James Corden dreams he’s Robert Mueller singing the results of his investigation into the Trump presidential campaign, along with a full gospel choir.
Then we’ll adapt and start telling ourselves new stories, just as humans have always done.
You can walk to the beach from where we are staying. It’s a long peel of dun-colored sand bordered by tidy rainbow summer houses, monotonous black and white condos and monstrous blue McMansions that blister the length of the Delmarva Peninsula. On the other side of the sand lies the heaving, implacable mass of unfathomable gray-green water that covers nearly three-quarters of the globe, once a boundary between the known and unknown, a limit-space of mystery and terror, now tamed, or so we think, to a vacation fun zone. There are lifeguards, though, lean summer kids with lazy tans, and to the north, rising from the low trees, towers built to defend the American coastline from Nazi subs.
Ten minutes away, the highway connects you to an outlet mall, a Walmart and a cinema showing the latest superhero movie. We walk back and forth from the beach to the house, brave the cold Atlantic rush and the biting flies, make dinner, put the baby to bed, play a board game and sink at last into our screens, each of us burrowed into a different dark corner of the living room. Tablet light, phone light, laptop light flicker on our slack, rapt gazes.
Indeed, some historians and anthropologists — such as James C. Scott, in his book “Against the Grain” — argue that life before modernity was better than our own, with more leisure time, fewer diseases and afflictions, and a more robust phenomenological and spiritual engagement with the world around us. True or not, the argument feels right, especially any time I find myself sitting by a campfire after hiking through the woods all day, or hanging out at the beach watching the waves crash.
Then I go back to my habits: the computer at which I write; the gas range, with its reliable, smokeless flame on which I heat my coffee; the flush toilet — indoors! — that carries away all bodily waste; the electric lamp I turn on to read by; the heating and air-conditioning that regulate our house’s microclimate. And I cannot help but feel an abiding sense of relief. I am adapted, whether I like it or not, to a certain built environment, a certain sense of space, a certain social order.
The extended coastal urban areas where about 40 percent of all humans now live, so blessedly near the sea, including this very beach town from which I write, would have been incomprehensibly strange, even grotesque, to the people who used to live here. Yet we are no different from them in any essential way, only accustomed to a different way of life, a different built environment, a different set of narratives and concepts that shape our sense of reality.
The thing we humans of the Anthropocene share with the Nanticoke and the Unami-speaking Lenape who used to live on the Delmarva Peninsula, and with the !Kung of the Kalahari, the Yukaghir of Siberia, the medieval Persians, the ancient Mayans, the blue-painted Picts, the Neolithic proto-Chinese Peiligang peoples and the Paleolithic nomads of the Pleistocene Era is precisely our ability to adapt to changing conditions, primarily through the collective use of symbolic reasoning and narrative. Homo sapiens can live almost anywhere on Earth, under almost any conditions; all we need is a story telling us why our lives matter.
In the transition from the Mesozoic to the Cenozoic eras, around 65 million years ago, when the North American continent began to take shape, much of what we call the Eastern Seaboard was under water. No human beings existed then; it would be millions of years before any hominids evolved.
Today, Delmarva’s highest point is barely above sea level, a low hill on the peninsula’s west coast where you can sit and watch Chesapeake Bay slowly rise as Antarctica and Greenland melt, as the planet warms one-tenth degree by one-tenth degree, and the world to which we have adapted changes into something else. The beach will disappear, the McMansions will fill with water, the lifeguards will age and die and even the towers built to watch for Nazis will crumble and fall.
In some unknown future, on some strange and novel shore, human beings just like us will adapt to a whole new world. You can see them sitting circled around a fire on the beach, the light flickering on their rapt faces, one telling a story about a mighty civilization doomed by its hubris, an age of wonders long past.
The headlines of record-crushing heat in the Northern Hemisphere began in June and haven’t stopped midway through August. Scores of locations on every continent north of the equator have witnessed their hottest weather in recorded history.
Even with peak of summer having passed, several locations in western North America notched their highest temperatures on record last week. They included Calgary in western Canada, and Glacier National Park in Montana, where the temperature touched the century mark for the first time in 70 years of records.
