Najib, Trump is no fool


November 18, 2016

Najib, Trump is no fool

by Eric Loo

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Donald Trump may be your golfing buddy and may be so. And he may be no stranger to you. You said so in your congratulatory note. But you’re fundamentally wrong.

Trump did not win the US presidency because he appealed to “Americans who have been left behind – those who want to see their government more focused on their interests and welfare”.

Trump won because he unashamedly exploited the myopic mindsets of white Americans “without college degrees” and “white evangelical Christian” single issue voters who can’t see the forest for the trees. They see the world in black and white. They can only understand a globalised economy as one of ‘us against them’.

Trump played to the socio-economic angst and racist streak of the predominantly white demographics who longed for the good ole days of white sliced bread and peanut butter jelly, when America was ‘great’, when women stayed home as homemakers, when men were, well, macho men to be rightfully served by submissive women.

Trump’s repugnant rhetoric targeted the white Americans’ irrational fear and intense dislike of the establishment, of the elites, of the media, of non-Whites, and anyone who look like Muslims. (By the way, he said he’d ban immigration – and visits – by people from countries compromised by Islamic terrorism, and that includes Malaysia).

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This is Barrack Obama, not President-Elect Donald Trump

Trump shows it’s okay to grope women, belittle people with disabilities, avoid paying federal taxes, and make a quick buck from other’s miseries and losses. Trump has basically normalised what many see and feel as overtly vulgar, deplorably racist and covertly sexist. Out of the woods will we see these folks emerge emboldened over the next four years.

Here’s where the irony’s striking in Najib’s pat on Trump’s back. As reported in Channel News Asia, Najib said: “I know him personally, and he’s not someone who’s a stranger to me.” Indeed.

Trump will begin his presidency amidst public conviction of his carnal transgressions and ongoing investigations into his financial frauds and tax evasion, just as Najib is being dogged by the 1MDB financial scandals and political implications from the murder of a Mongolian model.

Like Trump, Najib has so far have remained untouched. (I blame our mainstream journalists for their lack of tenacity in continuing to investigate and report on Najib’s transgressions in the public interest.)

Skeletons hidden in the closet

Despite that both Najib and Trump have skeletons hidden in the closet, Americans generally hope that the Trump campaign persona was just that – a Machiavellian persona. The world hopes that Trump will transform into someone worthy of occupying the White House in January.

In his congratulatory note to Trump, Najib said that politicians “should never take voters for granted”. Indeed, listen to your own counsel, Prime Minister. Bersih 5 is scheduled to take to the streets again on November 19. Are you listening to the rakyat? Why aren’t you listening to “those who want to see their government more focused on their interests and welfare”?

Yes, heed your own counsel, Prime Minister. There’s no need to grovel to Trump who your other golfing buddy Obama had described as “the guy who had spent 70 years on this earth showing no regard for working people”, the guy whose vision for America was “dark and pessimistic”, and the guy who was “insecure enough that he pumps himself up by putting other people down”. And, Trump’s “no stranger” to you?

Fact checks by the US media throughout the campaign had consistently shown that Trump had peddled falsehoods, blatantly lied and cajoled his audience for suckers. Trump’s character quirks, intellectual inadequacy and egomaniacal disposition played out in his three debates with Hillary Clinton.

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I was in a daze watching the live reports of the election. I was stunned when Trump’s electoral votes crossed the 270 mark. Just as I was elated when Barack Obama became the first black US President in 2008, I expected Hillary Clinton to be the first female US President.

I had planned to visit the US for a winter holiday leading up to the presidential inauguration in January. I won’t be visiting the US for a while.

That will be the day when Trump and his administration can demonstrate that they truly are a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – a sort of direct democracy as defined by the greatest Republican president of all time, Abraham Lincoln in his dedication to the soldiers killed during the civil war at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on Nov 19, 1863.

Here’s where the Electoral College voting system, which Trump himself said was rigged and a “disaster for democracy” could falter in truly representing the people’s voice. Hillary Clinton won more popular votes (by 280,646) than Trump. But with each state weighted by number of electoral votes under the Electoral College system, Trump culled 290 electoral votes (20 more than the 270 needed to win).

It brings back memories of 2000 when Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore lost to George W Bush.

The Electoral College voting system was set up to ensure a fair representative election outcome. But commentators are revisiting the inherent problems with the system given that Hillary Clinton had painfully lost the election despite winning the popular votes.

