Blog
  • The Real and the Ideal: Reflections on Partisan Review

    > George Scialabba

    Boston University, which published Partisan Review for the last quarter-century of that celebrated magazine’s sixty-nine-year history, has just put the entire archive online. It is a miniature history of 20th-century American intellectual life. It sometimes seems like half the century’s memorable essays about literature or politics, and especially the “bloody crossroads” (Lionel Trilling’s phrase) where the two meet, first appeared in those pages.

    For example: Leon Trotsky’s “Art and Politics in Our Epoch,” André Gide’s “Second Thoughts on the U.S.S.R.,” George Orwell’s “Reflections on Gandhi,” Albert Camus’ “Art and Revolt,” Czeslaw Milosz’s “Murti-Bing,” Hannah Arendt’s “The Concentration Camps,” Clement Greenberg’s “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” James Baldwin’s “A Letter from the South,” Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp,” and far too many others to name.

    The roster of contributors was unmatched: James Agee, Arendt, W. H. Auden, Isaac Babel, Daniel Bell, Saul Bellow, Nicola Chiaromonte, Paul Goodman, Clement Greenberg, Sidney Hook, Irving Howe, Randall Jarrell, Dwight Macdonald, Mary McCarthy, Orwell, Harold Rosenberg, Meyer Shapiro, Susan Sontag, Stephen Spender, Lionel Trilling, Edmund Wilson, among many distinguished others. There was a time when everyone knew what was in the latest Partisan Review.

    —April 24, 2014

  • If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit

    > Lauren Kirchner

    Here is the definitive list of the ten best quotes and excerpts from this New York Times article about the modern-day equivalent of foot-binding, in which women elect to have various types of surgery on their feet in order to fit into ludicrous shoes:

    1. “On the surface, it looked shallow. But I came to see she needs these shoes to project confidence”
    2. “‘I had never met a patient who asked for a hallux valgus correction with osteotomy and screw fixation,’ he said. ‘So I decided to create a name that captures the result of the procedure, without all the Latin. The point of the Cinderella: being able to put a shoe on that didn’t fit comfortably before.’”
    3. “(aesthetic toe-shortening—once administered, he said, to a 17-year-old fashion model, so she could wear the shoes her career demanded)”

    —April 24, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Free historic newsreels from the UK, the NRA’s PAC money, Tarantino’s legal loss, and the most baffling Sharper Image item we’ve seen in a while.

    —April 24, 2014

  • Billionaire Donors and True Believers

    > Jim Newell

    Democrat billionaires are always looking for an excuse to justify their outsized political spending. Aren’t liberals supposed to be against the wealthy few pouring great gobs of money into the political system? How can they justify railing against this state of affairs while lefty billionaires are filling their side’s ever-expanding coffers?

    The more reasonable excuse is the practical one: that it doesn’t make sense for Democrats and liberals to “unilaterally disarm” against Republicans who have no qualms about flooding the system with cash, as Nancy Pelosi put it recently. The Dems would prefer that all this money weren’t going into the political system, they say, but, the rules are what they are, and so it’s important to match Republican political spending dollar-for-dollar as long as these rules prevail. There are problems with this point of view (what, exactly, is your long-term plan for changing the system, then?) but at least it’s a realistic description of our current political system.

    But then there’s the much more tiresome, self-aggrandizing excuse, which goes like this: unlike selfish Republican megaspenders, we, the noble liberals, throw money at issues that aren’t actually in our own self-interest. Watch, as we selfless heroes pat ourselves on the back!

    —April 23, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Warhol water, venti lattes instead of vinyl, the stats on the striking Sherpas, and more . . .

    —April 23, 2014

  • What Women Wear

    > Anne Elizabeth Moore

    Much of what passes for feminism these days is concerned exclusively with how things look. Discussions frequently focus on the rights of women—whether cis or trans—to appear in public without conforming to traditional beauty standards; or what has or hasn’t been Photoshopped; or which thing you can buy to wear from a store that is owned by, or supportive of, women. If she were around today, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (of “The Yellow Wallpaper” fame), would barf.

    “In the external effect upon the market,” Gilman wrote in her 1898 treatise Women and Economics, “the over-sexed woman, in her unintelligent and ceaseless demands, hinders and perverts the economic development of the world.”

    Gilman’s groundbreaking book—riddled though it is with a tendency toward white supremacy—suggests that the masculine drive to produce and profit has left women with no option but to adorn and decorate, or to reproduce, once selected by a man with the means to support her. This results in what Gilman calls the “over-sexed woman,” one bred more for aesthetics than for analyzing.

    —April 22, 2014

  • The Tyranny of Time Management

    > The Baffler

    A fairly ridiculous study has found that “sporting the latest tech toy can make you seem more like a leader.” For a paper entitled “Looking Innovative: Exploring the Role of Impression Management in High-Tech Product Adoption and Use” (#innovative), which was published in the Journal of Product Innovation Management (#innovation), two marketing professors asked study participants what they thought about actors on screen who were taking notes on regular paper calendars, and then others who were taking notes on “electronic calendars.”

    According to a press release by Vanderbilt University, the researchers found that test subjects “overwhelmingly viewed the actors using the electronic calendars as being more authoritative.”

    —April 22, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    The singing, crumbling ruins of an ancient city, daycare sticker shock, the crumbling of Kim’s, and more . . .

    —April 22, 2014

  • Rich Kids Philanthropy Club

    > Jim Newell

    The White House recently invited a bunch of rich kids over to talk about how they should spend their fortunes. Oh yes, they did! The event was closed to the media, of course. The rich, whether old or young, don’t tend to like their names disclosed to the press, and the White House probably wouldn’t like to admit that it rolled out the red carpet to a bunch of bratty heirs, either.

    Fortunately, one young heir, who dabbles in reporting and documentary work, was there to break the rules. Because, hey, what’s the worst that could happen if he burns his bridges? He’ll still have lots of money.

    —April 21, 2014

  • What Workplace Intolerance Really Looks Like

    > Kathleen Geier

    Conservatives are rarely more gleeful than when they’re accusing liberals of hypocrisy. That’s why they accusing the left of illiberal “intolerance,” as they did recently when Mozilla fired its homophobic CEO, Brendan Eich (he had donated to an anti-gay marriage campaign), and Brandeis revoked a planned honorary degree for anti-Islam activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

    But those episodes, like other freedom of expression cases that become conservative cause célèbres, don’t represent real threats to speech. There is a growing threat to freedom of expression in America, but it’s one that conservatives largely remain silent about: the threat posed to employees’ freedom of speech, by their employers, both on and off the job.

    —April 21, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Cyborg doctors, robot military recruiters, elite billionaire failures, and McDonald’s enduring cultural sensitivity over the decades.