A weather station in Idaho soared to a torrid 119 degrees (48.3 Celsius) last week. While it requires verification, it would mark the state’s highest temperature ever measured.
Maps and charts really help tell the story of the incredible heat this summer and place it in historical perspective. Here are 7 of the most compelling:
1. Record heat, day by day, May through July
The remarkable coverage of both record-challenging and record-breaking heat is shown in this animated map which shows how many locations around the planet were coping with exceptionally hot weather every single day.
Few areas were left untouched by the heat which spread around the planet. Some areas, like the western United States, Japan and Scandinavia, were hit repeatedly.
2. The hottest May through July on record in the U.S. Lower 48 states
The contiguous United States witnessed its hottest May on record, passing the previous mark set during the Dust Bowl. But it was July, which ranked 10th hottest, which delivered some of the most remarkable heat extremes.
California endured its hottest July on record. The scorching weather created idea wildfire conditions, and blazes have since consumed about 750,000 acres. Death Valley’s average July temperature of 108.1 degrees (42.3 Celsius) represented the hottest monthly reading ever measured on the planet.
In early July, the weather station at the University of California at Los Angeles, which has kept measurements since 1933, posted an all-time high of 111 degrees (43.9 degrees).
San Diego has seen astonishing warmth, including a record 16-day streak with highs of at least 83 degrees (28.3 Celsius) that just ended and an ongoing 21-day streak in which its low temperature hasn’t fallen below 70 (21.1 Celsius).
The historic warmth has transformed the normally cool ocean temperatures off the San Diego coast to ostensibly bath water in early August. The water temperature at Scripps Pier broke its previous record high mark set in July 1931 four times, most recently climbing to 79.5 degrees (26.4 Celsius) on August 9.
From the beginning of the American republic, its founders obsessed about how it all would end. “Democracy never lasts long,” said John Adams. “There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide.”
George Washington used his farewell address to warn that partisan “factions” could tear the country apart. The Federalists worried that domestic disunity could be exploited by hostile foreign governments. James Madison in particular feared that liberty might be lost by “gradual and silent encroachments of those in power.”
But there is one factor in our politics that the founders could not have predicted: the debilitating infection of celebrity culture.
Were Washington to be resurrected, it would be difficult to explain how history’s most powerful nation, after surviving civil war and global conflict, turned for leadership to a celebrity known for abusing other celebrities on television. It is the single strangest development in American history. And we have only begun to process its consequences.
Fame usually has some rough relationship to accomplishment. Celebrity results from mastering the latest technologies of self-exposure. Ingrid Bergman was famous. Kim Kardashian is a celebrity. Franklin D. Roosevelt was famous. Donald Trump is . . . not in the same category.
Within its proper bounds — confined to stunts on a desert island or in a fake boardroom — the ethos of reality television is relatively harmless. Transposed to the highest level of politics, it is deeply damaging.
This is not only a matter of preferring a certain style of politics (though I think we should do better than the discourse of unhinged tweeting). The problem is a defect of spirit. The founders generally believed that the survival and success of a republic required leaders and citizens with certain virtues: moderation, self-restraint and concern for the common good. They were convinced that respect for a moral order made ordered liberty possible.
The culture of celebrity is the complete negation of this approach to politics. It represents a kind of corrupt, decaying capitalism in which wealth is measured in exposure. It elevates appearance over accomplishment. Because rivalries and feuds are essential to the story line, it encourages theatrical bitterness. Instead of pursuing a policy vision, the first calling of the celebrity is to maintain a brand.
Is the skill set of the celebrity suited to the reality of governing? On the evidence, not really. Our celebrity president, as on North Korea, is prone to take credit for nonexistent accomplishments. As on the border wall and the travel ban, he deals in absurd symbols rather than realistic policies. As on Russia policy, he is easily manipulated by praise. As on the revoking of former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance, he uses the power of his office to pursue personal vendettas. Instead of yelling at the television when people displease him, he now has the power to hurt them in practical ways.
When a real estate developer attacks an enemy in the tabloids, it is a public-relations spectacle. When the president of the United States targets and harms a citizen without due process, it is oppression.
