The Sunday Post for September 23, 2018

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Alone with Elizabeth Bishop

Biographies of Elizabeth Bishop have always been both necessary reading and an unwanted intrusion for me. I believe this is true for many who connect with the deeply private poet’s work — our affection drives competing desires to know her better, to protect her from being known, and to know her only as we know her, without the necessary intrusion of the biographer’s voice.

So I love and respect Gabrielle Bellot’s ability to reclaim a personal relationship with Bishop in this essay, which draws on Megan Marshall’s revelatory recent biography without being overwhelmed by the biographer’s narrative. A beautiful short piece about how being good at being alone can be a survival skill, especially for those whose selves are unacceptable to the mores of their time.

In the worlds I imagined, I was a girl with another girl — or, once in a while, a boy — at my side. In my time alone, I learned to sail away, as Bishop did, to an elsewhere-place — and sometimes I think I would not have survived if I had not had the outlet of my alone time, my imagination. My solitude nourished my writing, and writing often helped me cope, but it couldn’t take away my depression from feeling that I was living an ugly lie. At my lowest point before coming out as trans, I was about to end my life by drinking poison — and then, unlike Bishop, I decided I had to take the risk of openly living my truth. I came out in my mid-twenties, having chosen to stay in America rather than return home, since America, at least, seemed to offer me a chance to live as that woman-loving woman of my constant dreams. But without what Bishop identified, the deep saving grace of quietude, I doubt I would have lived long enough to come out at all.
No, I Will Not Debate You

After The New Yorker banned Steve Bannon from its festival, The Economist faced public pushback when they invited Bannon to their Open Future Festival. In the end, they stood by their man, and lost several woman panelists, including Laurie Penny, because of it.

Characteristically, the internet indulged in endless hand-wringing about both invitations and both decisions. Characteristically, Penny cuts right through the noise.

Steve Bannon, like the howling monster from the id he ushered into the White House, exploits the values of the liberal establishment by offering an impossible choice: betray their stated principles (free, open debate) or dignify fascism and white supremacy. This weaponizes tolerance to legitimize intolerance. If we deny racists a platform, they feed off the appearance of censorship, but if we give them a platform, they’ve also won by being respectfully invited into the penumbra of mainstream legitimacy. Either way, what matters to them is not debate, but airtime and attention. They have no interest in winning on the issues. Their image of a better world is one with their face on every television screen.
Some interpersonal verbs, conjugated by gender

This, by Alexandra Petri, is a furious and brilliantly mimetic examination of assault, privilege, and weaponized grammar.

It happens. It happened. It was a long time ago.
She waits. She says nothing.
She should not have waited. She should not have said nothing.
She remembers it happened. She remembers it happened to her. She remembers he did something.
She says something.
The Brilliant, Playful, Bloodthirsty Raven

Helen MacDonald, author of H Is for Hawk, reviews Christopher Skaife’s account of his work as ravenmaster of the Tower of London. Full of tasty corvid gossip and playful bloodlust, with a bit of history and politics to hold it all together.

Skaife calls attention to the birds’ beautiful contradictions. In sunlight their dark feathers shine with the iridescence of oil on water. They can be friendly, curious, even loving. In the wild they’ll take turns sliding down snowbanks and make toys out of sticks. At the Tower they play games of KerPlunk, pulling the straws free from the tube to retrieve a dead mouse as their prize. Yet, as that special raven edition of KerPlunk suggests, they’re also birds of gothic darkness and gore, the birds that followed Viking raiders in quest of fresh corpses and that feasted on executed bodies hung from roadside gibbets. You might visit Skaife’s charges in the Tower and watch, entranced, as they gently preen each other’s nape feathers, murmuring in their soft raven idiolect — but you might also see them gang up to ambush a pigeon and eat it alive.
The Disappeared

On a very different note, Hannah Dreier reports this week on the serial gang murders of teenagers in Long Island’s immigrant community — largely without interference by the police, who called the crimes “misdemeanor murder.” Carlota Moran is the mother of one of the dead children, her son Miguel tricked into the woods and then slaughtered with a blow to the head and a machete. For months she looked for Miguel, and for help from any public agency, facing if anything active resistance from the local police. Then the gangs killed two girls from the rich side of town.

The murders made national news. Trump hailed the girls’ parents and invited them to his State of the Union speech. The Suffolk County Police Department came under intense pressure to solve the case. It posted signs offering a $15,000 reward for help catching the killers. Officers went door-to-door asking for tips. Over the summer, Suffolk officials had rejected an offer to start an anti-gang program for immigrant teenagers in Brentwood, according to two people familiar with the episode. Now, they called the organizer back and asked how soon she could get it running. Police arrested dozens of suspected MS-13 members and mapped out the local cliques. Within days, they were searching the woods with German Shepherds and shovels.