WTF FT?

by Maria on March 13, 2018

For a couple of days I’ve been tweeting about the Financial Times’ decision to have Steve Bannon as its “keynote interview” in a conference on the future of news in New York, on 22 March.

Fresh from his tour of Europe where Bannon told his rabid fans being called a racist is a “badge of honour”, Bannon has declared himself the “infrastructure” of the world’s far right.

As Bannon spent the last week holed up in luxury hotels one wonders at him being able to afford, and soliciting Europe’s far right ‘politicians, operatives and investors’, he told the New York Times: “…he was weighing whether to buy a name-brand outlet, like Newsweek or United Press International, or to start a new one, or to connect entrepreneurs with capital or invest himself.”

Bannon wants money to start a new, far right media venture. What better place to do that than the world’s financial and media hub?

Enter the FT.

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Annihilation?

by John Holbo on March 13, 2018

Belle and I are watching Annihilation on Netflix. We are about 50 minutes in. This just makes no sense. These people. But maybe it’s worth watching until the end? What do you think?

Take my survey!

Or leave a comment.

(I understand the book was better.)

UPDATE: the Plain People of the Internet have spoken. I guess we’ll watch the rest a bit later. (We did other stuff last night.) The main problem with the film, in a nutshell, is that you have a small group of scientists going into this mysterious area, the Shimmer. Everything they know indicates that their safety measures are ludicrously insufficient. They aren’t wearing hazmat suits even though they have every reason to expect radiation or poisonous atmosphere or environment. They are not soldiers, but they are armed. They are all neurotic loners (who else would volunteer for this mission? But there’s limits to the ‘send in people who don’t have a lot of close family’ strategy.) The result is that their actions and reactions, in the Shimmer, aren’t interesting, since they consistently mismatch the situation. There’s a fine line between surreal and stupid, and the film is not managing to keep its small team of scientists on the former side of the divide, in this weird place.

Should I watch Annihilation?

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The Slippery Slope of the Sum of All Fears

by John Holbo on March 13, 2018

Before March 18, 2018: No collusion!

March 18, 2018: “But only Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take these series of inadvertent contacts with each other, meetings, whatever, and weave that into some sort of a fiction and turn it into a page-turner, spy thriller.”

Six months from now: Yeah, but it’s like one of those late Tom Clancy ones. The ones written after Clancy was dead, or retired, or counting his money? Maybe it’s just a video game.

12 months from now: OK, it’s definitely as good as early Tom Clancy. The really good stuff. But some of the characters are unbelievable, in a way that pushes the reader out of the story. Like the Mooch. True, Clancy wrote flat, one-dimensional, omni-competent heroes. This is like – the opposite? The thing has reality show pacing, not ‘proper’ thriller structure. Clancy would not have made that mistake.

18 months from now: Wow! I could not put this one down! It was unbelievably thrilling. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering whether this was it. And the big reveal! You realize everything up to that point was just the tip of the iceberg. Hunt For Red October Surprise! But we still have to completely ignore all these revelations because: no zombies.

24 months from now: Zombies!

[NOTE: this post is intended as a joke, although I think there is a point to the joke. There was some confusion concerning an earlier post, due to confusion as to whether it was a joke: it was. This one is a joke. I don’t expect zombies.)

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Sunday photoblogging: Pensions strike!

by Chris Bertram on March 11, 2018

Photography can’t always be about aesthetics. As Miriam posted about the other day, academics and many academic-related staff in the UK are currently on strike in defence of our pensions which are under threat from a plan to shift all the risk from institutions to individuals and to leave us thousands of pounds worse off in our retirement. It is a considerable achievement for managers paid vast sums of money on account of their managerial abilities to have engineered a situation where their staff vote 9:1 for strike action. Anyway, it has, so far been a determined and somewhat joyful action in which we have rediscovered what we have in common. However this ends (and the signs are good) the atmosphere in our workplaces will have changed forever. People really are really missing their students, teaching, and research and are loving the support and solidarity we’ve had from our students. But I doubt that bullying micromanagement will be as passively accepted in the future as it has been in the past.

USU Pensions strike 2018-11

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Economics in Two Lessons: Chapter 3

by John Quiggin on March 10, 2018

Thanks to everyone who commented on Chapter 2 of my book, Economics in Two Lessons. I’ve learned a lot from the comments but haven’t yet had time to respond to them.

Now here’s the draft of Chapter 3. Again, I welcome comments, criticism and encouragement.

The book so far is available
Table of Contents
Introduction.
Chapter 1
draft of Chapter 2
Feel free to make further comments on these chapters if you wish.

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Youth In Action

by Harry on March 8, 2018

I doubt I’m the only one here with a kid planning to join the school protests/walkout next week. As far as I am aware, locally it seems to have been put together largely by the schoolkids themselves, coordinating across the 4 comprehensive high schools in the district. Maybe its different in your city or town. Anyway, my friend Meira Levinson has helped put together a great resource for young people planning to take or considering taking their first political action (and there’ll be a lot of them in the next week or so). Here it is, please share it with your children or with your friends who have children. Meira’s description is below the fold:

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Crowley On Ancient Blurb Technology and Le Guin

by John Holbo on March 8, 2018

I was most gratified when John Crowley showed up – easy as pie – in comments to my “Omelas” post. I will try to repay the compliment of this gesture (nigh-effortless to its author!) by linking to his new Boston Review piece, reminiscing on Le Guin and blurb technology of yore.