Trump’s victory had stunned the pollsters, the pundits, the media, the millennial Americans, and the world in general. Trump supporters were even unprepared. Some saw it as a miracle. ‘White Christian evangelicals’ believed it was an answer to their prayers.

Blind faith in Trump is indeed foolish, if not downright stupid. Trump’s no ‘answer to prayers’. If he was, he did not bear any fruits of the Holy Spirit during his campaign – “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Trump’s the antithesis of fundamental Christian values.

By contrast, Hillary had cited on numerous occasions during her campaign verses from Galatians 6:9 “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not give up.”

There’s a lingering hope, however, that some electoral college voters – the ‘faithless voters’ – would go rogue if they could see a better alternative, another Republican who is more worthy or rather less unpalatable to occupy the White House.

I wait for December 19 when, as CBS had reported “the final outcome doesn’t become official until Congress counts the votes in early January after electors in each state cast their ballots for president and vice president in mid-December.”

Anything’s possible in politics.


ERIC LOO worked as a journalist and taught journalism in Malaysia from the late 1970s to 1986. He is now Honorary Senior Fellow in Journalism at University of Wollongong in Australia. Email: eloo@uow.edu.au

New World Order under stress


November 16, 2016

New World Order under stress

by Chheang Vannarith

http://www.khemertimes.com

In a result that stunned the whole world, Donald Trump has been elected as the 45th President of the United States, defeating the more favored Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton.

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Mr. Trump’s victory signified rising nationalist populism, not only in the US, but also in other parts of the world. It also challenges the liberal world order based on democratic values, economic openness and the rules-based international economic system.

From Brexit to Mr. Trump’s victory, there is one thing in common, and that is the increasing frustration against the old establishment driven by political elites. Many wish to see a different type of leadership and are hoping for change.

We are living in a highly unpredictable and uncertain world. We need to think the unthinkable and be prepared to adapt to unexpected changes. Those who can grasp the opportunities deriving from a crisis and uncertainty will remain competitive.

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The bipolar world established after World War II was replaced by a unipolar world in which the US played a hegemonic power. However,  US power has been declining since the world economic crisis in 2008. Over the past decade, the rise of others such as China, India and Russia has challenged the global role of the US from economic to security domains.

We are now entering either a multipolar world or zero-polar world. Under the multipolar world, there are multiple actors and stakeholders working together to shape and construct global governance and order.In a zero-polar world, there will be no country taking a global leadership role. The major powers will become more nationalist and inward looking. Selfish national interests and zero-sum games will dominate international politics.

If this happens the world will become fragmented and chaotic. Global uncertainties and risks are going to rise. No country will be willing and able to take a global leadership role to maintain world peace and order.

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The US is great nation largely thanks to democratic pluralism, multiculturalism as well as an open and liberal globalization which has provided tremendous opportunities for Americans. It has successfully integrated itself into and largely benefited from the rest of the world.

Now it is different. Mr. Trump seems to be opting for a more nationalistic, protectionist and inward-looking foreign policy. His populist political rhetoric will adversely affect the liberal order created by the US seven decades ago.

Mr. Trump lacks a robust foreign policy. He seems to mainly focus on populist domestic social and economic issues. Global issues such as climate change will not be addressed effectively without a strong US leadership role.

It is predicted that the US’ global role will further decline, which in turn will create a global power vacuum and a deep hole in global governance.

China, Japan, India and Russia are expected to fill the gap and play a more proactive role in maintaining global peace and order. However, these countries are still struggling with their own domestic issues.

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Obama in Laos

In the Asia-Pacific region, the US has been the hub of regional peace and order. Since 2010, the US has introduced and implemented its “rebalance” or “pivot” to Asia in order to strengthen its alliance system, promote economic integration and deepen people-to-people
ties.

President Barack Obama has had a strong interest in promoting the US’ role in the Asia-Pacific. He has committed to strengthening an ASEAN-led regional architecture.

The US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership is a crucial US external economic policy towards Asia. However, it has an extremely low chance of ratification under the future Trump administration.
Under Mr. Trump’s leadership, the US will be less engaged in Asia.

In such a scenario, China will gain more strategic advantages in leveraging its regional influence.US allies in Asia will be forced to invest more in the defense sector in their collective deterrence strategy. Japan, South Korea and Australia will speed up their defense modernization.

The new world order as well as the Asia-Pacific order will go through critical tests, uncertain power diffusion and transition as well as a severe security environment.

As we live in a world with high uncertainty and risk, leaders need to be equipped with the capacity to think the unthinkable, have the courage to change and create a safe space for institutional innovation and transformative leadership.

