I spent the week in rural Ohio, and spent a lot of time reading the internet. Because, you know, man, it is hot and humid outside. So, global warming is why this is an unusually long “sunday reading,” is my point.
- The art of environmental pollution:
- Five vegetables that could help with world hunger.
- Longform non-fiction making a come-back?
- Drought does not equal famine.
- I thought that private jet thing was just a cliche. But actually, private jet traffic is way up!
- “[L]ocust beans will not successfully ferment in the presence of a fornicator.” via @toluogunlesi
- Jaywalking mom Raquel Nelson gets probation—and a new trial.
- The Beatles entire catalog sped up 800%. Don’t ask why, just click.
- On Obama’s mythical spending binge.
- Legal Scholars Support Ignoring the Debt Limit If Congress Fails Its Constitutional Responsibility
- New York, in the 1940’s, in color
- On how republicans treated the debt ceiling when Bush was president.
- Voter disenfranchisement in Wisconsin: making ID harder to get.
- How voter ID laws effectively target women.
- Kerim’s “Seeing like a social network” at Savage Minds.
- Pat Buchanan! Kind of a bigot!
- Dan Cohen posts the introduction to his forthcoming book The Ivory Tower and the Open Web: “Burritos, Browsers, and Books.”
- Jeffrey Sachs: “Every part of the budget debate in the U.S. is built on a tissue of willful deceit”
- In response to the Planet Money story “When Patents Attack,” Julian Sanchez notes that “The very existence of such massive trade in “defensive patents” is, in itself, pretty strong evidence that there’s something systematically quite wrong with the American patent system.”
- As Ta-Nehisi Coates summarizes, “Government — at all levels — was indispensable in the creation of the racial wealth gap, and specifically in keeping black wealth significantly lower then
white wealth. Any grappling with the history reveals this to be, not a unintentional side effect, but the entire point,” and points to Melissa Harris-Perry, who describes in more detail.
- Calestous Juma argues that “The fires of democratic revolution won’t spread south after the Arab Spring. And that’s a good thing.” Africa’s summer of strikes.
- The microagression of stroking African American hair.
- Punished: The Culture of Control as Seen from Oakland
Since the recession technically ended in 2009, all of the weak growth in jobs has gone to men while women’s employment has declined. Men have gained 805,000 jobs, but women have lost a total of 281,000. The percentage of women who have a job hasn’t been this low since 1988. Cuts to state budgets help explain why women are falling behind: In the face of large budget shortfalls, women have lost343,000 public-sector jobs, accounting for 70 percent of the cuts between June 2009 and June 2011,
But while cuts to government workers explain much of the difference between recoveries for men and women, that’s only part of the story. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that women were also lagging behind men in virtually all private-sector industries. Men gained more jobs than women in almost all industries, and when some areas lost jobs, men lost fewer than women. This even held true even for traditionally female-dominated industries like education and health care.
Google and the existential moan:
New economic figures are in, and they’re real bad. To summarize:
- The Great Recession was worse than we thought.
- The recovery was slower than we thought.
- And the economy continues to sputter badly.
Rob Horning’s theory of affect and social media had me at Richard Sennett:
In The Culture of New Capitalism, Richard Sennett described some of the ramifications of the transition to post-Fordist production methods, which shift enterprise risk onto workers and demand that they be more flexible and to repeatedly prove their worth. He suggests that “if institutions no longer provide a long-term frame, the individual may have to improvise his or her life-narrative, or even do without any sustained sense of self.” Perhaps what we are experiencing now, thanks to the rise of social media, is both of these things at once.
A cri de coeur from Mike Barthel:
Dear journalists: please stop talking about “the market” as if it were an actual thing with concrete desires, motivations, and reasoning. As in, “the market reacted badly to the continued standoff over the debt ceiling.” This is bullshit. “The market” did nothing. “The market” is an aggregation of individual buying and selling decisions, the majority of which were presumably made for their own individual reasons and concerning their own individual companies, not the national political scene. “The market” is not an oracle; it’s an average.