    —April 21, 2014

  • The Baffler’s Week That Was

    > The Baffler

    Ladies and gentlemen, pimps and hoes, prudes and Pulitzers, nannies, grannies, and ballers: let’s all take a look back at the past week on the Baffler blog.

    —April 18, 2014

  • The Nonsensical Sexism of the “Grandma Hillary” Storyline

    > Jim Newell

    for them. But did you also know that this is the most significant political story of the century, dramatically affecting the 2016 United States presidential election and the course of history forevermore? If so, then shame on you! Because, reader, you must have not been following The Narrative.

    The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, for example, explained to the public yesterday afternoon that the news of this woman being with-child “stepped on” President Obama’s announcement that 8 million Americans have purchased insurance under the Affordable Care Act’s health exchanges. (Cillizza is notoriously unaware that, as a prominent newsman at the capital’s flagship outlet, he actually has some discretion in prioritizing news developments and crafting narratives. These things don’t just “happen.”)

    —April 18, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    García Márquez on power and solitude, experiments in technology-based transcendence, L.A. noir crime scene photos, and more . . .

    —April 18, 2014

  • “Boats ‘N Hoes,” PACs & Frats

    > Jim Newell

    Most things in American politics make much more sense when you remember all the jackasses you met in college. Think back to sophomore year, when frat officials were spreading the word of a “pimps and hoes” party at the chapter lodge that weekend, where a dress code would be strictly enforced. The gentlemen would be required to wear flashy, garish, baggy clothes, carry canes, and drink out of gold plastic goblets; young ladies were encouraged to wear especially short skirts and higher-than-usual heels. To a certain type, there was nothing more delightful than participating in cartoonish depictions of the sex-work industry.

    What becomes of all those frat dudes? The dumb ones go into complex over-the-counter derivatives trading. And the really dumb ones become Republican political operatives.

    —April 17, 2014

  • The Cult of the Boss: Why Do Americans Admire Businessmen?

    > John Summers

    Conservatives invoke Adam Smith and Friedrich von Hayek in their defense of the free market. Liberals invoke John Maynard Keynes for his defense of government intervention. Only in Thorstein Veblen, however, may a sane person hope to understand the carnival of mendacity that has sent America spiraling into the abyss.

    Veblen, nearly forgotten today, grew up in a gilded age disfigured, like our own, by robber barons, predatory monopolies, financial panics, lockouts, strikes, and mass unemployment. Then as now a priestly class of economists rationalized such phenomena while the people, overwhelmed by a swell of ignorance and greed, emulated the pecuniary values of business. A long agricultural crisis devastated the country. Politicians intoned assurances that these were temporary abnormalities in a Sound System, just as our own Depression is cast as a trial of faith, a crisis of confidence.

    —April 17, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Pizza rock, poet Don Share, the nation’s most offensive books, and more . . .

    —April 17, 2014

  • Free Your Mind, Win the World Cup?

    > Andrew Helms

    In a recent appearance at this year’s South by Southwest conference in Austin, the self-congratulatory Davos of skinny-suited professionals, soccer journalist Roger Bennett asked the effervescent head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team, Jürgen Klinsmann, if he considered himself to be in the “interruption business.” Klinsmann, aping the language of a McKinsey consulting seminar, enthusiastically replied, “Wherever your job is, you can’t do it same way you did it the last couple of years because eventually you’re not getting anywhere. In order to get to the next level, you’ve got to mix things up and change it.”

    Under Klinsmann’s leadership, change has come to the U.S. Men’s National Team with the program increasingly mirroring its consultant-coach. As journalist Brian Straus reported in The Sporting News last year, “From yoga, meetings with a full-time nutritionist and field trips to historic sites to media training [and] motivational speakers,” the German change agent has brought the amenities of a new age office onto the soccer field. While American coaches have traditionally spoken in aspirational aphorisms like Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights (“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”), Klinsmann’s tenure is evidence of the slow creep of business language into sports and sports education.

    —April 16, 2014

  • Shaming Sexism Isn’t Prudery

    > Alana Massey

    David Foster has, correctly, received a lot of criticism for his comically misguided column in the Guardian, in which he appeared to argue in favor of women accepting direct sexual propositions as the harmless, and ultimately positive, result of sexual liberation. Pack up your bags and go home, feminists, your work is finished!

    His particular critique is of the Everyday Sexism Project, a ghoulish catalogue of women’s experiences of being attacked, followed, berated, threatened, and assaulted for refusing sexual advances. Foster concedes twice that most of the examples recorded there are offensive, but then claims, “by lumping together sexual assaults and genuinely threatening behaviour with casual propositions, the campaign risks conflating deplorable and even criminal acts with sexually liberated expression.” He thinks there are bright lights of liberation hidden within that swamp of vile misogyny. Don’t throw away the bad with the good, ladies!  There might be a toe-curling one-night stand hidden in that cesspool. A feminist, even anti-capitalist one-night stand!

    —April 16, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Debt forgiveness in D.C., drone multitasking, robotic dresses, and more . . .

    —April 16, 2014

  • Pulitzers of Bafflers Past

    > The Baffler

    The winners of this year’s Pulitzer Prize were announced on Monday afternoon. Aside from the biggest news items, awards for coverage of Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations and of the Boston Marathon bombings, awards were given to Donna Tartt, for her novel The Goldfinch, and to Vijay Seshadri, for the poetry collection 3 Sections.

    The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt’s third novel, has been a commercial success since its release last fall, while receiving mixed critical reviews. Just about twenty years ago, Tartt’s first book, The Secret History, was also a hugely popular hit. Hidden in The Baffler’s dusty archives, Issue 4, printed in 1993, contains a great, sharp analysis from that time, written by Maura Mahoney. The piece examines not only Tartt’s debut, but the carefully crafted image of Tartt as a brooding literary wunderkind, as well.

    —April 15, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Tax-day thoughts from the mouths of babes, the FBI as a giant Terminator, some helpful anti-union talking points, and more . . .

    —April 14, 2014

  • Virginia Republicans, United in Stubbornness

    > Jim Newell

    The Virginia Republican party is a mess. Like many state- and national-level Republican parties, it’s currently split between Tea Party and more “moderate” establishment wings, which don’t tend to agree all too often. In statewide elections last year, the party nominated a couple of Tea Party creeps for governor and lieutenant governor but lost both races. In the governor’s race, GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli didn’t exactly lose to a hot-shot Democratic contender, either: he lost to Terry McAuliffe, an almost universally disliked sleazebag fundraiser. Virginia has also gone Democratic in the past two presidential elections, breaking a red streak of approximately fifty years.

