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Did you ever wonder where the odd term “pundit” comes from? Today it refers to talking heads on TV and opinioneering newspaper columnists. But the word derives from the Hindi “pandit,” which means a learned or wise scholar whose judgments deserved to be treated with respect. You know, like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill Maher.

Given the current moral panic over “cultural appropriation” sweeping trendy U.S. college campuses, I’m surprised that Indian-American students have not demanded that the word “pundit” be banned or at least preceded by trigger warnings. More… “Pundits, Moguls, Sachems, and Czars”

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 remember seeing a reproduction of Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” when I was a child. It disturbed me. I felt that something horrible had happened to Christina and that she was left out there in the field, maybe to die. And what was happening in that lonely house up at the top of the hill?

There is, perhaps, no other American painting as recognizable and as loved as “Christina’s World.” The only other painting that comes to mind is “American Gothic” by Grant Wood. But for all his popularity (or because of it), Wyeth has generally been scorned by the critics. He has been called a cheap sentimentalist applying painterly tricks in the service of an empty nostalgia. New Criterion founder Hilton Kramer said simply, “he can’t paint.” Dave Hickey said Wyeth’s palette was “mud and baby… More…

 

A little background is in order. Last summer, I picked up Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book Blink. Then I wrote a belated review for 3QuarksDaily. The book, like most everything Gladwell writes, is a fun and sometimes exciting read. But I decided that, in the end, there wasn’t much of an argument in it. A nasty feeling crept over me. I wondered whether we’d all been duped into thinking that Gladwell had been saying something interesting when it really boiled down to well-placed anecdotes and well-told stories. The nasty feeling transformed into an admittedly nasty review titled “Down, I Say, Down With Malcolm Gladwell!”

I asked the reader to allow me to prove that Blink is “a piece of shit.” I talked about “sliminess” and “outright incoherence.” I called him a “huckster” (I’ve always liked that word)… More…

In a move seemingly calculated to tease and titillate Right-wing conspiracy theorists around the globe, Hillary Clinton wrote a senior honor’s thesis at Wellesley on Saul Alinsky and then later had it sealed from the public during the eight years of her husband’s presidency. The thesis has taken on legendary status since then. Peggy Noonan called it “the Rosetta Stone of Hillary studies.”

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On the face of it, such hysteria appears warranted. Saul Alinsky was a radical’s radical. He spent much of his life doing, and theorizing about, grassroots political organizing. He started in the working-class neighborhoods of Chicago but he dreamed of a national worker’s movement with no less than revolutionary aspirations. At the same time, he was obsessed… More…

 

The list of misogynist rumors about strong women leaders is long and fertile, but none lodge in the memory quite so vividly as the notorious “horse story” involving the Empress of Russia, Catherine II. Upon her death in 1796, word swept around Europe that she had been involved in a tryst with a stallion; the horse was supposedly being lowered onto her by servants using pulleys when the ropes snapped, crushing her to death. In reality, the 67-year-old Catherine suffered a stroke on the privy in the Winter Palace of Saint Petersburg and died in bed. But the scurrilous equine rumor has proven unshakeable for more than two centuries. Where did it come from? According to biographer Virginia Rounding, its elements had been brewing amongst her enemies for decades.

Wide-eyed stories about Catherine’s appetites had been circulating since… More…