Near the end of last year, several photos and videos of Vladimir Guerrero’s 15-year-old son Vlad Jr. began to appear on the internet.
The photos were picked up by several prominent baseball websites, whose write-ups marveled at the fact that Guerrero—who has not played since 2011 and only officially retired last year—not only had a son of that age, but had a son who appeared to be a tremendous prospect. In fact, Vlad Jr. looked like an exact copy of his father. He was big and broad and took long, powerful hacks at the plate.
The videos hit every nostalgic nerve of baseball fans who missed the wild-swinging Guerrero, a cult hero for the reckless way in which he played the game. Vlad would swing at everything and hit everything—and who couldn’t admire, and even, envy someone with that philosophy? If only we were all so bold as to spend our lives swinging at every pitch. Vlad did that and mounted a career worthy of, at the very least, Hall of Fame consideration.
And now, here were videos—highly trafficked videos—showing that another Vlad existed. There was hope. Where did this glimmer of hope come from?
The majority of photos and videos were posted on Twitter by someone named Matt Hall, who in his bio said he worked for the Guerrero Baseball Academy. From the looks of it, Hall was a white American kid in his 20s, more or less the last person you’d expect to be working for the Guerrero family in the Dominican Republic. Club representatives were equally confused, trying to figure out who exactly was this kid posting these videos. Where had he come from?
When the Senate issued its report on CIA torture in December of 2014, the House Intelligence Committee chairman—Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan—questioned the wisdom of releasing the report, warning that the report’s release would have dire consequences for the United States. Moving forward, he suggested that politicians needed to help the CIA talk differently about its activities. “For this particular report about something that happened seven, eight, nine, ten years ago, we forget to talk about all the fantastic work that these very dedicated men and women have been doing, day in and day out, without the ability, or with the ability to follow the law and do it appropriately,” Rogers said. “We should talk about that. We should tell those stories about what they’re doing to keep America safe. I think it’ll make America feel better about who they are and what they’re doing.”
Making America feel better is, I think, the key to understanding both the CIA’s torture program and the reaction to the report about the program.
A fun interview with the former star of Friday Night Lights:
“What would you do with two hours to see Austin?” I ask Kyle Chandler as I turn off my tape recorder.
It’s half past three on the first Thursday of February, and we seem to have exhausted Chandler’s enthusiasm for talking about himself. We’ve been on the topic for the better part of two hours, ever since he blew into The Driskill hotel and suggested we bag our lunch plans and head to the bar: “You didn’t want to eat, did ya?”
“Nah,” I lie, trailing him through the palatial lobby, past a mounted longhorn head and a couple of cowboy-booted patrons who turn as he passes by.
A bartender fills our glasses with a “nice, heavy cab,” Chandler’s request, as we talk at length about his role as Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights — with which he is so closely associated, you find yourself wondering where Taylor ends and Chandler begins — and his long-awaited decision to return to television with a decidedly darker part in Netflix’s Bloodline, which debuts March 20. This is the point at which we’re supposed to say our goodbyes, but Chandler, a 49-year-old with impeccable manners and a mischievous disposition, wants to be sure I’m as enchanted by the Lone Star State as he is — even if it requires that he play tour guide for the afternoon.
“Lemme think,” he says, pulling an iPhone from his wrinkled khakis. He tries a local dive he’s hoping has live music. “Not ’til 6:30,” says a voice on the other end of the line. That this is my first time in Austin, where he, his wife, Kathryn, and their two teenage daughters settled six years earlier, adds pressure. He runs his hands through his thick black hair, still thinking, and then he’s got it. “How’s this,” he says, his Southern drawl tippling with excitement: “We go to Perla’s for some oysters and a beer, then we stop by The Continental Club for a quick shot, then I’ll take you to the airport.”
The Koryo Hotel does pretty well on TripAdvisor, all things considered. The Internet never—and I mean never—works. The towels are “thin,” the sheet thread count low, and the milk powdered. Watch out for the “giant mutant cockroach snake hybrid“ in the shower. Guests even have to pay for the pool.
Still, the Koryo, a pair of dull beige towers connected near the top by a sky bridge, is the number-one-rated hotel on TripAdvisor for Pyongyang, North Korea. Despite its many faults, it garners three and a half out of five “bubbles,” in TripAdvisor parlance (so as not to be confused with the star systems that signify quality in hotels and restaurants), across nearly 90 reviews.