Talking about “the market” makes it seem like a force that can’t be questioned, a thing with its own internal logic that can’t be affected by outside factors. It makes it seem right rather than just one more voice in the fray. And that’s dangerous. The market isn’t like the weather, a thing operating by its own physical logic, unaffected by new ideas. Storm fronts won’t change their patterns just because everyone suddenly agrees that storm fronts should act differently. But “the market” does. It’s a force of consensus, not rationality. Investors’ ill-informed ideas about mideast politics have royally screwed the oil market, as every time there’s a protest or a border skirmish in an Arab country they think oil’s going to become scarcer and drive up the price, even though that scarcity almost never materializes… If we’re going to mitigate the power of financial markets to harm society, then we need to stop talking about them as a mystical beast and get down, instead, into the nitty-gritty, the details, the actual mechanics of what’s going on. To do less is to say that the crash of ‘08 was inevitable, that it was just “markets talking,” that there’s nothing we could have done. But of course there is. Don’t let them get off this easily.
- Also, Barthel on the loudness wars.
- If I had money, I wouldn’t consider giving it to Obama or the DNC. But the Wisconsin recalls, who knows? Luckily, the problem does not arise.
- Eric Foner on five books to help understand the evolution of liberalism (to “progressivism”).
According an analysis of historical data compiled on the statutory limit by the Office of Management and Budget, former President Ronald Reagan outstrips all other executives to date, increasing the debt ceiling by 199.5 percent during his eight years in office. He is followed by President George W. Bush, Jr. at a 90.2 percent increase over eight years and by President George H. Bush, Sr. at a 48.0 percent increase over only four years in office. Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, on the other hand, have only raised the debt ceiling by 43.6 and 26.3 percent, respectively.
Russell Brand, remembering Amy Winehouse:
When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction you await the phone call. There will be a phone call. The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves, telling you they’ve had enough, that they’re ready to stop, ready to try something new. Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it’s too late, she’s gone. Frustratingly it’s not a call you can ever make it must be received. It is impossible to intervene.
Juan Cole, A Story More Important than Debt Limit Kabuki:
I take it the American news cycle is dominated by the artificial debate over raising the debt limit. It is a silly season story. The budget was being balanced by Clinton in the late 1990s, and the Republicans were the ones who created long-term structural deficits by slashing taxes on the wealthiest Americans (even Bush argued with Cheney over the second cut), by an unfunded prescription drug give-away to get votes from the medicare crowd, and by two unfunded wars, one of them illegal in international law.
The reason that the Republicans deliberately destroyed the balanced budget and created unprecedented government debt was precisely in hopes that at some point they could use the debt as an excuse to destroy social security, medicare, and myriads of educational and health programs. They represent rich people, and the rich don’t want to be having to bear their fair share of the national burden. What better way to get out of having to pay those pesky taxes than making sure the government doesn’t do anything for anyone but the rich.
So everything unfolding in Washington was planned out in a room in 2001, and is going according to plan.
- Teju Cole’s twitter feed is sort of exactly what you might expect it to be after reading his incredible novel.
- Teenagers struck down by enemies of social justice are often (mis)remembered as small children.
- Local Food Has Been No Easy Sell in Appalachia (says husband of Barbara Kingsolver)
- Youth in recession.
- This blog about Star Trek: The Next Generation and fashion wrecked my productivity on Wednesday.
- Words with no English equivalent
- What writers snack on while writing.
- “they kept telling him, ‘He’s resisting, quit resisting,’ and he wasn’t resisting.”
- Daisy’s paintings are almost as great as her prose, or vice versa. On dic-lit.
- Americans mostly don’t know what government does for them.