But the broader influence of celebrity culture on politics is to transform citizens into spectators. In his book “How Democracy Ends,” David Runciman warns of a political system in which “the people are simply watching a performance in which their role is to give or withhold their applause at the appropriate moments.” In this case, democracy becomes “an elaborate show, needing ever more characterful performers to hold the public’s attention.” Mr. Madison, meet Omarosa.
Trump is sometimes called a populist. But all this is a far cry from the prairie populism of William Jennings Bryan, who sought to elevate the influence of common people. Instead, we are seeing a drama with one hero, pitted against an array of villains. And those villains are defined as anyone who opposes or obstructs the president, including the press, the courts and federal law enforcement. Trump’s stump speeches are not a call to arms against want; they are a call to oppose his enemies. This is not the agenda of a movement; it is the agenda of a cult.
Will the republic survive all this? Of course it will. But it won’t be the same.
Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” died Thursday in her home city of Detroit after battling pancreatic cancer. Her death was confirmed by her publicist, Gwendolyn Quinn. She was 76.
Franklin sold more than 75 million records during her life, making her one of the best-selling artists of all time. She took soul to a new level and inspired generations of singers who came after her.
No one’s life can be condensed to one word — but Aretha Franklin came close when she sang one word: “respect.”
“Respect” was written by the great Otis Redding. In his version, a man is pleading, offering his woman anything she wants in exchange for her respect. He sang: “Hey little girl, you’re sweeter than honey / And I’m about to give you all of my money / But all I want you to do / Is just give it, give it / Respect when I come home …”
Aretha changed those lyrics to demand parity. “Oooh, your kisses,” she sang, “Sweeter than honey / And guess what? / So is my money …” In her hands, “Respect” became an empowering song — for black women and for all women. It was a No. 1 hit in 1967, and it became her signature song.
Franklin was 25 years old when “Respect” was released. But she had been singing since she was a small child in her father’s New Bethel Baptist Church.
“Someone found a footstool in the office and put it here on the stage, and they put it there for me to be seen because I was so small,” Franklin told NPR’s Morning Editionin 2004.
Aretha Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tenn. — but she was raised mostly in Detroit. Her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, was a famous preacher, and her childhood was steeped in both music and the burgeoning civil rights movement. Her family was close friends with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who often stayed at their home. Some of the most important gospel artists of the day came to visit regularly as well, including Clara Ward and the Famous Ward Singers, Mahalia Jackson and Sam Cooke.
It was Franklin’s father who introduced her to the recording industry. Nicknamed “the man with the million-dollar voice,” C.L. Franklin was among the first Christian ministers to record his sermons (making dozens for the JVB and Chess labels) and to do radio broadcasts of his Sunday addresses; his 1953 sermon “The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest” is part of the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.
Franklin told PBS’s American Masters in 1988 that when she was a child, her father would coach her. “He would give me different records to listen to, to see if I could emulate them on the piano, different vocalists to listen to.” These were gospel artists like Ward and Jackson. But the young Aretha listened to popular music, too. And as she toured with her father she met R&B artists like Fats Domino and Bobby Bland.
There was also her Detroit neighborhood: It was filled with future Motown stars like Diana Ross, the Four Tops and Smokey Robinson, who grew up right around the corner from her.
Franklin made her first album for JVB when she was just 14 years old. It was a collection of gospel songs that included “Precious Lord (Take My Hand).”
Four years later, she confided to her father that she longed to cross over from gospel to secular music. So C.L. Franklin helped her make a demo that led to a contract with Columbia Records, initially working with the legendary producer John Hammond. Decades later, Hammond told NPR that when he first heard her, his response was, “‘This is the best thing I’ve heard since Billie Holiday. Who is she?”
In 1961, the bluesy “Won’t Be Long,” from her first Columbia album, Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo, became Franklin’s first song to reach the Billboard Hot 100.
After making seven records for Columbia over a six-year span, she signed with Atlantic Records — and that’s where she became the “Queen of Soul.”
At first, Atlantic wanted her to record at the Stax studios in Memphis, but Stax did not want to pay for the sessions. Instead, Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler took Franklin to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama.