    But! The political gods, true and righteous forces that they are, have finally given Virginia Republicans the gift of a policy “unifier,” something on which all GOP politicians in the state can agree. As is typically the case among Republican “unifiers” these days, it is a position that is in opposition to something else, and that involves keeping public goods away from the poor.

    —April 14, 2014

  • Labor Politics and the Liberal Arts Nanny

    > Anne Helen Petersen

    A liberal arts nanny doesn’t take care of children for life. For her, it’s just a stopping point between college and career: a well-paying, totally socially acceptable activity while she waits for the rest of her life to happen. And the family that hires a liberal arts nanny knows as much: they’re not looking for a live-in caretaker who’ll be part of their children’s lives for years.

    Usually, the people who hire liberal arts nannies don’t even really want nannies, or at least don’t like the idea of being the kinds of people who hire a nanny. They want to hire someone with the looks, behavior, and cultural capital they themselves had a decade before. Someone, in other words, to make them feel less weird, and less privileged, about engaging in their own personal service economy.

    I know about this because I spent two years as a liberal arts nanny—an experience that, like any job one might take from the ages of twenty-two to twenty-four, was fundamental to my understanding of labor. Specifically, it taught me the way in which people of a certain class and level of education manifest their neoliberalist worldviews through their hiring practices.

    —April 14, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    A historic volcano that’s news to you, what Bloomberg Businessweek thinks of trailer parks, and confessions of a Marx-ish intellectual.

    —April 14, 2014

  • The Baffler’s Week That Was

    > The Baffler

    Some thoughts on Kurt Cobain, Simone de Beauvoir, John Boehner, Saskia Sassen, Michael Bloomberg, Betty Draper, Jeb Bush, Elon Musk, and God.

    —April 11, 2014

  • A Pointless Plot to Oust John Boehner

    > Jim Newell

    House Republicans are always plotting something, have you noticed? Most of their plots fail, though: whether it’s shutting down the government over Obamacare, or arbitrarily destroying the global economy via debt default. And when one of their plots fail, the House Republicans and their Tea Party allies always seem to have the same go-to response: it must have been John Boehner’s fault.

    The Speaker sold us out, they cry. He’s probably actually a liberal! If only the Speaker had had more of a “backbone” or “spine,” this line of thinking goes, perhaps House Republicans’ threats to destroy the country in one way or another would have successfully compelled President Obama to sign the repeal of his signature health care law, or whatever else the GOP is after.

    Speaker Boehner will once again be up for reelection as the House’s main man when the new Congress convenes in January (when Congress will almost certainly still under Republican control). And so now, the Tea Party conservatives within the caucus are already preparing their latest dumb plot: this time it’s to de-gavel the orange-hued Ohioan himself.

    —April 11, 2014

  • Some Recommended Reading for “Mad Men” Fans

    > The Baffler

    This coming Sunday marks the return of AMC’s Mad Men, and advance reviews and think-pieces are billowing across the Internet like so much cigarette smoke through a poorly-ventilated ad agency office. (Here’s our two cents on AMC’s design choice for its season seven poster, for what it’s worth.)

    —April 11, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Living wages, enforced free time, remembering the Civil Rights Act, and DFW-approved word usage.

    —April 11, 2014

  • Proof of Wealth’s Power Over Policy

    > Kathleen Geier

    Paul Krugman says we’re living in a “New Gilded Age,” an era of government of the rich, for the rich, and by the rich. Last week’s McCutcheon decision from the Supreme Court, which struck down the aggregate limit an individual can contribute in capped political donations, does not disabuse us of this notion. And now the world of social science brings forth even more proof that the wealthy overwhelmingly control our political institutions.

    Writing for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels discusses a forthcoming study in Perspectives in Politics by fellow poli-sci acedemics Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page. Their research provides stunning new evidence of the hegemonic dominance of the rich in our democracy.

    —April 10, 2014

  • Your Guide to “Disintermediation,” the New “Disruption”

    > Kyle Chayka

    Car dealers seem to be the only people not enamored with entrepreneur-at-large Elon Musk.

    Musk’s car-manufacturing concern Tesla Motors is trying to enter state markets and sell its electric vehicles directly to consumers in a model of vertical integration, just as Apple shills its iPads. But the nation’s entrenched army of car dealers is getting in the way. New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission, with the backing of Chris Christie, recently joined Texas and Arizona in ruling that Tesla would be forced to go through local franchise dealers to sell its cars.

    Musk is crying foul on these enemies of innovation. Car dealers “have an inherent conflict of interest in selling electric vehicles,” he says, given that they have no incentive to push his Teslas when gas-driven cars make up the majority of their revenue. But maybe the dealers also want to keep their jobs rather than becoming the next brand-integrated Apple Geniuses?

    —April 10, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Woolly mammoth laws, class and love, what feminism sounded like in 1776, and more . . .

    —April 10, 2014

  • Handwringing and Hypocrisy Over Campaign Cash

    > Jim Newell

    What a life it must be, to be a modern campaign finance lawyer. Over the past few years, every day must have felt like Christmas, Hanukkah, and Halloween combined. Imagine: just as you’d finished extensively billing the politicos you helped navigate the Citizens United fight in the Supreme Court in 2009 and 2010, a lower court dropped Speech Now. Suddenly, both political parties, along with every multi-millionaire or billionaire in sight with a hankering to spend some cash, required your services in new 2010 and 2012 election landscapes.

    Then, just when it seemed like everyone might have the rules figured out, and your billable-hour fees threatened to dry up, John Roberts & Friends dropped the McCutcheon decision, requiring your services yet again, for the foreseeable future. How delightful!

    —April 9, 2014

  • Soaring Profits, Sinking Wages, and the Neoliberal Nightmare

    > The Baffler

    Numbers don’t lie, and these numbers aren’t nice. “Corporate profits are at their highest level in at least 85 years,” reports the New York Times recently. “Employee compensation is at the lowest level in 65 years.” While corporations earned a whopping $2.1 trillion last year, according to the Commerce Department, total wages and salaries amounted to 42.5 percent of the U.S. economy—a percentage which was not only down from the previous year but “was lower than in any year previously measured.” If you take non-wage benefits like health insurance and Social Security into consideration, though, employee compensation was only at the lowest level it had ever been since 1948. So, that’s good.

    —April 9, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Wall Street-Washington bromances, reporters’ rights, The Little Prince drafts, and more . . .

    —April 9, 2014

  • Talking Nice and Playing Dirty with the Bush Family

    > Jim Newell

    Great news for those who seek clarity heading into the 2016 presidential election: Republican donors have decided that Jeb Bush should be the next president. Pair that with the even more established fact that Democratic donors, and Democrats in general, have decided that Hillary Clinton should be the next president, and it seems clear that the crumbling United States of America will finally be getting the Bush-Clinton race it deserves.