David Anderson on the realities of Britain’s imperial past:
We have long known that Kenya was a dirty war and that bad things happened. But the extent of abuse now being revealed is truly disturbing. Documents brought to light in connection with the Mau Mau court hearing catalogue more than 400 separate charges of abuse, spanning every element of the British security and administrative services in Kenya at the time. And the matters raised are far from trivial. Of the four elderly Kenyan plaintiffs who brought this case, two were allegedly the victims of castration, one claims to have been savagely beaten and left for dead on a mortuary slab, and another was allegedly the victim of repeated sexual abuse – all acts conducted during British “interrogation” of suspects against whom no crime had been proved.
In Kenya there has long been indignation at British cant in refusing to acknowledge that such things happened. The sense that Britain has tried to deny Kenyans their own history by removing documents and concealing them in the bowels of the Foreign Office for more than 50 years has only deepened these resentments. All of this will be aired in the high court early next year, when the Kenya case will be heard in full. It is going to be very uncomfortable for those in the Foreign Office who have tried to prevent this case coming to court – and for many in the British political establishment who are still in denial about the realities of our imperial past.
And the problem goes far beyond Kenya. In a further revelation, it has been admitted in the House of Lords that the Foreign Office “irregularly” holds 9,500 files from 36 other former British colonies. Do these hold further horrors yet to be revealed of colonial misdeeds? The discovery of this vast tranche of documents has prompted historians to suggest that a major reappraisal of the end of Britain’s empire will be required once these materials have been digested – a “hidden history” if ever there were one.
The bank foreclosed. People hired by the bank went inside and took pictures of her stuff. They took pictures of her car. That happened twice. “Diligent search and inquiry,” they wrote. “Confirmed residence is unoccupied. And Kathryn Norris had her 56th birthday. And her 57th. The summer heat made decomposition quick. Eager flies found ways inside, through tiny slits and vents, seeking their sustenance from the moisture of death. Her neighbors who shared a wall were still in Cincinnati for the summer. Winter months brought cooler weather. The air dried out, and so did she, as her skin turned brown and thick. The flies moved on. She could have stayed that way for years.
When the U.S. government sells a Treasury security, it is making a promise to pay back the money, with interest, according to a set schedule. Businesses and individuals make promises like this all the time. They’re effectively (and often explicitly) contracts. When you renege on one, you’d better have good reason. Simply choosing not to honor a contract because you don’t feel like it earns you a lawsuit and a deserved reputation as a deadbeat.
Those who fail to meet their obligations because of some event out of their control (the legal term for such eventualities appears to be “frustration” or “impossibility”) are often let off. Those who simply run out of money have the remedy of bankruptcy court. Renege on your obligations with no good reason, though, and you are granted no such mercy. You shouldn’t be. The sanctity of contracts is at the heart of the success of the capitalist enterprise over the past two centuries. Mess with it at your peril.
You probably already know where I’m going with this. The U.S. government is currently toying with the possibility of reneging on its promises, even though it has the resources to honor them. This may not be exactly how it looks from Washington, where the battle over raising the debt ceiling is all about budget priorities and political optics. But from the perspective of those who have entered into explicit or implicit contracts with the U.S. — especially the buyers of Treasury securities, but also Social Security recipients, military contractors, you name it — even hinting at default looks suspiciously like the behavior of a scoundrel.
From a great little photo-essay by Old Urbanist, on the front lawn/residential setback:
While other countries routinely incorporate lawns into their detached single-family neighborhoods, it appears to be only England’s colonial children — the United States, Canada, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Australia, New Zealand and a handful of other places — that have embraced the idea of large, decorative and open front lawns [e.g. suburban Frankfurt, on right]
And lawns are evil!:
In a nutshell, what’s going on is something that hasn’t happened in American politics for 50 years: an ideologically coherent social movement with clear political aspirations has taken shape out of murkier antecedents and disparate tributaries and at least for the moment, it has a very tight hold on the political officials that it has elected. The movement is not interested in the spoils system, its representatives can’t be quickly seduced into playing the usual games. And the movement’s primary objective is to demolish existing governmental and civic institutions. They’ve grown tired of waiting for government to be small enough to drown in a bathtub, so they’re setting out with battleaxes and dynamite instead.
