Democracy Sausage, and Other News


On the Shelf

Wilhelm Trübner, Great Dane with Sausages, 1877.


  • Shirley Hazzard has died at eighty-five: “Hazzard’s fiction is dense with meaning, subtle in implication and tense in plot, often with disaster looming: A shipwreck tears away the parents of tiny children. A man who has waited a lifetime for a woman loses her at the last moment. A disease slowly saps the life from a beloved brother … Her childhood in Australia was filled with reading—she said of poems that she ‘ate and drank them up as nourishment’—but also with family discord, alcoholism, mental illness (her mother’s), infidelity (her father’s) and ultimately the disintegration of her parents’ marriage. She recalled seeing maimed veterans of World War I still haunting Australia years later, and she had felt the effects of the Depression.”

  • Whither the troll? In a year so rife, so stinking rampant with trolls great and small, Richard Seymour tries to wrap his head around the “trolololol” mentality: “The ungovernable rage of the unwitting victim is always funny to someone, and invariably there is sadistic detachment in the amusement. The trolls’ innovation has been to add a delight in nonsense and detritus: calculated illogicality, deliberate misspellings, an ironic recycling of cultural nostalgia, sedimented layers of opaque references and in-jokes … Trolls, though, form a community precisely around the extension of their transgressive sadism beyond the limits of their offline personas. That the community consists almost entirely of people with no identifying characteristics—‘anons’—is part of the point. It is as if the laughter of the individual troll were secondary; the primary goal is to sustain the pleasure of the anonymous collective.”
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates looks back on the Obama years: “He was phenomenal—the most agile interpreter and navigator of the color line I had ever seen. He had an ability to emote a deep and sincere connection to the hearts of black people, while never doubting the hearts of white people. This was the core of his 2004 keynote, and it marked his historic race speech during the 2008 campaign at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center—and blinded him to the appeal of Trump. (‘As a general proposition, it’s hard to run for president by telling people how terrible things are,’ Obama once said to me.) But if the president’s inability to cement his legacy in the form of Hillary Clinton proved the limits of his optimism, it also revealed the exceptional nature of his presidential victories. For eight years Barack Obama walked on ice and never fell. Nothing in that time suggested that straight talk on the facts of racism in American life would have given him surer footing.”
  • Scientists have a disturbing tendency to give robots “female” personalities, Janna Avner writes: “Bots like Sophia, and the Scarlett Johansson lookalike Mark 1 (named after its maker), do not have gender-neutral intelligence. They are not born with gender but built with it, an idea of femaleness forged within the male psyche—woman-shaped but not of the womb. These bots reinscribe a particular idea of woman, a full-bodied manifestation of a market-viable personality that turns the limitations of bot technology into a kind of strength. These bots are meek, responsive, easy to talk to, friendly, at times humorous, and as charming as they can be. Their facial expressions; their wrinkleless, youthful looks; their high-pitched, childlike voices; and their apologetic responses are all indications of their feminized roles.”