It is a wake-up call for world leaders to reconstruct the world economy so it is more inclusive and sustainable. Unless fair and just industrialization, and social justice, are respected, the prospect of global disintegration and fragmentation will continue to haunt the world

The Sound of Santo and Johnny for this Diwali Weekend


October 29, 2016

The Sound of Santo and Johnny for this Diwali Weekend

Let us enjoy the music of Santo and Johnny. Relax before the Clinton-Trump Presidential race culminates on November 8. Who will be the next POTUS?. Some say America will have its first Madam President and Commander-in Chief. Others who seek change want a Trump Presidency. We wish the American  voter all the best  when they go to the polls. Voter turnout will be crucial. –Dr. Kamsiah G. Haider and Din Merican

Time for Scholars and Intellectuals to speak up for Freedom of Thought


October 29, 2016

Time for Scholars and Intellectuals to speak up for Freedom of Thought

by Kris Hartley

Kris Hartley is a Lecturer in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University, where he teaches quantitative methods and public sector economics. He is also a Faculty Fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center and a Nonresident Fellow for Global Cities at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

He holds research appointments at the Center for New Structural Economics at Peking University, the Institute of Water Policy at National University of Singapore, and the Center for Government Competitiveness at Seoul National University. In the past four years Kris has held academic appointments throughout Asia, including Visiting Researcher at the University of Hong Kong, Visiting Lecturer in economics at Vietnam National University, Visiting Researcher at Seoul National University, Visiting Research Fellow at the University of the Philippines, and research and teaching assistant at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Kris focuses on economic policy, urban planning, and environmental management. An avid global traveller, he has visited 50 countries and resided in ten on three continents. Kris received a B.A. in classics (Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of Tennessee, an M.B.A. from Baylor University, a Master of City Planning from the University of California–Berkeley, and a PhD in Public Policy from the National University of Singapore.

Scholars should allocate a portion of their time to addressing social injustice, Kris Hartley writes, and academics of all disciplines have a crucial role to play.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s draconian crackdown on university professors and deans has sent a chill through global academia. While Turkey’s oppressive political climate appears uniquely hopeless, free speech is under assault around the world as a wave of authoritarianism crashes ashore. Politically opportunistic ‘strong-men’ such as Erdoğan, Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, and potentially Donald Trump are taking advantage of fears about terrorism and globalisation while ridiculing opponents as weak and traitorous.

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Sadly, their actions do not end there. Stifling freedom of thought has priority status in the dictator’s playbook and limited press freedom in many countries is an unsettling bellwether. Scholars may be next in line at the figurative guillotine, but does the academic system encourage them to fight back?

A widely circulated 2015 commentary by Asit Biswas and Julian Kirchherr argued that scholars are not doing enough to address real-world problems, with credibility and job security reliant almost exclusively on publishing output. Indeed, the academic promotion system rewards publication in journals that are at once elite (to a few) and obscure (to everyone else). Aspiring scholars are further incentivised by the metricization of research. One example is “impact factor,” a measurement of the mentions one article receives in other articles.

Like a tempest in a teacup, this tiny professional realm buzzes with insular measures of self-importance. It can do better.

Are academic elites repelled by activism and public engagement? The aforementioned term “impact” is misleading and has little concern with the practical world. Resources and intellectual capital are devoted to journal articles that reflect brilliant work but often receive little attention outside the teacup. More tragically, such work monopolises the time of scholars who could otherwise allocate some effort to social advocacy through their own discipline-specific perspectives.

A sea-change in the way scholars view their profession – rejecting the role of intellectual line-workers and embracing that of publically-engaged thought leaders – would not only inspire change-makers to enter academia but also lead to more impactful research.

Scholars are often portrayed as arrogant pontificators luxuriating in the proverbial ivory tower. Indeed, modern society has in most parts of the world granted them the freedom to speak as they please. It is left to the marketplace of ideas to reward some with publicity and others with indifference. However, when authoritarianism rises, scholars are among the first to be silenced. From Hitler to Pol Pot, and now to Erdoğan, the early stages of power consolidation see intellectual freedom deemed a threat to political legitimacy. Unenlightened governments fear that an informed populace is a noncompliant one. Fortunately, they are correct.