Social movements that aren’t just setting out to secure legal protection and resources for their constituency, but are instead driven to pursue profound sociopolitical transformations are unfamiliar enough. What makes this moment even more difficult to grasp in terms of the conventional wisdom of pundits is that this isn’t a movement that speaks a language of inclusion, hope, reform, innovation or progress. It speaks instead about restoration of power to those who once held it, the tearing down of existing structures, about undoing what’s been done. This movement is at war with its social and institutional enemies: it has nothing to offer them except to inflict upon them the marginalization that the members of the movement imagine they themselves have suffered.
Even the left, whatever that might be, is having a hard time bending its head around the situation, because for decades it has been accustomed to thinking of organizations on the right as fringes or cults that need to be monitored or controlled, or watched for their infiltration of legitimate politics. It’s very true that the Tea Party and its cognate organizations are not by any means a majority of the electorate, but the point is that they’re a very coherent plurality that can win majorities in enough districts and localities to block votes and prevent business as usual, and that preventing business as usual is a political objective in its own right for them, not just a means to some other end.
Mike Miller, on working with Christopher Plummer:
[H]e’s going through a successful period. I think he’s just hungry. It’s weird. When I shot with him, I think he was 79. He was listening to me, the guy who’s done only one other film – I’m not John Huston – and listening to me attentively. So there’s some weird humility. He’s not taking it for granted at all. The whole time, I was kinda like, “Why are you like this?” Because he’s quite worldly, he’s done everything, it’s not like he’s insecure in any way, he’s quite masterly. Both Ewan and I were like, “Wow, I hope I’m like that at that age.”
The mystical impregnation trope:
- “Her mind turned like a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces”
- Eight things you ought to know before you start writing stories about Rick Perry.
- The great teddy bear shipwreck mystery. For real. Also? Edison’s Anti-Gravity Underwear Kite Babies. Not kidding even a little.
- If corporations and the rich paid taxes at the same rates in the 60s, the debt would disappear http://thkpr.gs/qidSev
- PTSD in fiction, part one and two, via @bintbattutta.
The rise of the Austerity Hawk Democrats:
“Our plan includes more cuts,” Chuck Schumer bragged at a news conference on Capitol Hill yesterday when comparing Harry Reid’s debt plan to John Boehner’s. The fact that Senate Democrats are trying to out-cut the cut-obsessed Republicans pretty much sums up the current political debate in Washington. “Harry Reid’s plan wins the austerity sweepstakes,” Adam Serwer wrote yesterday. “It’s the austerity party vs. the austerity party,” blogger Atrios tweeted.
President Obama has actively shifted the debt debate to the right, both substantively and rhetorically. Substantively by not insisting on a “clean bill” to raise the debt ceiling at the outset and actively pushing for drastic spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs as part of any deal. And rhetorically by mimicking right-wing arguments about the economy, such as the canard that reducing spending will create jobs (it won’t), or that the government’s budget is like a family’s budget (it isn’t), or that major spending cuts will return confidence to the market and spur the economy recovery we’ve all been waiting for (Paul Krugman calls it “the confidence fairy”).
“For the last few months, I and others have watched, with amazement and horror, the emergence of a consensus in policy circles in favor of immediate fiscal austerity,” Krugman wrote on July 1. “That is, somehow it has become conventional wisdom that now is the time to slash spending, despite the fact that the world’s major economies remain deeply depressed. This conventional wisdom isn’t based on either evidence or careful analysis. Instead, it rests on what we might charitably call sheer speculation, and less charitably call figments of the policy elite’s imagination.”
Paul Krugman on the centrist cop-out: “when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism.”