The Wexler/Franklin pairing proved magical. Franklin brought her own material to the label, and Wexler encouraged her to play piano in her recording sessions. And from 1967 to the mid-’70s, Franklin released a string of classics. The first was “I Never Loved A Man” — with her sisters as backup singers — followed by “Do Right Woman — Do Right Man,” “Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “Rock Steady” and “Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do).”
Aretha Franklin, music’s ‘Queen of Soul,’ dies at 76
One of the most celebrated and influential singers in the history of American vernacular song, Aretha Franklin reserved her place on music’s Mount Rushmore in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Her career spanned decades and was defined by such records as “Respect” and “Chain of Fools.”
Aretha Franklin, whose exceptionally expressive singing about joy and pain and faith and liberation earned the Detroit diva a permanent and undisputed title — the “Queen of Soul” — died Aug. 16 at her home in Detroit. She was 76.
Her representative Gwendolyn Quinn announced the death and said the cause was pancreatic cancer.
One of the most celebrated and influential singers in the history of American vernacular song, Ms. Franklin reserved her place on music’s Mount Rushmore in the late 1960s and early 1970s by exploring the secular sweet spot between sultry rhythm-and-blues and the explosive gospel music she’d grown up singing in her father’s Baptist church.
The result was potent and wildly popular, with defining soul anthems that turned Ms. Franklin into a symbol of black pride and women’s liberation.
Her calling card: “Respect,” the Otis Redding hit that became a crossover smash in 1967 after Ms. Franklin tweaked it just so (a “sock it to me” here, some sisterly vocal support there), transforming the tune into a fervent feminist anthem.
“Whenever women heard the record, it was like a tidal wave of sororal unity,” the song’s producer, Jerry Wexler, said two decades after Ms. Franklin first declared, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.”
Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, Dead at 76
It was a small moment that would reverberate for decades. On January 24th, 1967, Aretha Franklinwas struggling to record “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” her first project for Atlantic after several years recording more conventional material for Columbia. As Franklin would recall, something with the studio musicians wasn’t clicking until someone said, “Aretha, why don’t you sit down and play?” Taking a seat at the piano, Franklin quickly cut the smoldering track that would become her first No. 1 R&B hit. “It just happened,” she said. “We arrived, and we arrived very quickly.”
And it never stopped. For more than five decades, Franklin was a singular presence in pop music, a symbol of strength, women’s liberation and the civil rights movement. Franklin, one of the greatest singers of all time, died Thursday of pancreatic cancer, according to her publicist, Gwendolyn Quinn.
“It is with deep and profound sadness that we announce the passing of Aretha Louise Franklin, the Queen of Soul,” Quinn said in a statement. “Franklin … passed away on Thursday morning, August 16 at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit, MI, surrounded by family and loved ones. In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds.
“We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world,” Quinn added. “Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”
“Aretha Franklin was one of the most iconic voices in music history and a brilliant artist,” Franklin’s record label Sony Music said in a statement. “Over the course of her decades-long career, which included many years with the Sony Music family, she inspired countless musicians and fans, and created a legacy that paved the way for a long line of strong female artists.”
Dubbed the Queen of Soul in 1967, Franklin loomed over culture in several monumental ways. The daughter of a preacher man, she was born with one of pop’s most commanding and singular voices, one that could move from a sly, seductive purr to a commanding gospel roar. From early hits like “I Never Loved a Man” and “Think” up through later touchstones like “Sisters Are Doin’ it for Themselves” with Eurythmics, there was no mistaking Franklin’s colossal pipes. As one of her leading producers, Jerry Wexler, said of her simmering gospel-pop classic, “Spirit in the Dark,” “It was one of those perfect R&B blends of the sacred and the secular … It’s Aretha conducting church right in the middle of a smoky nightclub. It’s everything to everyone.”
Her journey — from singing in her father’s church and tackling tasteful pop at the dawn of her career before becoming the voice of the civil rights movement — also embodied the African American experience of the 1960s. Her brawny, funked-up makeover of Otis Redding’s “Respect,” based on what Wexler called her own “stop-and-stutter syncopation” idea, was more than just a Number One pop hit in 1967. “She had no idea it would become a rallying cry for African Americans and women and anyone else who felt marginalized because of what they looked like, who they loved,” Barack Obama said in 2014. “They wanted some respect.” At 16, she went on tour with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and later sang at his funeral.
