BR Blog

July 30, 2014 Oli Hazzard's "Beyonsense" Stephen Ross

Image: Simon Hantaï's EtudeTest Centre.

Last month, Jeremy Paxman, the English broadcaster, journalist, and author known for his “hard-hitting” interviews with British politicians and deliciously smug omniscience as host of the quiz show University Challenge, caused a very minor scandal when he accused poetry of “conniv[ing] at its own irrelevance” by not “engaging with ordinary people.” As judge of this year’s Forward Prize for poetry, Paxman seems to have felt duty-bound to report the bad news about poems (which this blog has repeatedly repudiated, see here and here). He went on to call for a poetry “inquisition” that would force poets once and for all to confess their errant, solipsistic sinfulness—and then, presumably, burn at the stake of irrelevance.

A UK poetry inquisition: imagine what that would do for sales! There’s Paxman-Torquemada at the center of the tribunal,...

July 29, 2014 Market Basket's Fair Deal Simon Waxman

Protestors at the Somerville, Massachusetts Market Basket on July 29, 2014 / Photograph: Elisabeth Sutherland


For the past three days, Wayne Ross has been lingering outside the Market Basket grocery store in Chelsea, Massachusetts, clipboard in hand. No one gets past without hearing his request, and maybe not for the first time this week. He wants their names on his petition.

“I’ve been putting in twelve-hour days,” said Ross, who is fifty-five years old and lives in neighboring Revere. He claimed to have a thousand signatures by 2:45 p.m., on top of 1,500 the day before.

Ross wants, in his own words, to “save Market Basket,” a chain of grocers operating in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Looking at the numbers, the century-old, family-owned company doesn’t sound like it’s in peril: seventy-one shops and growing, 25,000 employees, annual revenues approaching $5 billion.

But these past two weeks, employees have been walking off the job. Workers, protesting at storefronts, implore customers to boycott the company that pays their wages. Trucks slumber in warehouse lots while store shelves go empty as though ransacked in anticipation of a Nor’easter.

What the employees, united but not unionized, want has little to do with pay, benefits, or working conditions, at least on its face. What they want is...

July 24, 2014 A Short History of Women in Politics Claude S. Fischer

Presidents of ladies club addressing members. Tulare migrant camp. Visalia, California. Photograph: Library of Congress.

As many Americans anticipate the likely nomination by a major party of a woman for president—the New Republic cover of July 14 calls Hillary Clinton “Inevitable”—it is worth pausing to reflect on how women’s participation in politics has changed over the course of American history. In eras before Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Nancy Pelosi, participating in politics was not only nearly impossible for women but was also considered a violation of what it meant to be a woman.

A just-published article in the Journal of the Early Republic by Emily J. Arendt illustrates the stark contrast between then and now. Arendt tells the story of the Ladies Association of Philadelphia, “the first female voluntary association in the United States,” formed in 1780 to assist Continental soldiers. The domestic nature of its work and awestruck reaction observers had to activist women underlines the era’s low expectations for women’s participation in civic life. Those low expectations lasted—despite the notoriety of early feminists—...

July 23, 2014 Why Haven't We Talked to Putin? Eugene Rumer


More and more voices in this country are calling for more and tougher sanctions against Russia. The Malaysian airliner tragedy has added new urgency to demands to punish Russia for its assault on Ukraine and its support for the separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Indeed, the urge to do something now is great and understandable. The “don’t just stand there, bomb something” crowd (to use the words of Barry Posen), has renewed calls for military aid to Ukraine, for sectoral sanctions on Russia, for getting Europe off the Russian gas needle, or, rather, gas pipe now. Amid these urgent calls, there is little discussion of how feasible such actions might be, whether they will accomplish anything at all, or whether they will violate the first rule of foreign policy—do no harm. Diplomacy, it...

July 21, 2014 Solving New York City's Housing Crisis Robert C. Hockett

Eight years after the nation’s housing markets began tanking in the summer of 2006, one-fifth of the nation’s outstanding mortgage loans remain underwater, their owners indebted for more on their loans than their homes are now worth. Another fifth of our mortgagors have so little positive equity that they are effectively underwater. Look at particular cities and particular neighborhoods therein, moreover—especially neighborhoods of color—and you’ll find underwater loan rates of 50 percent or higher. 

For the nation’s hard-hit cities, then, periodic, wishful talk of “housing recovery” is a bad joke. Among these cities is the nation’s largest—New York, where four of five boroughs fare poorly. As a new report issued last month by New York Communities for Change (NYCC) and the Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY) demonstrates, some 60,000 NYC home-owning families are in crisis, their...