ice skat

“So, What Do You Do?”

Patrick Spaet   September 19, 2014
Photo by Tekniska museet

[A version of this article appeared in the German newspaper Die ZEIT in July, where it inspired considerable debate and commentary. The article has been translated by the author and is reprinted here with permission; he has also written a response to the commentary, below. – Ed.]

Probably no other sentence comes up at a party as often as: “So, what do you do?” There is an unspoken question behind this: “Are you useful?” Work determines our social status: tell me what your job is–and I’ll tell you who you are.

Whoever isn’t “doing” anything, and says openly that he can’t be bothered to work, and that by no means any work is better than no work, is suspected of slacking, and of inciting others to do the same–with the result of this contagious slacking being that the whole of our hardworking society will plunge into an abyss. The mantra of our time is “I work, therefore I am.”


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   September 19, 2014
Is this man full of contempt, or celebration? / Photo by istolethetv.

• For a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Ahir Gopaldas evaluated the different categories of emotions that drive consumers to “ethical consumption,” like buying organic produce or free-trade stuff, even when it costs them more money. They are: “contempt for villains, concern for victims and celebration of heroes.”

• According to the Wall Street Journal, the federal government puts more time and energy into collecting student loan debt than it does into pursuing corporate fraudsters (via David Dayen).

• Today in Billionaires: Well, gosh, they’re just absolutely everywhere. “The world economy is going through a rough patch, yet the world’s billionaire population is at an all-time high,” reports CNBC. “A new survey shows that 155 new billionaires were minted this year, pushing the total population to a record 2,325 – a 7 percent increase from 2013.”


U2, Apple, and the Strip-Mining of Punk Rebellion

Jeff Sparrow   September 18, 2014
Hm, that looks like Joey Ramone, but is almost definitely not Joey Ramone. / Photo by Hotlanta Voyeur.

“Wasn’t that the most incredible single you ever heard?” asked Apple CEO Tim Cook as the last note of The Edge’s guitar died away. He was playing U2’s new single “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” to the audience at the end of a press conference this month for the new iPhone 6. “We would love a whole album of that.”

As George Orwell knew, totalitarians have a thing for grammar. Cook’s two-sentence shift from the second person singular to the first person plural neatly encapsulates the dystopian core of Apple’s new alliance with Irish rock bores U2.

“The question is now,” replied Bono, “how do we get it to as many people as possible, because that’s what our band is all about. I do believe you have over half a billion subscribers to iTunes, so–could you get this to them?”


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   September 18, 2014
Mo' [virtual currency] mo' [real-world] problems. / Photo by fdecomite.

• “Millionaire Roger Ver has become a bitcoin bounty hunter. This will not end well.” – Vocativ‘s Eric Markowitz on an Internet vigilante known as “Bitcoin Jesus.”

• The Los Angeles Unified School District police officials are debating whether they really need a twenty-foot-long, fourteen-ton armored transport vehicle and several grenade launchers, both of which they currently have, and both of which they got for free from the federal government. Meanwhile, in unrelated news, The Los Angeles Youth Justice Organization reports that L.A. cops have killed about one person a week since 2000.

• Today in Ooh La La: Fashion shows are so expensive to put on that designers typically rely on corporate sponsors to put them on. That used to mean signs or “seat gifts” (e-cigs!), but the corporate partnerships are increasingly showing up on the runway as well, in the form of, say, “Tinker Bell” dresses sponsored by Disney, or “wearable tech” created by Samsung.


Hack Attack Goes to Hollywood

Robert Appelbaum   September 17, 2014
The final edition of News of the World, right before the paper shut down in July 2011. / Photo by

It was made for Hollywood, this story, with heroic journalists challenging their corrupt peers and government figures, both in the name of freedom. A good story, even though at the end, nothing much really changed, apart from a handful of people going briefly to jail. And so it was not entirely surprising to find disclosed in the Hollywood Reporter that George Clooney had signed a deal to direct a film version of Guardian reporter Nick Davies’s Hack Attack: The Inside Story of How the Truth Caught Up With Rupert Murdoch.