It was 1968, and the King was all but dead.
The Summer of Love came and went, leaving the man once seated on the throne of rock-and-roll nothing but a drug-addled relic of a time past. Instead of dancing and necking and maybe even performing for the hippies in Haight-Ashbury, Elvis Presley had spent an endless seven years in Southern California, forsaking his music career for one on the silver screen. Hollywood, though, had not been kind to Presley.
During this stretch, Elvis pumped out movie after movie at an astonishing rate of three to four per year. But fans didn’t want a leading man. They wanted that smooth baritone, those gyrating hips, the coifed hair.
Unlike LL Cool J, Elvis needed a musical comeback. He got that in 1968 in the form of a 60-minute television special that revived his career and changed concert films forever.
That special, now 50 years old, will return to some 500 U.S. movie theaters for a special engagement Thursday and Monday, a celebration of one of rock’s monumental moments — one that almost didn’t happen.
The rocker’s fortunes had begun changing in 1957 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. The period would prove to be a dark one, during which the life of his mother ended and his drug addiction began.
According to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, it’s “environmental terrorist groups.”
During a radio interview with Breitbart News, Zinke said that “environmental terrorist groups” are preventing the government from managing forests and are largely responsible for the severity of the fires. But fire scientists and forestry experts have said climate change is the main factor behind the problem.
Zinke said during the interview that an overabundance of fuel load — things such as twigs and leaves that make it possible for fires to burn — make fires more intense.
“There have been a number of instances where environmental groups have submitted petitions to the Bureau of Land Management, halting companies from removing dead and dying timber until the BLM can sort through each petition point,” Department of the Interior spokesman Faith C. Vander Voort said in an email. “These actions halt proper forest management and leave the West vulnerable to incredible devastation.”
But Monica Turner, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said this argument doesn’t address the bigger problem.
“Making minor changes in the fuels [which] you then have to do repeatedly for many years is not going to solve the bigger problem of having to face climate change,” she told The Washington Post. “We cannot clear or thin our way out of this problem.”
Edgar Boyles, Ming Li, Huan Jao, Sichuan cloud forest, 1982
In 1787, the year the Constitution was adopted, Thomas Jefferson famously wrote to a friend, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
That’s how he felt before he became president, anyway. Twenty years later, after enduring the oversight of the press from inside the White House, he was less sure of its value. “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper,” he wrote. “Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”
Jefferson’s discomfort was, and remains, understandable. Reporting the news in an open society is an enterprise laced with conflict. His discomfort also illustrates the need for the right he helped enshrine. As the founders believed from their own experience, a well-informed public is best equipped to root out corruption and, over the long haul, promote liberty and justice.
“Public discussion is a political duty,” the Supreme Court said in 1964. That discussion must be “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open,” and “may well include vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
In 2018, some of the most damaging attacks are coming from government officials. Criticizing the news media — for underplaying or overplaying stories, for getting something wrong — is entirely right. News reporters and editors are human, and make mistakes. Correcting them is core to our job. But insisting that truths you don’t like are “fake news” is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. And calling journalists the “enemy of the people” is dangerous, period.
These attacks on the press are particularly threatening to journalists in nations with a less secure rule of law and to smaller publications in the United States, already buffeted by the industry’s economic crisis. And yet the journalists at those papers continue to do the hard work of asking questions and telling the stories that you otherwise wouldn’t hear. Consider The San Luis Obispo Tribune, which wrote about the death of a jail inmate who was restrained for 46 hours. The account forced the county to change how it treats mentally ill prisoners.
Answering a call last week from The Boston Globe, The Times is joining hundreds of newspapers, from large metro-area dailies to small local weeklies, to remind readers of the value of America’s free press. These editorials, some of which we’ve excerpted, together affirm a fundamental American institution.
If you haven’t already, please subscribe to your local papers. Praise them when you think they’ve done a good job and criticize them when you think they could do better. We’re all in this together.