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More Noam Chomskys Needed Urgently

What can the world’s scholars do to help inform the populace? The modern academic profession is globally connected, particularly in research addressing universal problems like financial crises, pandemics, terrorism, and climate change. Academia offers a platform for immediate action through the strength of its networks. It is as unfair to expect scholars in Erdoğan’s Turkey to take a public stand against rising authoritarianism, as it also would have been in Stalin’s Russia or Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Outspokenness in such environments can be career suicide – or worse.

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However, scholars in liberal countries can be valuable partners in exposing political ills, using information provided by their peers in at-risk countries. Information, like education, is a peaceful but useful weapon against authoritarianism. Several years passed before the world became aware of Pol Pot’s atrocities in Cambodia and governments were slow to act. It took the Khmer Rouge’s foolish military provocations to elicit the ire of Vietnam, resulting in swift regime change. Pol Pot, like Kim Jong-un today, tried to seal his country from information flows. Even in the modern era of ubiquitous information access, awareness alone has not always led to action (an example is the Darfur crisis). External intervention for regime change is a risky strategy and many governments fear domestic political blowback. Regardless, lack of exposure should never be a reason for predatory regimes enduring and academia can play an important role.

This call to action recognises the importance of maintaining a firewall between scholarly research and commentary. Credibility in one is not mutually exclusive of the other, as proven by the many internationally visible thought leaders holding academic positions (such as Paul Krugman and Robert Reich). It is crucial to the quality of scholarship that academic writing remains robust, scientific, and ideologically neutral; research should stand on its own scientific merit rather than on emotional arguments or political currency. Still, many journals now request authors to provide bullet points listing the practical implications of their research. While this effort recognises the gap between theory and practice, scholars must also go beyond bullet points and use their credibility to draw broader attention to social, economic, and political issues that have an impact on – and are explained by – their own particular disciplines.
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Malaysia’s Plutocrat ala Erdogan–Freedom with Words and Double Speak

History may regard the current era as a reincarnation of the 1930s, when a ramp-up of authoritarianism was watched with nervousness before spiralling out of control. Scholars are positioned to fight back through a global conversation about freedom, fairness, and social justice. Hasty actions against academia by nervous authoritarian governments are evidence of this power.

Scholars who allot even a paltry 10 per cent of their time to addressing social injustice can make a transformative difference. No discipline is beyond this conversation. The social sciences – including economics, political science and sociology – are directly relevant. The fields of business, health, education, science, and humanities also offer valuable perspectives on government malfeasance, failed policy, and humanitarian strife. The venues are numerous – press publications, blogs, even Facebook posts – and in the modern era of social media a commentary in an obscure outlet can receive widespread attention almost instantly.

The renowned educator Horace Mann once said: “be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” To paraphrase this, scholars should feel professionally unfulfilled until they have made dictators uncomfortable. Academia is capable of maintaining its scientific standards while mobilising for progress. Growing authoritarianism is a call to reinforce this effort.

Kris Hartley is a Lecturer in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University, a Faculty Fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center and a Nonresident Fellow for Global Cities at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

This article is published in collaboration with Policy Forum — Asia and the Pacific’s leading platform for policy analysis and discussion.

Professor, speak up and make a difference

 

Excellence: A Point of View


October 18, 2016

Excellence: A Point of View

COMMENT: Everyone in Malaysia talks about the pursuit of excellence and some pretend to know what it means, especially  our mediocre politicians in power and men in the public service who are tasked to implement our national education policy and Blue Ocean Strategy.

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We employ snake oil consultants  and experts to write glossy blueprints and reports at horrendous cost to taxpayers but fail to execute them.  We create institutions like Pemandu to promote Najib’s deformation agenda, and Permata for bright kids, while our Chief Secretary to the Government makes himself advocate-in-chief of the Blue Ocean Strategy concept to suck up to Najib Razak. In reality, we do not know what excellence is, what it takes and how to get there.

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Excellence is a simple idea if we are serious about it. All we need to do is change our attitude. Talk is cheap. Stop it and start taking action.

Malaysia has an attitude problem and it is our greatest obstacle to our future as a people and a nation. Where to begin? It has to be first fixing our education system to become a nation of high achievers and second we must stop playing politics  with the education of our future generation. But we are not doing that because UMNO politicians are afraid of  smart and pushy Malays in particular.

I wish to share with you A C Grayling’s thoughts on Excellence. This philosopher is endowed with the ability to communicate with ordinary men and women in clear and concise language. Read his article and share your comments.–Din Merican

Grayling on Excellence

When Matthew Arnold wrote Culture and Anarchy over a hundred years ago, he described the pursuit of excellence in the fostering of culture as “getting to know, on all matters that most concern us. the best which has been thought and said in the world, and through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits.”