Perhaps this is no surprise. People come expecting the worst, and with expectations so dismally calibrated, something like hot water starts to sound pretty amazing. Reviewers carefully note that many of the hotel’s quirks—you can’t walk out the front door unaccompanied, for instance—are out of the manager’s hands. (You’ll have to take that up with the Supreme Leader.) It may not be the Ritz-Carlton, the sentiment goes, but considering the fact that you are staying in the marquee property in the showcase capital of the world’s most repressive regime, it may be best to, as one reviewer counseled, “just chill out, have some beers, some expired Oreos from the gift shop and make friends with the other tourists.”
This is fun for Mad Men fans:
Don Draper lived on hard drives for half a decade before anybody paid him any notice. In 1999,Matthew Weiner, then an unfulfilled writer on CBS’ Ted Danson sitcom Becker, spent his every off-hour doing research on the 1960s: what people wore, how they decorated their offices, what they ate and drank (and smoked, and drank some more). Then, over six days in the spring of 2001, he sketched out his vision for a show about the staff of a boutique advertising agency — Sterling Cooper — and its stylishly debauched head pitchman. Nobody bought the script, but it landed Weiner a 45-minute call from David Chase, who hired him as a writer on HBO’s The Sopranos.
Weiner’s Madison Avenue opus sat in a drawer for another three years — until a cable network with zero experience in original scripted programming (formerly American Movie Classics) stepped in and self-financed a pilot. Today, nine years later, Mad Men, which on April 5 begins its final seven episodes, is a pop cultural phenomenon that not only has made stars out of its cast of unknowns — Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks, January Jones, Vincent Kartheiser, Elisabeth Moss and John Slattery — but also transformed AMC into one of the most influential networks on the dial and set off cable TV’s gold rush for scripted dramas.
It’s March 25, the day that the ring was cast into Mount Doom. So that means it’s Tolkien Reading Day. Tolkien, of course, chose that day for the destruction of the ring because March 25 was traditionally marked as the date of Christ’s crucifixion in old English traditions.
The path climbed on. Soon it bent again and. with a last eastward course passed in a cutting along the face of the cone and came to the dark door in the Mountain’s side, the door of the Sammath Naur. Far away now rising towards the South the sun, piercing the smokes and haze, burned ominous, a dull bleared disc of red; but all Mordor lay about the Mountain like a dead land, silent, shadow-folded, waiting for some dreadful stroke.
Sam came to the gaping mouth and peered in. It was dark and hot, and a deep rumbling shook the air. ‘Frodo! Master!’ he called. There was no answer. For a moment he stood, his heart beating with wild fears, and then he plunged in. A shadow followed him.
At first he could see nothing. In his great need he drew out once more the phial of Galadriel, but it was pale and cold in his trembling hand and threw no light into that stifling dark. He was come to the heart of the realm of Sauron and the forges of his ancient might, greatest in Middle-earth; all other powers were here subdued. Fearfully he took a few uncertain steps in the dark, and then all at once there came a flash of red that leaped upward, and smote the high black roof. Then Sam saw that he was in a long cave or tunnel that bored into the Mountain’s smoking cone. But only a short way ahead its floor and the walls on either side were cloven by a great fissure, out of which the red glare came, now leaping up, now dying down into darkness; and all the while far below there was a rumour and a trouble as of great engines throbbing and labouring.
The light sprang up again, and there on the brink of the chasm, at the very Crack of Doom, stood Frodo, black against the glare, tense, erect, but still as if he had been turned to stone.
‘Master!’ cried Sam.
Then Frodo stirred and spoke with a clear voice, indeed with a voice clearer and more powerful than Sam had ever heard him use, and it rose above the throb and turmoil of Mount Doom, ringing in the roof and walls.
‘I have come,’ he said. ‘But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!’ And suddenly, as he set it on his finger, he vanished from Sam’s sight. Sam gasped, but he had no chance to cry out, for at that moment many things happened.
Something struck Sam violently in the back, his legs were knocked from under him and he was flung aside, striking his head against the stony floor, as a dark shape sprang over him. He lay still and for a moment all went black.
And far away, as Frodo put on the Ring and claimed it for his own, even in Sammath Naur the very heart of his realm, the Power in Barad-dûr was shaken, and the Tower trembled from its foundations to its proud and bitter crown. The Dark Lord was suddenly aware of him, and his Eye piercing all shadows looked across the plain to the door that he had made; and the magnitude of his own folly was revealed to him in a blinding flash, and all the devices of his enemies were at last laid bare. Then his wrath blazed in consuming flame, but his fear rose like a vast black smoke to choke him. For he knew his deadly peril and the thread upon which his doom now hung.
