Pelosi’s political role models, Philip Burton, “A Rage for Justice” by John Jacobs. He’s a fascinating character. Another friend of mine, Sally Bedell Smith, has written a number of great biographies. I read her book about Prince Charles, which is really interesting even for someone who’s not at all interested in British royalty.

BOOKS: What else do you read?

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BALL: I was an English major in college and read poetry almost exclusively though I took a class on Joseph Conrad that changed my life. My thesis was on James Merrill. What blew my mind my freshman year was discovering “Paradise Lost.” I became obsessed with Milton. “Paradise Lost” is still one of my favorites.

BOOKS: Which poets do you read now?

BALL: I have a couple of shelves in my home library that I will dip into to soothe my mind. I always go back to Philip Larkin. I have a lot of his poems memorized and recite them to myself when I can’t sleep. I also go back to Merrill. A.E Stallings is a poet I like who’s working today. She’s American but lives in Greece. She’s a formalist but does some interesting things with the form.

BOOKS: What do you read for a guilty pleasure?

BALL: I don’t read for a guilty pleasure. My guilty pleasure is Candy Crush.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane” and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com.

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Politics Podcast: The Veepstakes Are Almost Over – FiveThirtyEight

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After missing multiple self-imposed deadlines, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden is expected to announce his running mate this week. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses the conflict within the Democratic Party over who that pick should be and why the campaign has floated disparate and little-known contenders. They also compare Biden’s standing in the polls with Clinton’s standing at this point in 2016, which was her peak during that cycle.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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Divisive politics giving rise to harassment – CityNews Toronto

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Modi and Erdogan thrive on divisive identity politics – Financial Times

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“The wait of centuries is over” were the words of Narendra Modi, as the Indian prime minister laid the foundation stone of a new Hindu temple in Ayodhya last week.

“This was the greatest dream of our youth, and now it has been accomplished” was how Recep Tayyip Erdogan put it, shortly before the Turkish president led the prayers in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul on July 24, after its reconversion to a mosque.

Mr Modi is a Hindu nationalist. Mr Erdogan is an Islamist. The Indian and Turkish leaders look like potential rivals in a clash of civilisations. But they are pursuing political projects that are mirror images.

Both are champions of a brand of politics that seeks to fuse religion, the nation and the leader. Both lead countries with secular constitutions but want to place religion back at the heart of the nation and the state. 

Mr Modi launched his political career in the 1990s, by campaigning for the destruction of a mosque at Ayodhya and its replacement with a Hindu temple — an ambition he finally realised last week. Mr Erdogan has long demanded that the Hagia Sophia — inaugurated as a basilica in 537, converted into a mosque from 1453 and then a museum from 1935 — should once again become a Muslim place of worship. After 17 years in power, the Turkish leader has achieved his ambition.

Both leaders have grandiose views of themselves as refounders of their own nations. Mr Modi calls himself the champion of a “new India”. Mr Erdogan talks of a “new Turkey”. This common language reflects more than a weakness for the same kind of marketing-speak.

In rejecting secularism, both the Indian and the Turkish leaders have placed themselves tacitly in conflict with the founding fathers of their modern nations. Kemal Ataturk, the creator of the Turkish republic, was an alcohol-drinking secularist. Mohandas Gandhi, who led the campaign for Indian independence, was a champion of religious pluralism and was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist. 

In rejecting secularism, Erdogan-supporting Islamists and Modi-supporting Hindu nationalists argue that their chosen leaders are returning Turkey and India back to their authentic religious and cultural roots — and away from the alien traditions of the west, championed by secular urban elites. The most ardent fans of Mr Modi and Mr Erdogan argue that, in time, the current leaders of India and Turkey will come to be seen as greater and more significant figures than Gandhi or Ataturk.

Both Mr Modi and Mr Erdogan also aspire to be leaders of a global faith community. Digital renderings of the new temple in Ayodhya were beamed on to a giant billboard in Times Square in New York, presumably as an inspiration to expatriate Indians. Mr Erdogan has claimed that the “resurrection of the Hagia Sophia” represents the “will of Muslims all over the world”.

For two such important nations to turn their backs on secularism and liberal values is significant in itself. But the changes in India and Turkey are also part of a broader global story of the rise of identity politics at the expense of liberal universalism. This is a story that, in different ways, is also playing out in China, Russia, the US and Europe. It is closely linked to the rise of strongman leaders, who claim to be protectors of a faith, a nation or a chosen ethnic group, or some fusion of all three.

In China, President Xi Jinping’s “great rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation involves an increasingly ruthless suppression of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has forged close links with the Russian Orthodox Church as part of his nationalist project. In the US, Donald Trump has promised evangelical voters that with him in the White House, “Christianity will have power”.

The current coronavirus-driven economic slump strengthens the temptation for strongman leaders to play the identity card. In their first terms in office, Mr Modi and Mr Erdogan stressed their credentials as economic reformers. But with the Turkish and Indian economies in deep trouble, both leaders need other means of rallying support. 

The ceremonies at Ayodhya and the Hagia Sophia were perfect ways of stirring the emotions of their core supporters. Secular liberals in India and Turkey were mostly reluctant to come out in open opposition to these crowd-pleasing measures. In both countries, liberals are already aghast at what they see as an assault on fundamental liberties, such as the freedom of the press and independence of the courts. The process is significantly more advanced in Turkey, but Mr Erdogan has been in power for a decade longer than Mr Modi.

Identity politics thrives on division and distinctions between friends and enemies. Often, the focus is on the “enemy within”, such as religious or ethnic minorities, or liberal elites. But strongman leaders also have to be seen to be tough with the nation’s enemies overseas. Mr Erdogan has committed Turkish troops to wars in Libya and Syria. Mr Modi authorised a bombing raid on militant camps in Pakistan, just ahead of the 2019 election.

A rejection of secularism and an embrace of identity politics is a potent way of rallying political support. But, both at home and abroad, it is also a recipe for conflict.

gideon.rachman@ft.com

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