Author Archives: Barbara Sutton

Six-Minute Service

The tragic killing of Jordan Neely—and the tragic situation that everyone on that MTA subway car found themselves in on May 1—has only darkened New York City’s outlook for overcoming pandemic setbacks.

Neely’s death instantly became a cause for young progressives. They want “justice for Jordan” and they want to see Daniel Penny tried for murder, but they are not offering new solutions to the problems that caused this descent for all of us.

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Pluto’s Return

In October 2019, an astrological event I heard about (the planet Pluto “going direct” after having been retrograde) prompted me to post “Pluto’s Helmet.” It wasn’t much of a stretch to connect the alleged influence of a planet to the malevolence of Donald Trump by means of the most deceptive god in Roman mythology.

A few weeks ago, I again thought about Pluto and Trump, because on March 19 the voted-out President announced that he would shortly be indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney, and on March 23 Pluto entered the sign of Aquarius, which it hasn’t done since the time of the American and French revolutions. For the astrology set, this once-every-248-years event was a big deal—presumably because everything that the song from Hair says about the Age of Aquarius is true.

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The financial panic that began with the failure of Silicon Valley Bank introduced us to an odd phrase for such a sterile, suburban-backdrop event: being made whole.

Being made whole is an outcome people expect from lovers—naively as it turns out, at least according to songs. What really plucks the heartstrings is not that the people desired often fail to honor this expectation but the way in which those doing the desiring confront reality. This is what reroutes the Love Train into the self-help aisle.

But in regard to banks, whose idea was it to describe a failed bank’s large depositors holding on to every last cent as being “made whole”? Does the simple fact of having assets make you, as an entity, deserve to be whole? I might buy that concept if all depositors were people, but they’re not.

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Bearing All

The Marjorie Taylor Greene in white fur meme had nearly played itself out by the time Michael Che added the coup-de-grâce of “Cocaine Bear.” The pitifully comic spectacle of Green’s incivility at President Biden’s State of the Union address and the gory comic spectacle of a coked-up CGI bear are neck and neck when it comes to insulting real live bears.

We seem to be having a Bear Moment—pure coincidence but nonetheless illuminating. In addition to Cocaine Bear, there’s a Winnie-the-Pooh horror movie, the Iranian film No Bears, and a streaming series The Bear. Since last year we’ve been in a Fed-induced Bear Market, and Russia’s war on Ukraine has brought the Sleeping Bear of old political cartoons back to life.

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Short Story: Where Is Everybody?

It was a small family to have drawn together so many friends and relations. Everyone had a blast on the wild and wooly grounds of the Cougevan summer house—playing baby-name drinking games, laughing hoarsely into the night. Everyone, that is, except Phlox’s uncles. For each, the day’s objective had simply been to run out the clock. Now, however, with the pre-fêted baby having ceased to be, the uncles were the only ones to receive a text: Can one of you take Phlox for a couple days?

She wasn’t at the party owing to her debilitating fear of crowds. Her Uncle Marty had faced down his own paranoia about Massachusetts ticks and slapped at mosquitos where he failed to spray. Her Uncle Kai mostly rationalized his failure to landscape the pseudo-historic house under his stewardship by quoting William Burroughs.

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Liars’ Paradise

Of all the rationalizations the media give for covering the far right’s sensationalism, the worst is when they declare that, as humans, “we can’t look away.”

That’s simply a lie, because actually (as humans) we can look away. We can look away from lies and distortions of truth. We can even walk away. There’s no electronic fence if you don’t wear the collar.

The new Republican House—whose members seem more and more like boys shoving each other into bathroom stalls—have made our elected federal government seem minuscule, pathetic in scope. “Performative” seems too grown-up a word for what they do in front of cameras.

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Dances with Hyenas

When you consider how much physical property North America’s colonizers stole from indigenous peoples (i.e., all of it), it’s not surprising that we also went for the IP.

Like the twelve names for the full moon as the Earth makes its way around the sun every year. Even Europeans, who have an ample supply of Druid-era terminology to draw from, use these names.

January’s Wolf Moon got its name because many tribes noticed the animals being particularly active at this time. The Sioux called it the “wolves run together” moon. In New York City, this moon was gloriously visible on January 6, capping off four days of discord and animus among House Republicans.

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In a State

As the blizzard in Buffalo raged over Christmas, the unfolding tragedy was all but ignored a couple hours east where I spent the holiday. In New York’s Southern Tier, people were focused on the frozen windows of their cars as they traveled short distances with gifts. It was deadly quiet. All the front-yard blowups had gone airless, frozen to the ground.

Nearly 40 people died in the worst storm to hit the Erie County region since 1977, the mayor and county executive blaming each other days after. Regardless of how extreme weather stages these kinds of ambushes, this was something that shouldn’t have happened in today’s “Empire State,” especially considering that New York’s Governor, Kathy Hochul, hails from Buffalo.

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“The whole world is open”

In the movie Operation Mincemeat, about the infamous 1943 British hoax to disguise the Allies’ invasion of Sicily during World War II, there’s a Churchill scene where the P.M. sits in a dark paneled chamber subtly adorned with landscape paintings—oils of green-on-green and muted gray skies, gold frames nicely aged. As the camera pans the room’s perimeter, it takes in these bygone status signifiers one after another, like those old Hanna-Barbera cartoons where a character is running indoors and the same vase of flowers on a round accent table keeps scrolling by.

This is not to diminish the classic green landscape painting, a genre not exclusive to the Brits (see: Barbizon School) but one more beloved in their country than anywhere else on the planet. It’s to emphasize Churchill’s intense love of painting as an act, his love of the natural world and the look of his native land.

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A Man for All Seasons

When I read that the art critic Peter Schjeldahl had died on October 21, I was surprised that my eyes teared up. I knew from a New Yorker essay of his that he had advanced lung cancer. The obituaries said he was 80 and had smoked since he was 16. He was also a recovering alcoholic and apparently not the greatest father. Before 2019, I knew nothing about his personal life beyond his writing on art.

The tears, I realized, were for my own future life without the sensory crescendos of a new Peter Schjeldahl review. I could say unequivocally that he was my favorite living critic, and not having his sensibility in real time felt like a serious loss.

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