The Future of the Union
The Economist’s January 1 issue features a bold lead editorial, entitled “Walking away,” about the perceived fragility of democracy in America one year out from the trauma of the January 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol. It sounds a dire note about the growing polarization in the country and the tendency of members of either major political party to view the other side with suspicion and fear.
Much of this echoes what we have heard lately from CNN and the New York Times, and could have been written on autopilot. But there are bright spots in the editorial. While making no secret of its dislike for Donald Trump, the editorial concedes that even today many members of the Republican Party are not the slobbering bigots found in left-wing caricatures, but are patriotic people who want what is best for their country. Also surprisingly, the editorial makes a few constructive suggestions for bridging the divide and ameliorating the polarization.
Eric Adams Becomes Mayor
Many people concerned about the crime surge in New York City have welcomed new mayor Eric Adams, a former cop who did not mince words during the electoral race about the problems facing the city and the tough measures needed to turn things around. This past weekend, a robber at a Burger King in East Harlem fatally shot a 19-year-old cashier who had recently expressed concerns to management about her safety because of the lateness of her shift and the number of homeless people who gathered on the sidewalk outside, according to a January 9 report in the New York Post. This horrible incident comes on the heels of other high-profile crimes including the murder of a Columbia University graduate student from Italy and the assault and robbery of a young Thai model on a 14th Street subway platform.
One would like to think that the city really will take a new direction under Mayor Adams, who repudiates the weak, permissive stance of failed mayor Bill de Blasio. Many of us still believe in Adams, even though he has defended one of his recent top-level appointments in a curious manner. An article by Sam Raskin appearing in the New York Post on January 9 details how Mayor Adams defended the choice of his brother, former New York cop Bernard Adams, to serve as deputy NYPD commissioner.
The Radioactive Road Not Taken in Vietnam
All too often the problems of the present become magnified and we lose perspective and imagine that we today face crises unequalled in history. An article by Erik Villard in the February 2022 issue of Vietnam magazine, entitled “Did the U.S. consider using nukes?”, looks into that question and says that, yes, no fewer than three U.S. presidents gave consideration to the use of tactical nuclear weapons to prevent North Vietnamese forces from overrunning key objectives.
Villard’s article emphasizes the consideration given to political fallout, but it goes without saying that any sensible president would do everything in his power to prevent the use of nuclear weapons and to signal to the world that their use would be unacceptable and unconscionable. Public opinion is an important but far from the sole issue here. The use of nukes in Vietnam would have upped the ante in conflicts worldwide to a point where the annihilation of hundreds of thousands of lives and the spread of radiation and devastation of the natural environment would come not to seem extraordinary at all.
How the Mayans Lived
Our understanding of the civilization and way of life of the Mayans takes another step forward with the publication of a short but intriguing article, “New Neighbors,” by Marley Brown in the January/February issue of Archaeology magazine.
The neighbors in question are the city-state of Tikal in what is now Guatemala and the much larger city-state of Teotihuacan near what is now Mexico City. The article details how the use of a light detection and ranging or “lidar” survey has uncovered a ceremonial temple and courtyard in Tikal that researchers have found to be highly similar in purpose and design to the well-known edifice in Teotihuacan called the Citadel.
The article is a reminder of the splendor and sophistication, as well as the frequent aggression and conquest, characterizing one of the most fascinating and idiosyncratic ancient civilizations.