    Why do the money people like Jeb Bush? Because he’s not a Tea Partier, and he’s not Chris Christie. Sure, give him the money, they say with a shrug. Better yet, just give him the nomination now. After all, the GOP machine always picks as its presidential nominee the guy whose “turn” it is next. And since, by election day 2016, it will have been a full eight years since a member of the Bush family occupied the White House, it’s almost certainly Jeb Bush’s turn to restore honor and dignity and “Americanness” to the Oval Office.

    —April 8, 2014

  • How to Make a Bikeshare Fair and Functional

    > Jordan Fraade

    No one, to my knowledge, gives out awards for Best Paranoid Transit Rant Of the Year. But if such an award existed, 2013’s would surely go to the Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz, whose fevered monologue on Citi Bike, “Death by Bicycle,” was gifted to the internet during the program’s June launch. “We now look at a city whose best neighborhoods are absolutely…begrimed, is the word, by these blazing blue Citibank bikes. All of the finest, most picturesque neighborhoods.”

    Which neighborhoods was Rabinowitz talking about? Citi Bike docks stretch from 59th Street to the lower tip of Manhattan, and in Brooklyn, they stick to the city’s northern neighborhoods, never going south of Barclay’s Center or east of Nostrand Avenue. Sure, you can find them in a few nicely brownstoned parts of the city, but beautiful Park Slope and Prospect Heights? The historic Upper West or East Sides? Harlem and the rolling hills of Washington Heights? There are no begriming or blazing blue bikes to be found in these neighborhoods.

    —April 8, 2014

  • Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Wild God”

    > The Baffler

    Baffler contributing editor Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book comes out today: Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything. In this very personal book, she revisits a series of “mystical experience” from her childhood and teenage years, and examines it with a rational, atheistic-leaning, journalist’s eye.

    In a beautiful piece for the New York Times Sunday Review this week, Ehrenreich described one particular experience and the shattering effect it had on her at the time. “It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once, too vast and violent to hold on to, too heartbreakingly beautiful to let go of,” she wrote. “Of course I said nothing about this to anyone. . . . It took an inexcusably long time for me to figure out that what had happened to me was part of a widespread category of human experience.”

    —April 8, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Gentrification as a public health issue, curious Chicago school data, tropical archipelago capitalism, and more . . .

    —April 8, 2014

  • Disappearing Acts

    > George Scialabba

    Economics is full of wonderful concepts. One of my favorites is “effective demand.” Like a magic wand, it can make billions of people disappear.

    Suppose a farm can produce 100 pounds of food and there are 100 very hungry people who’d like to eat it but have no money. You might think that there’s a demand for 100 pounds of food. Silly you! There’s a need for the food, of course. But this is civilization: you can’t demand something just because you need it. If food costs a dollar a pound and each person has ten cents, then there’s ten dollars of effective demand. If each person has 25 cents, there’s $25 of effective demand. In that case, any sensible farmer-capitalist would produce only ten or twenty-five pounds of food. Supply has to equal demand, and demand equals need plus money.

    But what about those 100 people and their needs? Well, they exist, I suppose, in some world or other, but not in the market economy. In the market economy, if you’re not a cost or a revenue source, you don’t exist.

    —April 7, 2014

  • The Commodification of Kurt Cobain

    > The Baffler

    Over the weekend, Nirvana fans and friends remembered Kurt Cobain on the twentieth anniversary of his death. They wrote remembrances in the local press. They visited a park near where he died, to leave flowers, notes, and beers. Thoughtful think pieces were penned, and the New York Times Travel section even joined in with a tour of Cobain’s old digs, in Aberdeen, Olympia, and Seattle. Nirvana will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a ceremony later this week. As much influence as Cobain’s music had on his listeners and fellow musicians, it also had an undeniably huge influence on the music industry—and in the pop-culture industry writ large.

    —April 7, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Chicago’s racial grass gap, e-mail snoopers, Vatican news for nerds, and billionaire bachelors.

    —April 7, 2014

  • The Baffler’s Week That Was

    > The Baffler

    Big doings these days on the Baffler blog, friends. Some salvos and sass from this past week, in case you missed them . . .

    —April 4, 2014

  • Mozilla, Mountain View, and the Mean Ol’ Gays

    > Jim Newell

    Brendan Eich “resigned” (was forced out) on Thursday as CEO of the Mozilla Corporation and as a board member of the non-profit foundation that owns it, after a mere week or so on the job. In that short period of time, his name had become soiled, when it was revealed that he had donated $1,000 to the 2008 campaign to support California Proposition 8, which would insert a same-sex marriage ban in the state’s constitution. (Prop 8, which passed via referendum, has since been thrown out in the courts.) Eich is now being martyred as the latest victim of what some call the “Pink Mafia,” or, with tongue in cheek, “left-liberal tolerance,” or, most plainly, the mean ol’ gays.

    The early refrain about what’s happened here—that the evil, intolerant, nationally-organized, left-gay-liberal mobilization machine took another scalp, for bloodsport!—doesn’t quite add up. The real story is much more interesting: that a confluence of factors very specific to the Mozilla Corporation, by the nature of its product, its industry, and its geographical location, make what happened to Eich almost non-transferable to what could happen to companies on a wider spectrum.

    —April 4, 2014

  • Why Should “Flash Boys” Shock Us?

    > Kathleen Geier

    Media coverage of Wall Street scandals often vilifies individuals or specific practices as corrupt while failing to grapple with deeper problems posed by the financial sector. Missing from most coverage, too, is an examination of the growing role Wall Street has come to play in both our economy and our democracy.

    This familiar pattern is repeating itself this week, with the publication of Michael Lewis’s new book, Flash Boys. The book, which has been featured in a 60 Minutes segment and excerpted in the New York Times Magazine, is being breathlessly hyped as an illuminating exposé of high-frequency trading. High-frequency trading is a form of rapid securities trading based on complex computer algorithms. (This type of trading is short-term by nature and should not be confused with long-term investing.)

    —April 4, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Action against censorship, the Koch brothers as comedy producers, new Bush paintings, and more to baffle you this morning . . . 

    —April 4, 2014

  • The Next Phase of the Obamacare Battle

    > Jim Newell

    Tuesday was a good day for the Affordable Care Act. The administration met its original projection of 7 million enrollments during the first six-month open enrollment window on private health insurance exchanges. That doesn’t include last-minute enrollments on the dozen-plus state-based exchanges, either, which should be significant. And while some conservatives argue that those numbers are “cooked,” in part because it’s unclear how many people who enrolled in health plans have paid (or will pay) their first premiums, HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius claims that 80 to 90 percent of enrollees have met their first premium obligations. (As someone who enrolled in a plan last month and forgot about the whole “payment” thing until the last minute, I get it.)

