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The election of 2016 revealed an American electorate more deeply divided than at any time in history — or did it? In reality, there were far deeper divisions among blacks and whites, Protestants and Catholics, Northerners and Southerners, and other groups in the U.S. in 1950 or 1900 or 1850 than there are today. The inflammatory language and hot-button issues that characterize today’s national politics result largely from the conscious strategy of Republican and Democratic politicians and consultants to mobilize a new and invasive species in the American electorate: the partisan zombie.

A partisan zombie is someone who uncritically adopts, as a personal credo, the current platform of the Democratic or Republican Party in its entirety. Partisan zombies come in two types: checklist conservatives and litmus-test liberals. Wherever on the political spectrum they are found, partisan zombies have to sacrifice intellectual consistency to partisanship. Ordinary zombies eat the brains of other people. Partisan zombies eat their own brains. More… “Attack of the Partisan Zombies”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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I could die. Me. Personally. Could. Die. Well, I sort of always knew this, but remotely, so remotely, in the manner that we acknowledge, and with the same measure of anxiety, that someday the sun will flame out. But now — revelation! — I suddenly realized I actually could die — like at any moment.

This knowledge is what has propelled me into engaging simultaneously in two genres that I fundamentally loathe: the memoir and the medical essay. Along with my traditional reporter’s disdain for employing the anorexic pronoun, I believe that unless a memoir is written by an extraordinary individual — Augustine, Springsteen — I see no point in inflicting a memoir on readers. And I surely do not number myself among the extraordinary. Indeed, one of the things that drove me out of academia was when my English Department introduced a course on writing memoirs; the notion of 18-year-olds doing so is worse than cringe-worthy. Read the story of someone who has lived an exceptional life? Sure. Read stories of the pimpled masses who have not lived any lives whatsoever? Better to read the conditions you must accept before installing your latest app. More… “I Could Die”

Matt Nesvisky lives, for the time being, in Philadelphia.
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The other day I was working at the kitchen table. It was a sunny afternoon, the autumn air cool and crisp. As I often do when the weather is so agreeable, I raised a couple of the kitchen windows and delighted in the fresh air, and the sounds of the breeze whistling through the trees in my backyard. More… “Oh, Give Me a Home . . .”

John Gifford is a writer and naturalist from Oklahoma.
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Do apostrophes matter, even though “nothing matters” in the end? German Lopez thinks they do. Is the period “no longer how we finish our sentences”? So says Jeff Guo. If you’re an editor like me, you notice writing about little things like apostrophes and periods, especially when you see it in big news outlets. First, in Vox in January, came “Apostrophes, explained.” Then, in the Washington Post in June, came “Stop. Using. Periods. Period.” Lopez and Guo are on opposite sides in the long-running “language wars” over English usage between prescriptivists, who (as caricatured) believe that nothing is right in usage except what their outmoded rules permit, and descriptivists, who (as caricatured) believe that nothing can ever be wrong. Those wars aren’t news if you follow the story of English, but how the two writers took their positions did seem new. In each article, I saw an oddness and wondered what it might mean about the state of battle. More… “The Language Wars”

Jeffrey Mitchell has worked for years as an editor, writer, and instructor at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
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The polar bear is not only the planet’s biggest land-based carnivore, but it also has a long and colorful, if often violent, history of interaction with humans, which is the topic of an illustrated new book titled Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon (University of Washington Press, November 2016) by Michael Engelhard. Michael Engelhard is both a cultural anthropologist and a wilderness guide. He is the author of two essay collections, Where the Rain Children Sleep and American Wild, and the editor of four anthologies, including Wild Moments: Adventures with Animals of the North. Engelhard lives in Fairbanks, Alaska.

More… “Big as a Calf, White as a Swan”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His latest book (in German) is When Winters Were Still Winters: The History of a Season. His book Birdmania: Remarkable Lives with Birds will be published by Greystone Books in 2017. He is a fellow and nonfiction resident of the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, New York. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and various German-language newspapers. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.
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Wandering around Tokyo’s Shinjuku district alone one winter, on a research trip, I found a taco joint. No one who knows me was surprised by this. “Of course you found a taco joint,” my wife Rebekah said. “You always do.” I was raised in the Arizona desert, eating tacos, burritos, and enchiladas every week. Even though I’d moved to Portland, Oregon far from the Mexican border, I still ate Mexican food at a rapid, rabid pace. So when I found a hand-painted sign on the Tokyo street listing “Mexico tacos” and nothing more, I got excited. In Japanese tako means “octopus.” I loved grilled tako’s flavor, and I was curious to taste Japan’s version of my native desert cuisine. More… “Tacos / Takos”