In Mississippi, Rennie Gibbs is facing life behind bars after she suffered a miscarriage back in 2006. Gibbs was only 15 years old at the time, and while there is no concrete evidence linking her miscarriage to a cocaine abuse problem she suffered from, prosecutors have nonetheless charged her with “depraved-heart murder,” which carries a mandatory life sentence. The charge, which has been on the books for 130 years, is filed when someone is suspected of placing another in imminent danger of death. “If it’s not a crime for a mother to intentionally end her pregnancy, how can it be a crime for her to do it unintentionally, whether by taking drugs or smoking or whatever it is,” says Gibbs’ attorney Robert McDuff, a civil rights lawyer.
Nearly 40 states in the USA have fetal homicide laws on the books. These legislations were largely created so that third-parties could be prosecuted in cases of assault against an expecting mother, but according to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, only one man has been charged with the crime in South Carolina, while 300 women have been arrested under the law. Amanda Kimbrough is facing a ten year sentence in Alabama after the state charged her with “chemical endangerment” after her premature baby passed away minutes after birth. The state attests that she had taken drugs during her pregnancy, though Kimbrough argues otherwise.
I feel like the existence of this blog of pencils demonstrates something about something, though Clay Shirky said it first.
Niles Green, on South Asian historiography:
One of the perennial problems that are inherent to the field of South Asian history is the dominance of the Indian nation-state in framing the questions asked and sources used. South Asia becomes a problematic field when so many linguistic domains and social groups are excluded because they do not fit the dominant narrative of the formation of the Indian nation-state. I often find myself in conversation with people whose research field is the Middle East. Most scholars on India have done very little work on Islam and almost no research in Arabic and Persian. One manifestation of this is that categories for dealing with what some term “Indian religions” leave little room for Muslims and Islam. Many academic departments focusing on South Asia are premised on the idea of “Indian religion,” meaning Hinduism and Buddhism, as the originator of South Asian culture. This is quite problematic when one considers the impact of Islam, the presence of Muslims, and the historical legacy of the Mogul Empire. These exclusions have become inherent to the twentieth-century historiography of India.
A particular example of this came to light during some time I spent in the archives of the East India College. As I was browsing the examination papers of the 1830s and 1840s, I was struck by what the exams revealed about how the British conceptualized Indian history at the time. The papers were entirely about Islam and the Mogul Empire. This is a stark contrast with today’s dominant conceptualization of Indian history in which Islam has been made peripheral and in some cases completely absent. I would very much like to encourage more research that crosses current geographical fields of study. There is a vast amount of sources in Indo-Arabic and Indo-Persian that is simply not touched. We need to expand our inquiries and break through the limits imposed by nation-state-centric fields.
the fate of the largest invasion force ever assembled was subject to the hunches of a Scotsman with a hand-drawn map of weather fronts. Eisenhower had grown to trust Stagg and accepted his forecast. So it was a hunch about someone else’s hunch; Ike went with his gut and went with Stagg’s gut. It really is a miracle that the invasion force was not consumed by a hurricane and the Kraken.
I detect a theme in this display: (via)
- Esquire Sees Erotic Opportunity in DSK Rape Narrative
- “at no point did she raise the issue of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s wealth or status in the way that prosecutors had described“
- The Atlantic joins the China-Africa scare-mongering
- “something strange and remarkable about anthology of Southern African writing which omits black authors” via @TOMolefe
- Justin E. H. Smith considers the anthropomorphized food item that happily consumes a non-anthropomorphized version of itself.
As Caroline Moorehead has discussed, they may lie because they are ‘terrified that their real story is not powerful enough’ to gain the protection they may badly need. This is a completely legitimate fear in a process that is partly founded on what Chloé Lewis and Azeemah Kola have described in a related context as a ‘hierarchy of suffering’, whereby the Home Office often finds return to anything but the most intolerable conditions not to engage the UK’s legal obligations. The threshold for what counts as persecution is set so high that the Home Office could readily concede that asylum seekers will be returned to a dire situation, while concluding that it is just not quite dire enough.