    So some level of celebration was certainly in order for supporters of the law. But to argue that yesterday’s marker proved that the GOP’s midterm strategy of running against Obamacare will no longer work is a tad premature. There’s still one big problem: it’s not popular in many, if not a majority of, places—even among some groups of people who have benefited from it.

    —April 2, 2014

  • Dragnet Surveillance and the English Language

    > Brett Max Kaufman

    The revelations over the past nine months that the United States is engaging in various mass-surveillance programs that collect and store huge amounts of information about both Americans and foreigners has rightly invited frequent references to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

    Perhaps the most notable of these came from federal district-court judge Richard Leon, who had Big Brother on his mind when—in concluding that the government’s comprehensive collection of Americans’ call records over a seven-year period was likely unconstitutional—he labeled the program “almost Orwellian.” Indeed, these days one cannot help but recall the observation of the novel’s protagonist, Winston Smith, that in the society he knew, “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.”

    —April 2, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    SF protest pics, prison population pie charts, MIT indictments, and more . . .

    —April 2, 2014

  • Mindlessly We Roll Along

    > George Scialabba

    There are no doubt many reasons for the PhD glut and the resulting insane academic job market. But one of them is surely that, dreary as academic life can be, most work in the real world sucks even worse. The life of a middle or senior manager, devoted to shaving fractions of a penny per unit off supply costs or squeezing a few tenths of a percent higher output from already overworked employees is—unless you are blessed with a near-total lack of imagination—boring beyond belief or endurance.

    And they’re the lucky ones. Those of us they manage may as well be robots, and soon will be. A robot is not something made of metal, plastics, and transistors that mimics certain human behaviors—robots may soon enough be carbon-based, reasonable facsimiles of flesh and blood. A robot, whatever it’s made of, is something wholly programmed for someone else’s purposes. Increasingly, that’s most of us, as Simon Head explains in his short, devastating new book, Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans (Basic Books, 230 pages, $26.99).

    —April 1, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    The “bling bishop,” Obamacare punditry, robot eyes for humans, and more to baffle you this morning . . .

    —April 1, 2014

  • The Bigger the Checkbook, the Bigger the Bull

    > Jim Newell

    One of the more pathetic manifestations of our pretty-much-unregulated campaign finance system occurred this weekend in Las Vegas. New Jersey governor Chris Christie was speaking to a modest gathering of prospective donors from the Republican Jewish Coalition, whose views on Israel can be characterized as far to the right of any other group on earth. During one portion of his speech, Christie was describing a trip he took to Israel in 2012.

    “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across, and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day,” said Christie, as reported by Politico.

    —March 31, 2014

  • Beyoncé, Kim, and the Politics of Celebrity Labor

    > Anne Helen Petersen

    How do you make a celebrity? It’s popular to think of celebrities as highly disposable—as cheap and as flimsy as a poly-blend tank from Forever 21, with similarly dubious ethics of production. But the labor involved in the production of celebrity is not only complex, but taxing—on both the body and the psyche.

    The labor of celebrity-production, then, is to make you like—or at least be compelled by—the celebrity’s presentation of self. But that’s not as easy as it might seem—you can’t just throw out a semi-fascinating self and expect fans to respond to it. Recent and historical examples suggest that the most successful celebrities fall on one of two opposing ends of the labor spectrum: they either make their labor incredibly visible, effectively inviting us to respect it and the celebrity apparatus more broadly, or else they efface it entirely, thereby contributing to the illusion of charisma as a natural, God-given trait. One extreme emphasizes the ways in which stars are “just like us” (working, tired, hustling); the other suggests they’re nothing like us at all (naturally blessed).

    —March 31, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Brain scans, survivalists, squirrel soldiers, and more for you to baffle over this morning . . .

    —March 31, 2014

  • The Baffler’s Week That Was

    > The Baffler

    “A magazine that wishes to make its fortune should never waste its columns and weary readers by praising anything.”
    –Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now (quoted in The Baffler‘s Issue 22, Modem & Taboo).

    Happy Friday, Bafflers. In case you missed them on the website this past week, here are the treasures hiding in our archives that we brought out and published online for the first time.

    —March 28, 2014

  • Class War with a Smiley Face

    > Kathleen Geier

    In Silicon Valley there really is a class war going on, a wage-fixing cartel that’s pitting the one percent against everyone else. Thomas Piketty, the economist who wrote the new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is most famous for his insight that economic inequality is mostly driven by the top one percent of income earners. The incomes of the top one percent have pulled away from the rest of us and their economic interests have, over time, come to diverge dramatically from those of the mainstream of American society. The one percenters are waging class war not just on the traditional targets, poor and working class Americans, but increasingly, on middle class professionals as well.

    —March 28, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Goat-brain beer, no-fly-list legal fights, remembering Jonathan Schell, and more . . .

    —March 28, 2014

  • Questioning Authority & Other Forbidden Ideas

    > Chris Bray

    Cass Sunstein’s mind is a glorious reimagining-machine, reshaping everything it encounters. “Consider the question of whether people pay sufficient attention to their own futures,” he muses in his book, Why Nudge?: The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism. “This is an especially important topic for assessing paternalism, because public officials are often concerned that people enjoy short-term benefits (from smoking, spending, or overeating) at the expense of long-term harm.” Before you eat that, dear reader—did you clear your nutritional choice with an appropriate authority figure?

    —March 27, 2014

  • Student-Athletes of the World, Unite!

    > The Baffler

    The National Labor Relations Board ruled on Wednesday that college football players had the right to unionize. The ruling states that, even though the players receive scholarships, they should be considered employees of the school they play (and work) for.

    The decision came in response to a lawsuit by a group of football players from Northwestern University, but, as The New York Times reports, the precedent could lead to similar policies at other private schools. (Decisions concerning public universities would have to be decided by the states, rather than the NLRB.) So, it’s a start.

    —March 27, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    The past and future of phone calls, the dark secrets of the Harvard library, unfunny conservatives, and more for you to baffle over this morning . . .

    —March 27, 2014

  • A Weasely Way to Fight a Law

    > Jim Newell

    A few blocks away from Tuesday’s Supreme Court culture war skirmish on access to contraceptives was a DC Circuit Court of Appeals hearing on another, less sexy Obamacare-related issue: a drafting error in the Affordable Care Act that could eventually damage the law’s fragile structural integrity.