Arnold was an inspector of schools, and a champion of higher education, and he believed in excellence in education as the way not only to staff the economy but to produce an enculturated society which would live up to the ideal in Aristotle’s noble dictum about the educated use of our leisure.

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From China to France, every country that is or aspires to be developed has an elite educational stratum, aimed at taking the most gifted students and giving them the best intellectual training possible. In China this is done at an early age, with special schools for the brightest children. In France the system of Hautes Ecoles–superior universities, entry to which is fiercely competitive–creams off the outstanding minds and subjects them to a rigorous discipline. The aim in all cases is to enhance the best in order to gain the highest quality in science, engineering, law, national administration, medicine and the arts.

Few could object to the rationale behind this, save those for whom universal mediocrity is a  price worth paying for social equality (or in the case of Malaysia where mediocrity is a means of political control, added by Din Merican). But there is the danger to which meritocratic means to the cultivation of excellence – or what should be solely such – fall prey. It is if, after the establishment of the means, merit by itself ceases to be enough, and money and influence become additional criteria. In many, perhaps most, countries in the world, money and influence are the determiners of social advancement, even where meritocratic criteria still apply too: in America money is needed to gain social advantages, in China it helps to be a Party member.

The rich and the well connected are not the kind of elite an  education system ought to be fostering. It is easy for popular newspapers and populist politicians to make pejorative use of the term ‘elite’ to connote these elites of injustice; but they are just as quick to complain if doctors, teachers, or sportsmen playing for national sides fail our highest expectations- if, in short, they are not elite after all, in the proper sense of the term.

Although there are few if any true democracies in the world– most dispensations claiming that name are elective oligarchies–the democratic spirit nevertheless invests Western life, for good and ill both. The good resides in the pressure to treat everyone fairly, the ill resides in the pressure to make everyone alike. The latter is a levelling tendency, a downward thrust, which dislikes excellence because it raises mountains where the negative-democratic spirit wishes to see only plains.

But democracy should not aim to reduce people and their achievements to a common denominator; it should aim to raise them, ambitiously and dramatically, as close as possible to an ideal. And that means, among other things, having institutions, especially of learning, which are the best and most demanding of their kind.

The Meaning of Things–Applying Philosophy to Life by AC Grayling (London: Weidenfeld &Nicolson, 2001) pp.160-161

NY Times Sunday Book Review: Anthony Doerr Reviews a New Book on Time Travel


October 3, 2016

NY Times Sunday Book Review: Anthony Doerr Reviews a New Book on Time Travel

 I was 10 years old when my brother handed me Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” with the endorsement that it was “probably the raddest story ever.” The action opens in 2055, and the United States has just elected a moderate presidential candidate named Keith over a strongman named Deutscher, “an anti-everything man for you, a militarist, Antichrist, anti-human, anti-intellectual.”

In the story a hubristic big-game hunter named Eckels pays Time Safari Inc. $10,000 to ride a time machine 60 million years back in time to shoot a rather vividly rendered T. rex. But there’s a Red Riding Hood-style catch: Eckels must stay on “the Path,” an antigravity sidewalk Time Safari Inc. has ­suspended over the jungle floor.

Why? Because, the lead hunter explains, “the stomp of your foot, on one mouse, could start an earthquake, the effects of which could shake our Earth and destinies down through Time, to their very foundations.”

Eckels, of course, stumbles off the Path and squashes a butterfly, “a small thing that could upset balances and knock down a line of small dominoes and then big dominoes and then gigantic dominoes, all down the years across Time.” When the hunting party gets back to the future, guess who the president-elect is? “Not that fool weakling Keith,” declares the desk jockey at Time Safari Inc. “We got an iron man now, a man with guts!”

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(All of which makes one worry that a dino-hunter from 2055 has recently been mucking around in the underbrush of the Mesozoic.)

At age 10, I was gripped by Bradbury’s dramatization. I read the story a half-dozen times, then stepped gingerly through the yard, wondering if every ant I squashed spelled doom for civilization in 3924.