From all his policies and webs of fear and treachery, from all his stratagems and wars his mind shook free; and throughout his realm a tremor ran, his slaves quailed, and his armies halted, and his captains suddenly steerless, bereft of will, wavered and despaired. For they were forgotten. The whole mind and purpose of the Power that wielded them was now bent with overwhelming force upon the Mountain. At his summons, wheeling with a rending cry, in a last desperate race there flew, faster than the winds, the Nazgûl the Ringwraiths, and with a storm of wings they hurtled southwards to Mount Doom.
Sam got up. He was dazed, and blood streaming from his head dripped in his eyes. He groped forward, and then he saw a strange and terrible thing. Gollum on the edge of the abyss was fighting like a mad thing with an unseen foe. To and fro he swayed, now so near the brink that almost he tumbled in, now dragging back, falling to the ground, rising, and falling again. And all the while he hissed but spoke no words.
The fires below awoke in anger, the red light blazed, and all the cavern was filled with a great glare and heat. Suddenly Sam saw Gollum’s long hands draw upwards to his mouth; his white fangs gleamed, and then snapped as they bit. Frodo gave a cry, and there he was, fallen upon his knees at the chasm’s edge. But Gollum, dancing like a mad thing, held aloft the ring, a finger still thrust within its circle. It shone now as if verily it was wrought of living fire.
‘Precious, precious, precious!’ Gollum cried. ‘My Precious! O my Precious!’ And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone.
There was a roar and a great confusion of noise. Fires leaped up and licked the roof. The throbbing grew to a great tumult, and the Mountain shook. Sam ran to Frodo and picked him up and carried him. out to the door. And there upon the dark threshold of the Sammath Naur, high above the plains of Mordor, such wonder and terror came on him that he stood still forgetting all else, and gazed as one turned to stone.
A brief vision he had of swirling cloud, and in the midst of it towers and battlements, tall as hills, founded upon a mighty mountain-throne above immeasurable pits; great courts and dungeons, eyeless prisons sheer as cliffs, and gaping gates of steel and adamant: and then all passed. Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted, crashing down; vast spires of smoke and spouting steams went billowing up, up, until they toppled like an overwhelming wave, and its wild crest curled and came foaming down upon the land. And then at last over the miles between there came a rumble, rising to a deafening crash and roar; the earth shook, the plain heaved and cracked, and Orodruin reeled. Fire belched from its riven summit. The skies burst into thunder seared with lightning. Down like lashing whips fell a torrent of black rain. And into the heart of the storm, with a cry that pierced all other sounds, tearing the clouds asunder, the Nazgûl came, shooting like flaming bolts, as caught in the fiery ruin of hill and sky they crackled, withered, and went out.
‘Well, this is the end, Sam Gamgee,’ said a voice by his side. And there was Frodo, pale and worn, and yet himself again; and in his eyes there was peace now, neither strain of will, nor madness, nor any fear. His burden was taken away. There was the dear master of the sweet days in the Shire.
‘Master!’ cried Sam. and fell upon his knees. In all that ruin of the world for the moment he felt only joy, great joy. The burden was gone. His master had been saved; he was himself again, he was free. And then Sam caught sight of the maimed and bleeding hand.
‘Your poor hand!’ he said. ‘And I have nothing to bind it with, or comfort it. I would have spared him a whole hand of mine rather. But he’s gone now beyond recall, gone for ever.’
‘Yes,’ said Frodo. ‘But do you remember Gandalf’s words: Even Gollum may have something yet to do? But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him! For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.’
ALMOST OVERNIGHT, the Islamic State sent its enemies reeling—and turned U.S. policy in the Middle East upside down. Islamic State forces carved out a haven in Syria and, in June 2014, routed the Iraqi army, capturing large swathes of territory and prompting the Obama administration to overcome its long-standing aversion to a bigger U.S. military role in Iraq and Syria. Even in many Arab countries where the Islamic State does not have a strong presence, its rise is radicalizing those countries’ populations, fomenting sectarianism and making a bad region even worse.
But there is one person for whom the Islamic State’s rise is even more frightening: Ayman al-Zawahiri. Although the Al Qaeda leader might be expected to rejoice at the emergence of a strong jihadist group that delights in beheading Americans (among other horrors), in reality the Islamic State’s rise risks Al Qaeda’s demise. When Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi rejected Al Qaeda’s authority and later declared a caliphate, he split the fractious jihadist movement. The two are now competing for more than the leadership of the jihadist movement: they are competing for its soul.