    Whatever the Supreme Court rules on the Affordable Care Act’s “contraception mandate” that was under review yesterday, it will not destroy the law. The worst thing the high court could do is decree that a handful of emergency contraceptives offered under employee health plans would either not be covered, or would require copays—nasty little shots to one of the administration’s laudable public health goals, but not a law-killer.

    —March 26, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Fantasy Billionaire’s League, Bueller, birdhouses, and more for you to baffle over this morning . . .

    —March 26, 2014

  • Debates Outside the Dichotomy

    > Chris Bray

    We need to chart another axis. Americans are facing a conflict between authoritarians and counter-authoritarians, on both sides of the left-versus-right political spectrum. That conflict is usually obscured by the tiresome nature of politics that are trapped in a false dichotomy, a dichotomy that forces discussion into precisely two boxes. We have some signs of hope, though, as a (very) few politicians insist on changing the terms of the debate. And that makes a few of the usual suspects pretty unhappy.

    —March 25, 2014

  • Candy Crushin’ All the Way to the Bank

    > The Baffler

    Today King Digital Entertainment Plc, the video game company that makes the addictive game Candy Crush, and not much else, goes public. (The symbol is KING, for all you stock-watchers.) “At the top of the price range, King would be valued at $7.6 billion, or about 2.9 times projected sales this year,” according to Bloomberg.

    $7.6 billion, for a time-wastey little smart phone game? In the current issue of The Baffler, Ian Bogost describes the Candy Crush swindle, which he says is just a new take on a classic racket.

    —March 25, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    BASE jumpers, bringing bankers to justice, Twain tales, and other things for you to baffle over this morning . . .

    —March 25, 2014

  • It’s the Democratic Party’s Turn to Hate Nate Silver

    > Jim Newell

    Good for Nate Silver, finally getting his own fiefdom for “data journalism” at the new FiveThirtyEight.com, under the auspices of the Walt Disney Corporation. He’s famous. He deserves it!

    I, for one, don’t really care about a statistical breakdown of lines between romantic leads in Shakespeare’s plays, to choose the most easily mock-able avatar of this new experiment he’s launched. (Just tell me who’s going to win elections, Nate.)

    But with his election odds in the last few cycles, Silver has done the world an invaluable service: showing that it’s always pretty clear—independent of pundits’ constant attempts to characterize everything as a tight race hinging on the hairpin turns of gaffe-making—who is probably going to win.

    —March 24, 2014

  • Sit-Ups for Start-Ups

    > Kyle Chayka

    In the co-working area of Brooklyn Boulders Somerville, a rock-climbing gym outside of Boston that has more in common with a start-up office than a Crunch, is a sign emblazoned with a manifesto: “Physicality stimulates innovation and creativity.” A café-like space with outlets, a long communal table, and a series of standing desks looks out over the gym’s main climbing area where lithe figures in various brands of neon-colored athletic clothing scale walls.

    Another sign greets laborers in a pitch for the gym’s co-working space as a kind of miniature corporate retreat rather than just another spot to park a laptop: “Unleash yourself or your team in a space that celebrates spontaneity… and is built to accommodate high-octane brain jam sessions, spreadsheet marathons, and physical activity.” A TEDx event themed around “movement” will soon take place there. We have in this climbing gym a perfect demonstration of the Silicon Valley (or Silicon Alley, or Silicon Roundabout, or People’s Republic) approach to physical fitness. In the start-up era, exercise itself is framed as a capitalistic enterprise.

    —March 24, 2014

  • On Class and Work in HBO’s “Girls”

    > The Baffler

    On the occasion of last night’s season finale of HBO’s Girls, we’re publishing online for the first time Heather Havrilesky’s essay “Sit-Cons: Class on TV,” from Issue 20 of The Baffler. In it, she examines how the subject of class is treated (and should be treated) on Downton Abbey, Revenge, Gossip Girl, and more.

    —March 24, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Possible progress on a federal shield law, true Zulu music, confused dogs, and other things for you to baffle over this morning . . .

    —March 24, 2014

  • The Baffler’s Week That Was

    > The Baffler

    Hi folks. In case you missed them, and are looking for some salvos to soothe your addled mind and soul this weekend, here are some things we’ve published this week, in the great Baffler Web Experiment of Early 2014.

    —March 21, 2014

  • The Right-Wing Book Market is Dying a Free-Market Death

    > Jim Newell

    The free market is a cruel beast, which is something the book publishing industry has been made acutely aware of in the past decade or two. But now, even in one arena where that industry had traditionally been doing well, right-wing conservative political books—as in, books that prattle on about the glories of the free market—things are looking grim.

    —March 21, 2014

  • Bill Gates, Regular Guy

    > Kathleen Geier

    It was entirely predictable that as soon as Matt Taibbi left Rolling Stone, the magazine’s political coverage would suffer. What wasn’t so predictable was that it would fall so far, so fast. Exhibit A: Jeff Goodell’s disgustingly fawning interview with Bill Gates, titled, with no apparent irony, “The Richest Man in the World Explains How to Save the Planet.”

    —March 21, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Made-up job titles, bespoke treehouses for billionaires, a Buzzfeed quiz we’d like to see, and other things to baffle over this morning . . .

    —March 21, 2014

  • Empty Word Clouds

    > Chris Bray

    In November 2009, Rep. John Dingell declared on the floor of the House that there were 47 million Americans “without health care.” The Affordable Care Act, he said, would quickly and simply end the problem for “most of them,” providing immediate coverage for “96 percent of Americans.” Watch his whole address—it makes Harpo Marx look somber by comparison.

    —March 20, 2014

  • Let Them Eat Dogma, Revisited

    > The Baffler

    In its recurring “Room for Debate” feature, the New York Times opinion pages recently invited several columnists to opine on the forty-hour work week. For instance, is it a “quaint” construction, considering the flexibility that advances in technology now make possible? The forty-hour limit was a hard-fought constraint. But what about all the ways that employers now frequently skirt the law, to get more work out of their staff for less pay and no benefits? Great questions. At least one of the answers they got made no sense at all.

    —March 20, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    Prison art, prison whining, Twitter whining, and art on Twitter. All for you to baffle over this morning . . .

    —March 20, 2014

  • Nazi Name-calling and Non-apologies

    > Jim Newell

    The daily life of the ultra-rich man in 2014 has taken a strange turn. For millennia, the routine was thus: wake up, eat ten of the finest beefsteaks, whip poor people, count money, bed one million prostitutes, return to slumber. Well, what was wrong with that ennobling and rewarding routine, reader?

    Alas, things have changed. Here’s what today’s routine looks like: wake up, eat ten of the finest beefsteaks, compare some center-left politician’s strategy to that of Hitler’s in the 1930s, whip poor people, count money, half-apologize for comparing some center-left politician’s strategy to that of Hitler’s in the 1930s, bed one million prostitutes, return to slumber.