Asylum seekers may also be compelled to lie because the only way they can secure protection from serious harm is to fit themselves within restrictive refugee law. Current law privileges some forms of harm, such as persecution, over others, such as material deprivation or lack of vital health care. Although the broader category of subsidiary protection – which covers some asylum seekers at risk of other forms of serious harm such as the death penalty or torture – has been established in EU law, in practice others still fall through the gaps.
Lying may also be a response to asylum seekers’ enforced state of limbo while their claims are being decided, not knowing whether they will be granted asylum or returned to the situation they fled. In this precarious state, without entitlement to work, it is entirely unsurprising that, as Moorehead has also discussed, rumours and ‘good’ stories circulate which might just help to cut short this agonising waiting time.
All this strongly suggests that the asylum system itself effectively produces lying. Its hierarchy of suffering, restrictive legal provisions and enforced limbo can all strongly encourage, if not compel, asylum seekers to lie to secure protection. However, the role of the system in generating these lies is ignored and the blame is often placed squarely on the shoulders of the asylum seeker. The accusation of the ‘bogus’ asylum seeker thus becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the shortcomings of the system are displaced onto its victims.
This isn’t about confidence or uncertainty or regulations or any of the other bankshot explanations we’ve been using to explain why unemployment seems stuck even as the economy rebounds. The economy isn’t rebounding. Demand isn’t returning. And without demand, there can’t be jobs. If you dig into the BEA’s report, they say that the downward revisions were driven by “personal consumption expenditures,” “nonresidential fixed investment,” and “state and local government spending.” In other words, individuals, businesses and governments spent less than we thought, and so we grew more slowly than we thought. Which makes congressional dithering over the debt ceiling all the more infuriating. Republicans in Congress are threatening to manufacture an economic crisis unless they’re permitted to slash spending. Meanwhile, we’re in an economic crisis in which the main problem is too little spending. So the choice we’re being presented with is that we can either worsen an existing crisis or trigger a fresh one.
Economists react to the recovery-less recovery.
Towards a new film criticism:
When Cahiers du Cinéma developed auteur theory, it focused on directors like Hawks, Hitchcock, and Renoir, who worked with crews of about 15 people. But when 1,000 workers spend three years producing a single film, the director becomes a much more suspect character. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 362,000 waged and salaried jobs in the American film industry, and likely another 100,000 in freelancers, contractors, and small company employees. Yet critics regularly discuss perhaps 200 of these people.
For mainstream entertainment films, the director must be considered little more than a manager. “But, but, but,” one might protest. “There’s internal consistency to the films of some of the biggest-budget directors—Paul Greengrass, Zach Snyder, Christopher Nolan —these guys have a definable style!” They certainly do, because cinema has been structured around maintaining and capitalizing on the myth of the artist-director. Think of M. Night Shyamalan: His name on the marquee meant “spooky” cold-fish acting, washed-out cinematography, and a twist ending—of course, when you buy a ticket expecting to get a good surprise ending, how can you possibly be surprised? The director is little more than a brand, and his name guarantees a particular image-management style.
Celebration of the auteur has become a method of strengthening an exploitative labor relation; creative expression becomes a reified commodity—a brand rooted in arbitrary aesthetic idiosyncrasies—that producers distribute to directors (by hiring them on to a project), who themselves then appropriate the labor and creativity of their crew to implement the (often impoverished and clichéd) stylistic “vision” producers demand. If the directors’ stylistic idiosyncrasies stay market-viable and replicate the experience of their previous films, the producer allows them “creative freedom”: “Artistic expression” thus becomes an owner-controlled means of production.
