Emily Badger’s Awesome Paragraph About an Old Map and the Retrospective Politics of Place

This may sound counter-intuitive, especially given what’s happening in my backyard: I don’t hate the suburbs and I don’t have a hip, a priori antipathy toward life there.  After all, as John Updike and Nick Andopolis remind us, suburban basements are where rock stars come from.

That said, I believe that walkable, green cities are the way forward and that the growth of the suburbs over the last 50 years had little to do with free market choices and everything to do with government subsidy. I believe in living in and working in the City, because I believe in what the City was and what the City can be.  I believe these things are important because I believe the systemic poverty and educational challenges our urban cores face can be overcome if enough people give a damn.

But I don’t share Atlantic writer Emily Badger’s coming-of-age urban experience.  I grew up mostly in a suburb of small brick houses that were built on a cornfield in the 50s.  Not exactly John Cheever’s or Don Draper’s Ossining.  But I do happen to love these paragraphs from Badger this week, especially the second one:

My map – “a map of the British and French dominions in North America, with the roads, distances, limits, and extent of the settlements” – is inscribed in the lower right-hand corner, inside an elaborate inset of palm fronds, plump angels and supplicating natives, by the Earl of Halifax’s most obliged and very humble servant, John Mitchell. His world dates to 1755.

The United States doesn’t yet exist. We haven’t yet decided what we’re going to call the Great Lakes, or whether we want to honor the Indians who named them first. Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia all theoretically extend inland more than a thousand miles in hand-colored stripes of fading pink, green, and yellow. To the north, the pink patch that is New York expands greedily all the way to Nova Scotia. Opposite the Atlantic Ocean, the map ends abruptly at the 107th meridian west, beyond which Mitchell runs out of things to say.

I love this map for one miniscule reference that speaks to a modern geographic rift John Mitchell never saw coming in the 18th century. Just below the Great Falls on the Virginia shore of the “Potowmack” River, in something like 4-point type, he notes the existence of a port town sizable enough in 1755 to warrant mentioning to the Earl of Halifax: “Alexandria.”

Across the river, the District of Columbia does not yet exist. There is nothing there worth mentioning. And this is Exhibit A, the place where I begin my argument. See, Alexandria was here first, in the pre-Revolutionary age of the Iroquois and the unknown West. Clearly, it can’t be a suburb.

Read the rest here.

James Harden’s Unique Confidence: Scoring In the Post-Modern

“So if he’s so shy and unassuming, why does Harden treat the basketball court like a stage? “You’re dealing with a person who’s so eclectic, so unique, that he just doesn’t fit into the natural expectations,” says Presti. “There’s an artistry to the way he plays the game. He’s expressing himself out there. I think someday after basketball is over he’s going to realize he has an artistic trait, that he’s naturally a great painter or something. You have to have a unique confidence to be who he is.”

Jordan Conn on your favorite rising star. (Grantland).

As a sixth-man break out who can dominate a game, Manu Ginobili may be the original James Harden, but James Harden may become the consummate post-modern Ginobili. I love both those player and both these teams, but Harden occupies a unique spot in the NBA’s liminal space.  It’s not about the beard or about being eccentric.  It’s about artistry and, as Conn suggests, self-awareness.  And we love self-awareness, especially when it empowers us to excel.  LeBron James gets dogged for having the other kind of self-awareness, though I have to say: his routine with Kevin Garnett last night was, for me, refreshing.

As far as the Spurs/Thunder series goes, I’m just hoping everyone stays healthy.  I love the idea of the Spurs winning one more title, but  but I also love the idea of the Thunder realizing their potential.  These are both very special teams.

John Scalzi on the Redshirt Trope and the Economy of Fiction

“Being eight years old and aware that either way, Ensign Jones is going to be doomed is something that sticks with you. We become aware of metafictional tropes, and it’s specifically because of the nature of storytelling itself: Storytelling is economical, right? It’s the Chekov’s gun thing – don’t put a gun on the mantelpiece in the first act if it’s not going to go off in the third. Everything that’s dragged onstage is dragged on for a reason, and because we know that, eventually, subconsciously we’re aware of the economy of fiction. So when we have the occasional random person who suddenly becomes Very Important, something’s going on with that guy.”

 – John Scalzi, author of Redshirts.

The Good Old Days Weren’t Always Good: A Transatlantic Reminder to Tim Stanley

But it isn’t just Obama’s flaws that are making this race interesting. Mitt Romney might not be the most charismatic candidate, but that’s a hidden strength in an election that’s all about competence and getting back to the basics of what once made America work so well. This week, the pro-Obama journalist Andrew Sullivan wrote that with his wealth, good looks and apple-pie conservatism, Romney is like “a focus-group tested model president from 1965”. Sullivan obviously doesn’t realise how popular the TV show Mad Men is. Who wouldn’t warm to a candidate that represents an age marked by low unemployment, stable families and a laissez-faire attitude towards drinking at work?

At first blush, this bit from Tim Stanley’s “Obama is Carter” piece feels clever.  If you’re white, straight, and male, it might take a least one full second to remember that 1965 isn’t the good old days from everyone’s perspective.

I’ll give Stanley this much:  Don Draper assumed a whole new persona when it was expedient to do so, and his public life is one huge pose.  Romney and Obama are vulnerable to this charge on various counts.  Does anyone really believe Romney’s ashamed of RomneyCare or that he’s a pro-life?  Does anyone really believe that Obama is a federalist on marriage equality?

Yes, this is what politicians do.  But Obama was supposed to end all of that.  As of right now, he’ll be lucky to win a second term.