Aaron Gilbreath is the author of the personal essay collection Everything We Don’t Know, and the ebook This Is: Essays on Jazz. An editor at Longreads, his essays and articles have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Lucky Peach, Brick, and Saveur. He’s working on a book tentatively titled Tanoshii: Travels in Japan. @AaronGilbreath
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For the first time ever, the jury has given the Nobel Prize in literature to a writer who cannot be appreciated by the deaf. In their citation, the jury lauded Bob Dylan’s “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” But can song lyrics be rightly esteemed on the page, or do they need a tune and a voice?

Dylan’s lyrics — absent the memory of the chords that fed them life — read like dead fish. But they swim in sounds like nothing else. I remember they do, but deaf, I can’t hear them now. And just as color cannot be helpfully explained to a blind museum patron, so the lilt of a voice cannot be helpfully explained to one who’s deaf. The Nobel Prize in literature has gone to someone I’m no longer able to “read.” More… “Poetry, Approximately”

John Cotter’s first novel Under the Small Lights appeared in 2010 from Miami University Press. A founding editor at the review site Open Letters Monthly, John’s published critical work in Sculpture, Bookforum, and The The Poetry Foundation. Say hi at John [at] JohnCotter [dot] net.
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Late one evening in Paris, a young man was scouring the elegant cafes and bistros of the Avenue de l’Opera. He settled on the Cafe Terminus. It was a February night, the 12th to be exact, and the man in question was a bearded 21-year-old student who was dressed in an overcoat and tie. Upon entering the cafe, he ordered two beers and a cigar and sat down. The orchestra began playing 30 minutes later, and the Cafe Terminus soon filled with some 350 people. At 9:01 pm, as the orchestra commenced the fifth piece, the man rose from his table, went to the door, and from under his overcoat he produced a bomb. Lighting the fuse with the cigar he had just purchased, he threw the explosive into the crowded cafe. Within seconds, an eruption rocked the room, shattering the windows and charring the tables. 20 bodies lay wounded amid the acrid odor of smoke and blood. One person was dead. This act of indiscriminate terror, so familiar to us now, took place not in 2014 but 1894, and its perpetrator, whose name was Emile Henry, was not an Islamist but an anarchist. More… “To Defeat Jihadists, Remember the Anarchists”

Omer Aziz is a writer and J.D. candidate at Yale Law School. @omeraziz12
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We’ll go to Del Taco,
And order something macho.
And when your lips go down to take a bite,
Your face is covered in food but it’s alright,
You know it’s gonna be good, you and me tonight.
─ Hunx and His Punx “Good Kisser”

The day my friend Rich bought a Del Taco T-shirt from an employee was the day I realized that my fixation with the fast food Mexican chain was about more than beans. Back then, in 1993, I was an 18-year-old Arizonan obsessed with California beach culture. I owned a boogie board that I used one week a year. I wore vintage Hang Ten and Hobie surf tees that I found at Phoenix thrift stores. I favored Van’s and cutoffs, and I rode a late ’60s red and white Schwinn beach cruiser whose sleek beauty and tall white walls had strangers yelling “Hey, Pee Wee Herman!” at me on the street. If the southern California coast was the center of my landlocked universe, then Del Taco was a bright star in my sky. What did I know? Fresh out of high school and uncertain about the future, I was searching for an identity. All I knew for certain was that I wanted to live on the beach. More… “Cheddar Suns over Lettuce Mountains”

Aaron Gilbreath is the author of the personal essay collection Everything We Don’t Know, and the ebook This Is: Essays on Jazz. An editor at Longreads, his essays and articles have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Lucky Peach, Brick, and Saveur. He’s working on a book tentatively titled Tanoshii: Travels in Japan. @AaronGilbreath
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Although I consider myself an atheist, my lack of faith always wavers around the High Holy Days. These are the sacred days of the Jewish calendar that extend from Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. During this period of about a week, as the joyous holiday leads into the somber one (“on Rosh Hashana it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed”), I am always visited by a memories of my childhood rabbi, an iconic figure, who embodies, for me, religion at its most beautifully contradictory.
More… “The Rabbi Sang”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a talk show broadcast on more than 400 public television stations across the country. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.
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