Bayview/Hunters Point is spatially and socially isolated, experiencing a sort of de facto segregation, from the rest of San Francisco. This separation, of course, is not a natural phenomenon but closely tied to a series of economic processes and, crucially, state planning (e.g. housing policies and the military-industrial complex). The fixture that has dominated the neighborhood through both its presence and its absence is the Naval Shipyard. Established in 1941, it generated thousands of jobs while at the same time poisoning the land, pushing out other businesses and industries, and establishing a firm economic dependency, which has continued to shape the neighborhood since the shipyard was decommissioned in 1974. Transportation has played a central role in cutting Bayview/Hunters Point off from the rest of San Francisco, erecting immense concrete barriers (the 101 and 280 freeways) and limiting paths of communication and access points (generally poor public transportation). It’s no surprise that, as the above linked history points out, most San Franciscans have never been there.Segregation doesn’t only consist of physical walls or explicitly racist policies, but is also embedded in the structures and flows of the cityscape as well, in bridges, crumbling building facades, liquor stores, and, in this case, MUNI rails…In Bayview, the T-Third MUNI line functions as a gateway to the rest of San Francisco. Especially for youth and others who don’t have access to cars, it’s the primary path toward downtown and by extension to the rest of the MUNI grid that crisscrosses the city. Guarded by armed police officers who, we now know, are ready and willing to use their weapons, the Bayview MUNI station operates as a militarized checkpoint that serves as a form of population control, regulating the flow of primarily black youth into but most importantly out of the neighborhood. Even the police identify it as such. As the police chief has explained, fare inspections have been stepped up recently as a way of confiscating guns from Bayview residents who ride the trains. Fare inspections, in other words, are explicitly not about making sure people pay their fares. Rather, what they do is give the police an excuse to detain, search, and criminalize black youth in the moment that they attempt to navigate an urban landscape that has been closed off to them.
On Transformers 3:
Groucho Marx has a great bit in Duck Soup where he’s describing Marx brother Chico to the court of Freedonia: ‘Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot. But don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.’
Slavoj Zizek fans will know that he often uses the seriously sophisticated comedic logic of this joke to make a simple but potent point about our reactions to public figures, events, institutions and the like: we instinctively anticipate concealed meaning and bigger pictures when, in fact, we should be responding to what is being paraded openly and superficially in front of us. Forget some hidden upper-level logic that will reformulate the seeming reality of the situation into something viable; we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking we’re being fooled. Sometimes stupid is just stupid. Sometimes ugly is just ugly.
Mainstream press sold the heck outta Transformers’ dumbness that somehow transcended dumb, as though being in on the joke made is somehow ok. Retro Remote’s local self-labelled ‘sophisticated cinema’ happily chirped: “Shia LaBeouf returns with some vaguely known Victoria’s Secret model (sorry, actress) as the token hottie in the final installment of the Transformers trilogy. Leave your common-sense detector at home and just enjoy this for what it is—a big popcorn adventure film. Plot?—well there’s sort of one…”—Palace Nova Cinemas.
Ha. Sorry, ‘actress’. It’s funny that it doesn’t matter who the hell the girl in the film is and that she was only cast because she’s a model and she can’t act and the camera stares at her ass more than her face and she probably got paid millions for it. Excuse me while I wipe the tears of joy from my eyes.
In fact, the snide laughter in reviews at Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s general lack of ability is a miserable sign of what a dismissive approach to cultural ugliness lets cultural ugliness get away with. Instead of fury, her role is received with exactly the eye-rolling smirking that Bay expects and believes is entirely appropriate. For Bay, she’s nothing but a joke and he treats her that way, and we all respond in kind.
Sexualisation is nothing bad in itself (it often leads to sex), but combined with dismissive contempt for the person being sexualised, it’s as ugly as it gets. As in Duck Soup, this looks like misogynist dreck and sounds like misogynist dreck. But don’t be let that fool you. It is misogynist dreck.
