“Men carve meaning into women’s faces; messages addressed to other men.”

~The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker

The wealth of the land was being tied up in the hands of a very few men. The people were not buying because they had nothing with which to buy. The big business interests were not selling, because there was nobody they could sell to.

One per cent of the people could not eat any more than any other one per cent; they could not wear much more than any other one per cent; they could not live in any more houses than any other one per cent. So in 1929, when the fortune holders of America grew powerful enough that one per cent of the people owned nearly everything, ninety-nine per cent of the people owned practically nothing, not even enough to pay their debts, a collapse was at hand.

From Every Man a King, the Autobiography of Huey P. Long

To the Negro the question was simply whether he was or was not to be treated as a first-class citizen. But to the white man, the good liberal white man of the North, the indispensable ally in the Negro’s struggle, the question was whether he was going to be “fair”…How can one be fair to the oppressed without some unfairness to the oppressor?

~I.F. Stone

…you could think of the people you meet in your life as questions, there to help you figure out who you are, what you’re made of, and what you want. In life, as in our new version of the game, you start off not knowing the answer. It’s only when the particles rub against each other that we figure out their properties. It’s the strangest thing, this idea in quantum physics, and yet somehow unsurprising when you consider it as a metaphor.  It’s when the thing interacts that its properties are revealed, even resolved.”

At one level inspiration is the ability to see beauty and mystery in everything men and women do. That may be a gift not everyone has.”

Ellen Gilchrist, The Writing Life

To spend time? I know what to do with money, how to sow and reap on the markets, but time? How do you spend time? And how might you learn to do so?”

Zia Haider Rahman, In the Light of What We Know

It is to our credit if these are the Americans to whom we want to trace our moral genealogy. But we should not confuse the fact that they took extraordinary actions with the notion that they lived in extraordinary times. One of the biases of retrospections is to believe that the moral crises of the past were clearer than our own–that, had we been alive at the time, we would have recognized them, known what to do about them, and known when the time had come to do so. That is a fantasy. Iniquity is always coercive and intimidating, and lived reality is always a muddle, and the kind of clarity that leads to action comes not from without but from within. The great virtue of a figurative railroad is that, when someone needs it–and someone always needs it–we don’t have to build it. We are it, if we choose.”

Kathryn Schulz, “Derailed” The New Yorker, 8/22/16

Knowing you are capable of more and seeing other people easily obtain it are what make unequal societies so hard to take. Conservatives deride this as envy, but seeing someone flourish where you struggle to survive is its own harm.

Anat Shenker-Osorio, Don’t Buy It


You live through time, that little piece of time that is yours, but that piece of time is not only your own life, it is the summing-up of all the other lives that are simultaneous with yours. It is, in other words, History, and what you are is an expression of History, and you do not live your life, but somehow your life lives you, and you are, therefore, only what History does to you.

~Robert Penn Warren, Band of Angels

“Citizen Khan”

Who the Khans are and where they came from and what they’re doing here is a long story, and a quintessentially American one. The history of immigrants is, to a huge extent, the history of this nation, though so is the pernicious practice of determining that some among us do not deserve full humanity, and full citizenship. Zarif Khan was deemed insufficiently American on the basis of skin color; ninety years later, when the presence of Muslims among us had come to seem like a crisis, his descendants were deemed insufficiently American on the basis of faith.

Over and over again, we forget what being an American means. The radical premise of our nation is that one people can be made from many, yet in each new generation we find reasons to limit who those “many” can be–to wall off access to America, literally or figuratively. That impulse usually finds its roots in claims about who we used to be, but our nativist nostalgia is a fantasy. We have always been a pluralist nation, with a past far richer and stranger than we choose to recall. Back when the streets of Sheridan were still dirt and Zarif Khan was still young, the Muslim who made his living selling Mexican food in the Wild West would put up a tamale for stakes and race local cowboys barefoot down Main Street. History does not record who won.

Kathryn Schulz, New Yorker June 6-13, 2016