    —March 19, 2014

  • Fed Games

    > The Baffler

    Happy Fed Day, Bafflers! This afternoon, the Federal Open Market Committee will announce its policy statement and projections, in Janet Yellen’s first meeting as Federal Reserve chair. Exciting stuff! (The Business Insider even has an ominous-looking countdown clock on its home page.)

    —March 19, 2014

  • Daily Bafflements

    > The Baffler

    The downside of those cute and eco-friendly Tiny Houses, some thoughts on #innovation, a prediction for the next New York Times Style section trend piece, and more things to baffle over this morning . . .

    —March 19, 2014

  • Who Cares What the Surgeon General Thinks About Guns?

    > Jim Newell

    The NRA is back in the ring, baby, and ready for a fight. And it’s not just blocking every little gun-related bill or appointment that goes through Congress—obviously it’s still doing that. But now it’s blocking nominees for any appointment position if those nominees happen to personally favor gun control measures. Such as . . . the surgeon general nominee? (What the?)

    —March 18, 2014

  • The Risks to Rent-a-Soldiers

    > Chris Bray

    Owning stuff is hard, and you have to fix it if it breaks. Renting is easier.

    The U.S. Army currently has about 520,000 soldiers on active duty, with near-term fiscal constraints that will bring that number closer to 490,000, according to Military.com. Budget plans for 2015 would reduce active ranks to about 440,000. If those future cuts are made as planned, they’ll eventually leave the army with twenty-eight brigade combat teams, down from the forty-five of recent years.

    But a smaller army doesn’t mean more peace; it just suggests a different business model.

    —March 18, 2014

  • Erin Go Branding

    > The Baffler

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Bafflers! The big St. Patty’s Day headlines today are about all of the beer brands that have pulled out of city parades. In New York City, the organizers of the annual parade there banned “public expression of gay pride”—LGBT groups can march in the parade, but they cannot carry signs or otherwise identify themselves. So in protest, Heineken withdrew its sponsorship from the parade. Yesterday, Guinness pulled out as well.

    —March 17, 2014

  • The Real Reason for the Democrats’ Obsession with the Koch Brothers

    > Jim Newell

    The Democrats seem to be absolutely obsessed with those evil brothers Koch. Charles and David Koch are the “industrial tycoons” who, through their advocacy group Americans for Prosperity and other networks, are throwing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars into attack ads against vulnerable Democrats. Senate majority leader Harry Reid has been leading the charge, hilariously, calling the Koch brothers “un-American” and “against everything that’s good for America today” in a series of floor speeches and press conferences. The Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC has begun airing ads tying Republican candidates to the Koch brothers’ “outside money” in states like Louisiana where Americans for Prosperity itself has been airing ads attacking incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). And so on.

    —March 14, 2014

  • The Baffler’s Week That Was

    > The Baffler

    Why, hello there! Behind the scenes of the website, we’re currently shining our spectacles and waxing our mustaches in preparation for a re-launch of the site in just a month or two. We promise that the new online Baffler will be shiny, and colorful, but not startlingly so.

    In the meantime, we’re starting to put up some of our older salvos, stories, and satire, online for the first time. We thought you might enjoy a recap of some of the things we’ve posted in the past week (or two). Catch up in a spare moment this weekend, perhaps. Or, many moments clustered together. (Yes, we know we write long. There’s just . . . there’s just so much to say.)

    —March 14, 2014

  • Let Them Eat Art

    > The Baffler

    Today is the first day of Asia Week, a massive art fair in New York City attracting Asian art dealers and buyers from all around the world. It follows shortly behind a string of art fairs in New York—the Art Dealers Association of America show, the Armory Show, the Independent Art Fair, and Volta NY, and others. This week in the Arts section of the New York Times, William Grimes described what it was like to shop the fairs for art with (a hypothetical budget of) $5,000 in pocket. Grimes was assisted by several private art buyers and consultants eager to help him decide how to part with his fictional cash.

    —March 14, 2014

  • Wising Up About “High Politics”

    > Chris Bray

    To discuss David Brooks now is to discuss a psychological problem, not a political one. The most striking thing about Brooks’s “The Leaderless Doctrine,” his New York Times op-ed piece this week, isn’t what the columnist says; rather, it’s what he doesn’t allow himself to notice.

    “Americans have lost faith in the high politics of global affairs,” Brooks mourns. “They have lost faith in the idea that American political and military institutions can do much to shape the world. American opinion is marked by an amazing sense of limitation—that there are severe restrictions on what political and military efforts can do.”

    —March 13, 2014

  • Murdoch + Vice = Branded Content Bros

    > The Baffler

    News Corp’s Wall Street Journal announced this week that it was launching a new “content division,” called “WSJ. Custom Studios.” As Capital New York relayed on Monday, the new service is being pitched as “an innovative, intelligent and flexible suite of capabilities that will help market-leading brands develop even deeper relationships with their clients and our readers.” Translation: branded content.

    —March 12, 2014

  • California’s Yuppie Nerd Culture

    > The Baffler

    The effects of gentrification on Bay Area real estate and cost of living have been well-documented. But what about the impact of big tech bucks on the overall culture? Can San Francisco afford to stay weird anymore?

    —March 12, 2014

  • Kerry’s History Lesson

    > Chris Bray

    In 1931, the English historian Herbert Butterfield published something in between a long essay and a short book, The Whig Interpretation of History. The spirit of the Whiggish historical narrative, Butterfield wrote, was “illustrated to perfection” by the words of a man he’d seen ranting on a street corner: “when the Pope ruled England them was called the Dark Ages.”

    Perched comfortably atop some great pinnacle of civilization, the Whig historian looks back and sees the steady march of progress. The past was bad, the present is utterly magnificent, and all chronological points can be measured by their distance between the degraded old and the glorious new. Through this lens, 1910 was better than 1905, because it contains five more years of progress. And through this lens, history shows that all roads lead to us, and aren’t we wonderful? This type of historical interpretation asks, What roots of ourselves and our own stories can we see in—pick a point at random—the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, or the Battle of Salamis, or the invention of the cotton gin? Dear Bacon’s Rebellion, How did we get to be so awesome? History, please tell me more about me.

    —March 11, 2014

  • The Patronizing Pew Poll on the Millennial Generation

    > Jim Newell

    It is time, once again, for the Baffler blog to consider what other people consider about the millennials. What do they think? What unseen forces move these mysterious creatures?

    The Baffler blog has previously considered various political appeals to the Millennial Generation, which is, by all accounts, a demographic of frivolous onesie pajama-clad gay hipster man-children who enjoy things like beer and parties and premarital sex and cellular telephones and computers—while also being poor. How will the Powers that Be make these Youngsters purchase health insurance? Or support Social Security cuts? The political pollsters demand answers, but the answers continue to elude them.