Who will emerge triumphant is not clear. However, the implications of one side’s victory or of continuing division are profound for the Middle East and for the United States, shaping the likely targets of the jihadist movement, its ability to achieve its goals and the overall stability of the Middle East. The United States can exploit this split, both to decrease the threat and to weaken the movement as a whole. Washington must also adjust its counterterrorism policies to recognize the implications of this rivalry.
The city of Austin is often the only part of Texas that makes sense to solid-blue progressives. It’s a connection that is embodied by the South by Southwest festival currently underway, the annual event to which lovers of music and human inventiveness like to flock.
It is thus with regret and a sense of intra-tribal disloyalty that I come not to praise the festival but to — well, probably not bury it, because SXSW is a cultural juggernaut and I am not. But I come to call on my fellow lovers of music and human inventiveness, and most especially my fellow liberals, to stop with all the praise. Because the for-profit, privately held entity that is South by Southwest annually turns a handsome profit from nearly immeasurable amounts of unpaid labor.
In this, SXSW — which started as an itty-bitty thing before becoming a corporate behemoth —is hardly alone. The American cultural scene and labor market writ large are chock-a-block with people profiting from unpaid labor. It’s just that, traditionally, progressives are supposed to oppose that sort of thing. Not pay anywhere from $650 to $1,745 to attend.
Some interesting stuff in this interview from Mohler’s show:
Dr. Bottom, in your new book, The Anxious Age, you describe this post-Protestant era, but you are really talking about the fact that it remains resolutely a spiritual age, even when people believe it to be quite secular.
Bottum: Right. I think one of the mistakes that we make is we think that the current elite class of America has fallen into godlessness and antispirituality. There are reasons that we think this, of course because the Christian churches in all of their forms are under attack. There are reasons that we think this, because the elite class has turned so resolutely against the morality of Christianity. There are reasons that we think this, because Christianity is suffering. I wanted to look at the elite class of America, you know, among other things, with sympathy and ask, “How do they see themselves?” I realized that, in fact, they are profoundly spiritual, that we make a mistake when we try and say, “You can’t live your life without some kind of spirituality, some kind of reference to these superior moralities and the truth of the universe.” In fact, these people do live their lives in that way. They are the inheritors of generations of mainline Protestantism in this country. They are from the same class, and they occupy the same space that mainline Protestantism once occupied in this country. They just stripped Jesus out of it. Along the way, they see themselves as morally good and engaged in a high spiritual project, however much they would shy from words that express that.
Mohler: You know, when I was reading your book, which I just enjoyed extremely, I was struck at several points by the fact that someone could make almost the opposite argument and end up in the same point. If you are using certain definitions of secularization, you are actually affirming that that’s exactly what happened – the evacuation of theological claims of their theological content and the transformation of religion into something that is all this worldly, rather than other worldly. But, you really have kind of turned that on its head. You do write very sympathetically of the elites. They’re still very spiritual, and they have now transformed that spirituality directed in very different channels.
Bottum: I think that’s exactly right. This is one of the reasons that the kind of Chestertonian argument that so many of our friends love, this kind of atheism contradicts itself and pointing out the ways the whole modern project has come undone, has no purchase on these people. It has no purchase on them because they don’t actually think of themselves in that way. They think of themselves as occupying a morally and spiritually superior place. In one point of the book, I say that they participate in the great unspeakable thought that it is somehow more Christian not to be a Christian.
My preparation for single motherhood began when I was a child. I started saving money for a baby when I was 14. I stowed away children’s books, sentimental toys and baby clothes I once wore or bought on clearance or from thrift stores. My magazine subscriptions were to Seventeen andBabytalk. While my friends yearned to find the right man to marry someday, I fantasized about finding lost babies in the woods or adopting a child as soon as I turned 18 (the youngest age allowed in Massachusetts).
So when I became a single mom recently at age 31 — after a decade and a half of preparation and 11 cycles of trying to get pregnant (I used various methods: known-donor in-a-cup vaginal insemination, my own anonymous bank sperm, and intrauterine insemination with a midwife) — it was no accident. When people ask me “Where’s Jessey’s dad?” I often get perplexed, sympathetic or tight-lipped responses to the answer: He doesn’t have one. Those responses surprise me because loving families exist in so many different configurations and come about in so many different ways. But our culture tends to pity and shame single mothers. There’s an assumption that single motherhood results from women’s poor decisions and that parenting alone can’t possibly be a fit way to raise children. A 2011 Pew Research Center poll found that 61 percent of Americans believe a child needs both a mother and a father to grow up happily. Seven out of 10 think single women having children is bad for society.