By now, the tale is familiar. Reporters and private eyes working for the British tabloid News of the World, one among many of Murdoch’s News Corporation entities in the United Kingdom, hacked into private persons’ phone messages; they “blagged” phone companies and other service providers out of private information about their clients; they intimidated politicians to the point of “whitemail” (if not downright blackmail) about their personal affairs; they pushed ideological and corporate objectives in return for supportive press coverage; they bribed police informers and encouraged a culture of corruption in various halls of government, including Scotland Yard, the Metropolitan Police, and the regulatory agency charged with monitoring the news media.

As a fan of political thrillers, and of George Clooney too, I am eagerly anticipating this movie, and already going over in my head how different scenes could be constructed for it, not to mention guessing what actors will play what roles. (I am pulling for Clive Owen as the disgraced editor Andy Coulson, and Julianne Moore, if she can do a proper English accent, as not-quite-so-disgraced editor Rebekah Brooks). But as a culture critic I have a larger question to ask. What kind of story will this movie tell? I have read the whole of Hack Attack, which is 448 pages long, and which, in trying to be thorough and accurate, dwells on a number of details which slow down the action and impede its narrative drive. In two hours or less, however, the movie version is going to have to go for a big, mythic, emotional impact. It is going to have to delineate, with sound and sight as well as language, one of the main things, according to Nick Davies and George Clooney, that is rotten at the core of our world.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   September 17, 2014
Photo courtesy of Alan Cleaver

Welcome to the first-ever Good News Only edition of Daily Bafflements! Here we go:

• Among the twenty-one MacArthur “genius award” recipients this year is Ai-jen Poo, a labor organizer fighting for the rights of domestic workers.

• The Rolling Jubilee, a project of Strike Debt, has bought and abolished $3,856,866.11 of student debt owed by 2,761 Americans, according to a press release today.


On Scarcity’s Appeal

Benjamin Henry DeVries   September 16, 2014
Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

On a Sunday afternoon in January, with an inch of snow forecast for later that evening, a queue of about fifty shoppers lined up outside the front door of the Downtown Brooklyn Trader Joe’s (DBTJ). The crowd inside had reached capacity. Those waiting outside shivered with various degrees of sincerity: some crested their shoulders to their ears, others blew into their hands, but everyone’s gestures seemed not just expressions of coldness but also signals to others that yes, we are cold, we are cold together.

The quality of the customers’ outerwear suggested they might be able to afford a fancier grocery than the DBTJ (of which there are several in the neighborhood), but bargain prices hold a universal appeal. A line manager wore no coat, perhaps to display his official Hawaiian shirt uniform. At this man’s bidding, people filed into the store–individuals and families, but mostly couples, and mostly those from Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and other affluent neighborhoods nearby.

Inside the building, a former bank, two-tiered carts and standard plastic carts, fewer than ten total, lined up in a scrap wood stable; the holster for baskets lay empty. Above the milling heads and aisles, flags marking the end of the queue hung slack against their poles. I tried to buy some vegetables and found a few women wearing thigh-length down coats over their gym wear, waiting next to empty shelves. The scene slowed shoppers down, made them take a closer look, and prompted the natural questions: What once inhabited these empty shelves? Why can’t I have some? Do empty shelves mean there are fresher products on the way?


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   September 16, 2014
You just know these cats have bespoke croquet equipment. / Photo by Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities

• Today in Bespoke: Merrill Perlman in the Columbia Journalism Review pops the “bespoke” bubble: “Perhaps not surprisingly, The New York Times used it more than any other US publication in the past three months, according to a Nexis search, with “bespoke” appearing nearly three dozen times, excluding in proper names. Among the things that were “bespoken” for in the Times were, of course, items of clothing (jacket, shoes, suit), but also trunks for that clothing, cocktails, croquet equipment, and despair (in a book review).”

• “Who needs a liberal education?” – a reading roundup from Bookforum.

• In New York magazine, Kevin Roose has a rundown of the history of social networks for millionaires, all with truly delightful names, like Total Prestige, Diamond Lounge, and

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