    —March 10, 2014

  • SXSW, Pictured

    > The Baffler

    This morning on The Awl we saw these delightful snapshots from SXSW of Mashable’s wrecking-ball and requisite safety-waiver (“A selfie isn’t worth dying for,” wrote Gillian Lanyon).

    And now here’s another image worth highlighting, caught by Can’t Stop the Bleeding (original Craigslist posting here):

    yes pls

    Craigslist screenshot courtesy of Can’t Stop the Bleeding

    —March 10, 2014

  • Presenting: The Baffler SAT

    > Jim Newell

    The College Board has announced that it’s making big changes to the SAT. By eliminating it altogether, for the sake of humanity and higher education, you ask? Sadly, no. By simply scoring the exam on a curve, based on everyone’s parents’ net worth? No, that would probably be a bad move, PR-wise.

    The biggest change the Board is making to the test is reverting its total score back to 1600 from 2400, to keep it old school—vintage, like the kids like. Other significant changes include “ending the longstanding penalty for guessing wrong, cutting obscure vocabulary words and making the essay optional,” as the New York Times reports. It’s pretty hard to grade essays digitally, so eliminating that part cuts down on labor costs. Phew! Because really, who’s going to do an “optional” essay? Nerds, mostly.

    —March 7, 2014

  • The Sensible Paranoia of a National Security State

    > Chris Bray

    It’s inevitable: people who steal secrets tend to wonder if someone else is stealing their secrets. Spies spy on spies to see if the spies are spying on them. And here we go again.

    Several reports this week described allegations that the CIA monitored the computers used by staffers at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, while those committee investigators were looking into the agency’s use of torture after the 9/11 attacks. “Did the CIA Spy on the U.S. Senate?” asked the McClatchy newspapers.

    My money’s on yes.

    —March 6, 2014

  • What’s the Matter with White Dudes?

    > Jim Newell

    White working-class men don’t vote for Democrats anymore, and the New York Times is on it. According to this week’s fast-breaking news analysis, these voters are “the ones who got away.”

    It’s true. White working-class men, and white men, and men in general, aren’t too keen on the Democratic Party, and haven’t been since it became a party of gay nancies and minorities and organized labor collapsed. This all began, oh, approximately fifty years ago. Thomas Frank explained all of this in his book What’s the Matter with Kansas?, literally ten years ago. But the Times recently dispatched Jackie Calmes to talk to a bunch of white dudes in Michigan to provide some “texture” to a relatively unknown political trend the most significant American political trend of the last five decades.

    —March 5, 2014

  • Commodify Your Wiretaps

    > Chris Bray

    Just in case it wasn’t clear that everything that can be commodified, will, domestic surveillance turns out to be just another product. And the customer thinks it’s, like, way overpriced. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit on Monday against Sprint, alleging that the telecom overcharged the government for, yes, wiretapping and pen register services.

    —March 4, 2014

  • Microsoft’s Scroogley Strategy

    > Jim Newell

    There comes a time in every company’s life when it must make a crucial decision: Do we hire Mark Penn? Most companies have no problem saying “no” to this question. Penn is the guy whose last high-profile political gig, after all, was losing the 2008 Democratic presidential primary for Hillary Clinton due to avoidable factors like “not knowing caucus states exist.” Beyond that, he has very little experience as a corporate manager. Some companies look past this, and hire him anyway. They face a second choice, after watching as his tenure doesn’t go very well: Do we promote Mark Penn?

    —March 3, 2014

  • Health Care Reform Does Not Mean Better Actual Health Care, Sorry

    > Chris Bray

    Everything is changing, so nothing is different.

    nurse

    Image: The doctor will . . . probably not see you now,
    or any time in the near future./Ministry of Labour

    Trying to contain the excessive cost of American medicine, policymakers are hunting for alternative ways to deliver health care. In particular, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants are cheaper than doctors, so state legislatures are gradually opening the door to independent medical practice by people who don’t have medical degrees. In 2012, “827 scope-of-practice bills were proposed nationwide, with 124 of them passing in 29 states.” California is supposedly in the middle of the pack, allowing nurse practitioners to treat patients with physician oversight, but more about that in a moment. An expanded scope of practice for non-physician providers will, we are promised, make our medical care less costly.

    —February 27, 2014

  • Climate Will Change Faster Than We Will

    > Jim Newell

    Those who care deeply about addressing climate change now (or at least now-ish!) have a nasty little problem with which to contend. The short version of this problem is that “people don’t care enough about it.”

    —February 26, 2014

  • Epic Battles Over Secrecy Will Be Ignored by Uninterested Public

    > Chris Bray

    It’s always the apocalypse, for a while, until it’s meaningless.

    whistle

    Image: Whistleblowers sound at a frequency too high
    for the average citizen, but just loud enough for the
    average government agency./katerha

    In 1977, a former CIA analyst named Frank Snepp published an unauthorized book on the American response to the collapse of South Vietnam. Snepp depicted a CIA that ran for the exits, abandoning local allies and secret documents in a panicked race for home. Horrified at the agency’s depiction as a graceless, amoral bureaucracy, the CIA lashed out like a graceless, amoral bureacracy: it successfully sued to take every penny Snepp had made from the book, eventually winning a Supreme Court decision that would impose the agency’s pre-publication review process on everything the former analyst might ever write about the world of intelligence agencies.

    —February 25, 2014

  • House of Cards Is a Dark Fantasy of Effective Government

    > Jim Newell

    House of Cards is a terrible show. It’s cynical in all the wrong ways and it shows a “dark underside” of insider Washington that doesn’t exist. There are no “puppetmasters” like Kevin Spacey’s character in real life—the government is not one hyper-competent manipulative person surrounded by the few hundred least competent and most naïve people on planet Earth. He is a cartoon. There are no Democrats from rural South Carolina, either. The show seems to have no idea how schlocky its melodrama and constant fourth-wall breaking can be. The writers seem to delight in setting records for shark-jumping once or twice per season with unforeseen murder and threesomes. There are too many plot lines that don’t work.

    house of cards

    Image: Is Kevin Spacey the blue one or the green one?
    Your web editor does not watch the program.
    /Lothar Meggendorfer

    All of which is to say that I watched all 13 episodes of season two within 36 hours of its Netflix release, just as I did last year, and there’s nothing I would rather do right now than binge-watch another 13 episodes. No: another 100 episodes. All I want to do is watch House of Cards, alone, all day, forever. Gimme gimme gimme, now now now.

    —February 24, 2014

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