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  • Ken Ilgunas

What I’m consuming #3


The Wilderness – Jon Favreau the former speechwriter for President Obama, gives a history of the Democratic party, a diagnosis of what went wrong in 2016, and, with the help of experts, voters, and politicians, a plan of action. As an analysis and a history, I think the podcast does a really good job. But as we run through the Democratic party’s laundry list of problems, not to mention the varied interests of the different groups that make up the Democratic coalition, I find myself growing increasingly worried, and I’m not seeing a clear way out of the wilderness. But that’s why it’s called “The Wilderness”: I suppose the goal of the podcast is to bring in lots of different perspectives and reflect on the party’s issues. Something tells me, though, that I may leave the podcast with more worries than I came in with. The Democratic party has problems that are many and deep: in branding itself; in dealing with a stupid electorate (who wants universal healthcare yet doesn’t); and in dealing with an intransigent Republican party that does a good job at making the Democrats look bad. Right now, going into the 2018 elections, all they have to work with is anti-Trump fervor and the reputation of being the less corrupt party. I’d be surprised if they have a unified message going into 2020.

Longform Podcast interview with Nathaniel Rich – This podcast interview compelled me to read Rich’s New York Times Magazine piece on climate change, which took up the whole issue, and which I initially put to the side because climate change stories depress the hell out of me. I thought about this a good deal: Here I am, someone who wrote a book partly about climate change, and I’m not at all eager to read an important story on climate change. This got me thinking of the average reader, who is probably even less willing to the read this story. Climate change is, I think, increasingly something we try to keep out of sight and out of mind. I think if we had a more proactive approach to the problem, we’d do better to face our fears in the face, but so long as our government does next to nothing, we have cause to sweep our shame, fear, and disappointment under a rug of apathy.

Anyhow, I liked how Rich handles his subject with care (both in the podcast and article), but also with unwavering moral clarity. In the interview, he dutifully condemns the modern-day Republican party and fossil fuel companies for their self-interested and unforgivable distortion of the truth.

Revisionist History – I binge-listened to seasons two and three, which are remarkable. Gladwell has a knack for finding one interesting story or character and then zooming out to tell a broader story about the country.

The Rewatchables (Silence of the Lambs, Jerry Maguire, and Any Given Sunday) – I really enjoy listening to Bill Simmons and his smart friends break down popular nineties movies.


Who Is America?, Showtime – I have a weakness for Sacha Baron Cohen. My favorite character is Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, a self-hating cisgender gender studies professor at Reed College, whose function is to expose the ridiculous extremes of the far left and the out-of-touchness of his gullible right-leaning subjects. I’m not sure if I get much out of his Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr. character. The utility of Cohen’s movies and shows is in exposing the ridiculousness of our thought leaders; with Billy Wayne, Cohen makes them look reasonable. (i.e. Corey Lewandowski)

Death of Stalin – As a big fan of Veep, The Thick of It, and In The Loop, I was really looking forward to Iannucci’s latest, but the laughs didn’t come often enough, and the movie’s plot never caught my interest.

Wild, Wild Country, Netflix – Sheela is a mostly-likable psychopath and gurus always let you down. I enjoyed every minute of this.


Bear, by Marian Engel – I’m thinking about writing an essay about the bear in the North American imagination, so how could I not read this award-winning Canadian novel about a woman’s sexual relationship with a pet black bear? It was a hugely enjoyable and page-turning read, and I adored Engel’s spare prose.

Bullshit Jobs, by David Graeber – This is a seriously good book about bullshit jobs, useless work, and how the pervading meaninglessness that comes from such work leaves scars on the soul of both the individual and his/her greater society. It’s Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in Politics – I love big, crazy ideas of any sort, and this book is full of them. A few ideas:

  1. The next Democrat-controlled Congress should increase the number of Supreme Court justices to be selected by a Democratic president.

  2. Adding eight new senators by splitting California into three states, and adding Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico as states. Some even say that if we break Texas up into several states, we’d add a few more left-leaning senators.

  3. Increase the size of the House of Representatives to 870.

  4. A constitutional amendment to end lifetime tenure for judges.

  5. Create automatic voter registration; no registration required.

  6. A national election holiday to boost turnout.


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