Over the last decade, virtually every Terrorist plot aimed at the U.S. — whether successful or failed — has provoked greater security and surveillance measures. Within a matter of mere weeks, the 9/11 attacks infamously spawned a vast new surveillance statute (the Patriot Act), a secretly implemented warrantless eavesdropping program in violation of the law, an explosion of domestic surveillance contracts, a vastly fortified secrecy regime, and endless wars in multiple countries. As it turned out, that massive over-reaction was not a crisis-driven anomaly but rather the template for future actions.
The failed Christmas Day bombing over Detroit led to an erosion of Miranda rights and judge-free detentions as well as a due-process free assassination program aimed at an Muslim American preacher whose message allegedly “inspired” the attacker. The failed Times Square bombing was repeatedly cited to justify reform-free extension of the Patriot Act along with a slew of measures to maximize government scrutiny of the Internet. That failed plot, along with Nidal Hasan’s shooting at Fort Hood, provoked McCarthyite Congressional hearings into American Muslims and helped sustain a shockingly broad interpretation of “material support for Terrorism” that criminalizes free speech. In sum, every Terrorist plot is immediately exploited as a pretext for expanding America’s Security State; the response to every plot: we need to sacrifice more liberties, increase secrecy, and further empower the government.
The reaction to the heinous Oslo attack by Norway’s political class has been exactly the opposite: a steadfast refusal to succumb to hysteria and a security-über-alles mentality. The day after the attack — one which, per capita, was as significant for Norway as 9/11 was for the U.S. — Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang, when asked whether greater security measures were needed, sternly rejected that notion: “I don’t think security can solve problems. We need to teach greater respect.” It is simply inconceivable that any significant U.S. politician — the day after an attack of that magnitude — would publicly reject calls for greater security measures.
Amy Davidson on Nafissatou Diallo:
Diallo…cannot read or write in any language. But she can narrate her story, and she can show her face. To the extent that privacy means having any control over the intimate details of one’s life, or any power to define the way one is put on display—what people call you—Diallo may have reached the point where exposure seemed like a way to gain more privacy, and not less. How additionally vulnerable it has left her will depend, in part, on what happens next week, when Strauss-Kahn, his lawyers, and the prosecutors are due back in court.
- Jesus joins the air force.
- A Real-Life, No-Kidding 1880’s Cowboy Talks True (1937)
- On Pseudonymity, Privacy and Responsibility on Google+
- DOJ says that Wells Fargo intentionally steered African-American borrowers into expensive sub-prime loans.
- Why, yes! I would like to look at pictures of an abandoned East Berlin theme-park (below).
- On our future as impoverished old people.
- The growing racial wealth gap is really bad.
- On Obama as James Buchanan.
- Privatizing prisons in Florida.
- Electricity failures in Kenya.
- America’s deeper debt crisis.
- Books (About Sex) for Bernard Lewis.
Vijay Prashad, on the costs of war:
The drain of wealth to the war economy is a massive regressive taxation on the population: the rich who pay a much smaller proportion of their taxes (and nothing on capital gains, which is also income) and the corporations (who pay little to no taxes) are insulated from the costs of war, and indeed some of them benefit from the windfalls of war. To balance the budget in the context of the economic draft means to devastate whatever social spending remains: education, healthcare, senior care, care for the indigent, resources for the environment, capacity for the state regulators and so on.
Jonathan Sench, some pushback against the “just don’t go” (to grad school) line, in a really nice personal essay:
In the neoliberal United States, no one is guaranteed a job with health insurance. Most people, not just humanities majors, face difficulty finding employment that pays well, is secure, and has good benefits. There are no sure bets. If you think business school is a sure bet, there’s someone there to tell you it isn’t. If you think law school is a sure bet, there’s someone there to tell you it isn’t. If you think culinary school is a sure bet, there’s someone there to tell you it isn’t. And if you think that the humanities deserve special ridicule in all of this, you’re wrong. If you think a Ph.D. in physics is a sure bet, there’s someone there to tell you it isn’t.