As I grew, so did the number of time travel stories I devoured. I watched Superman spin the Earth backward; I watched John Connor send a young soldier (who was somehow also his dad?) back in time to protect his mom from a Terminator; I watched Keanu Reeves offer Genghis Khan a Twinkie in Bill and Ted’s (not so) Excellent Adventure. Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” made me long to wake in an era when my Casio wristwatch would strike folks as sorcery, and Martin Amis’s “Time’s Arrow” wrecked my assumption that all narratives had to proceed from Then to More-­Recently-Than-Then. Indeed, as a world culture, we have indulged in so many time travel stories that, in 2011, ­China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television officially denounced them, charging that they “casually make up myths, have monstrous and weird plots, use absurd tactics, and even promote feudalism, superstition, fatalism and reincarnation.”

That’s enough to start any storyteller building her time machine. Enter James Gleick’s “Time Travel: A History.”

Bad news first: Though the title might suggest otherwise, this is not a book sent through a wormhole from the future to detail the glorious evolution of time ­travel. Darn it. Gleick even goes so far as to declare that literal time travel, as imagined and reimagined by writers over the decades, “does not exist. It cannot.”

The good news? “Time Travel,” like all of Gleick’s work, is a fascinating mash-up of philosophy, literary criticism, physics and cultural observation. It’s witty (“Regret is the time traveler’s energy bar”), pithy (“What is time? Things change, and time is how we keep track”) and regularly manages to twist its reader’s mind into those Gordian knots I so loved as a boy.

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“Time Travel” begins at what Gleick believes is the beginning, H.G. Wells’s 1895 “The Time Machine.” “When Wells in his lamp-lit room imagined a time machine,” Gleick argues, “he also invented a new mode of thought.” Western science was undergoing a sea change at the same time, of course: Lyell and Darwin had exploded older conceptions of the age of the Earth, locomotives and telegraphs were transforming space, and Einstein was about to punch a major hole in Newton’s theory of absolute time. Meanwhile, in literature, Marcel Proust was using memory to complicate more straightforward storytelling, and it wouldn’t be long before modernists like Woolf and Joyce were compressing, dilating, and folding time in half.

James Gleick

But according to Gleick, Wells was the first to marry the words “time” and “travel,” and in doing so, “The Time Machine” initiated a kind of butterfly effect, the novel fluttering with each passing decade through the souls of more and more storytellers, who in turn influenced more and more of their successors, forking from Robert Heinlein to Jorge Luis ­Borges to Isaac Asimov to William Gibson to Woody Allen to Kate Atkinson to Charles Yu, until, to use Bradbury’s metaphor, the gigantic dominoes fell. Nowadays, Gleick writes, “Time travel is in the pop songs, the TV commercials, the wallpaper. From morning to night, children’s cartoons and adult fantasies invent and reinvent time machines, gates, doorways and windows, not to mention time ships and special closets, DeLoreans and police boxes.”

It’s also in the science. Gleick is a polymathic thinker who can quote from David Foster Wallace’s undergraduate thesis as readily as from Kurt Gödel or Lord Kelvin, and like many of the storytellers he thumbnails, he employs time travel to initiate engrossing discussions of causation, fatalism, predestination and even consciousness itself. He includes a humorously derisive chapter on people who bury time capsules (“If time capsulists are enacting reverse archaeology, they are also engaging in reverse nostalgia”), he tackles cyberspace (“Every hyperlink is a time gate”), and throughout the book he displays an acute and playful sensitivity to how quickly language gets slippery when we talk about time. Why, for example, do English speakers say the future lies ahead and the past lies behind, while Mandarin speakers say future events are below and earlier events are above?

“If you say,” he writes, “that an activity wastes time, implying a substance in finite supply, and then you say that it fills time, implying a sort of container, have you contradicted yourself?”

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(A footnote here: Gleick is a brilliant footnoter; never more than in this book have I been reminded of how footnotes can function as breaks in the time of a writer’s sentences, wormholes in the space-time of a ­paragraph.)

As in his 2011 exploration of information theory, “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood,” Gleick’s greatest skill in “Time Travel” is to synthesize: He sees practice in theory, literature in science, ­Augustine in Rivka Galchen. If this new book can sometimes feel like a mind-smashing catalog of literary and filmic references to time ­travel, it’s also a wonderful reminder that the most potent time-traveling technology we have is also the oldest technology we have: storytelling.

Read a verse of Homer and you can walk the walls of Troy alongside Hector; fall into a paragraph by Fitzgerald and your Now entangles with Gatsby’s Now; open a 1953 book by Bradbury and go hunting T. rexes with Eckels. Gleick’s epigraph to his penultimate chapter comes from Ursula Le Guin: “Story is our only boat for sailing on the river of time,” and she’s right, of course. The shelves of every library in the world brim with time machines. Step into one, and off you go.