In 1973, when I finished my first novel, the difficulties of the blurb-solicitation process were enormous, or would surely seem so to writers now who send digital files effortlessly to famous people through websites and email. The great new advance then was the Xerox machine; you at least didn’t have to produce carbons (hopeless) or photostats (expensive) to send out. But still, as often as not—or more often than not—your solicitations weren’t responded to, which could seem like a foretaste of failure: perhaps readers wouldn’t respond either. Now and then a query would get a curt reply asking that the manuscript not be sent, that the recipient didn’t read such submissions.

For my first novel, I received a hand-written postcard from Ursula K. Le Guin welcoming me to the fold.

I once sent a large manuscript to Anne Rice, the vampire biographer­. What I got back was a postcard, filled edge to edge with typing, asking why I felt I had a right to send her this mass of paper, did I really think she had any reason to read it—she did not—and what was she supposed to do with it? I thought of writing her back to say that she might just toss it in the trash with the rest of the week’s paper, but I didn’t.

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The Generation Game is over (at least for me)

by John Quiggin on March 7, 2018

For more than a generation, I have been railing against the Generation Game, that is, the insistence on dividing society into groups based on birth year and imputing different characteristics to each group. Today, I’m following the classic advice for those involved in an endless war: declare victory and get out. The basis for my claim is that I’ve managed to publish my latest critique in the New York Times, under the headline ‘Millennial’ Means Nothing (paywalled*). I expect this will reach more people than anything I could do with blog posts, so I will leave this topic and move on.

  • It’s fairly easy to get around, I believe.

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Themes! What Are They?

by John Holbo on March 6, 2018

I’m writing something introductory (intended for a general audience) about ‘themes’ in literature. Obviously my theme must be that the term is a bit hopeless until you say what you mean by ‘theme’. I’m thinking of introducing it with reference to memories of writing book reports in 6th grade (I think it was.) Mr. Lofton’s (?) class at McCornick Elementary. (Or was he my 5th grade teacher? Can’t remember.)

Anyhoo: it was requisite, on pain of getting no credit for your report, that you correctly check one or more box(es) for ‘theme’. There were exactly four options:

Man vs. Man
Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Society
Man vs. Self

That’s all there is, there ain’t no more!

(Sorry, ladies! It was the 70’s, and Ms. was a magazine, but you got no love when it came time for themes.) [click to continue…]

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The Right To Have Rights

by Astra Taylor on March 6, 2018

Last month The Right To Have Rights, an edited collection I contributed the afterword to, came out with Verso. Crooked Timber’s own Corey Robin was kind enough to provide an endorsement for the book, which he called “a marvelous deconstruction of a vexing concept, and a wonderful new way of doing theory.” Not bad!

The book’s form is indeed unique – each of the collaborators takes on a portion of Hannah Arent’s now famous phrase from The Origins of Totalitarianism “the right to have rights” (interestingly, the provocative formulation was initially overlooked by readers and not something Arendt lingered on or made much of). Stephanie DeGooyer tackles “The Right,” Lida Maxwell examines “To Have,” Samuel Moyn reflects on “Rights,” and Alastair Hunt addresses the implicit question, “of Whom?”

I’ll just say that writing the afterward was a real treat, mainly because I had never had the chance to deeply engage with Arendt before (I had read a few chapters, essays, and excerpts here and there and seen both of the recent movies about her released by Zeitgeist Films, but that was about it). Though I was glad to have an excuse to dig in, my contribution is a rather unorthodox (and not very Arendtian) reading informed by my reporting on the refugee crisis in 2015 and my ongoing economic justice work.

Building on the main contributions, I look at the way people’s citizenship rights are being undercut in an age of globalized capitalism and how neoliberalism and ethno-nationalism are dangerously entwined. As an activist, invoking rights can become a kind of reflex or habit, and sometimes (if I’m honest) a substitute for other kinds of argumentation and imagination, so it was also good to have an occasion to step back and ponder what we’re really talking about when we talk about rights or make entitlement claims. I’m not about to dismiss rights as nonsense upon stilts or bourgeois individualism run amok, but I emerged from this project more critical than when I began. I will certainly be more deliberate (and hopefully more forward-looking or even out there) in any rights demanding effort I’m part of as a result.

In honor of the book’s publication, I asked each of the contributors to share some thoughts in response to the same prompt. I asked them to reflect on what, if anything, grounds rights and whether we might need to start thinking about rights in new ways. Their replies are below.

I’d be curious to hear others reflect on the same prompt in the comments should inspiration strike.

The question of how rights might be recognized and fulfilled is a far more interesting and difficult question than what rights are in themselves. We tend to think of rights as the sacrosanct property of certain subjects: the right of individuals to bear arms, the right of citizens to vote, or the right of human beings to life itself. But rights are not inborn properties. If they were, we would never have to exercise a demand or make a claim for them. As much as we can assert a right, there must be a larger communal body that feels obliged or compelled to assume the burden of making sure we can enjoy this right. The question of how we might compel individuals, corporations and states to take up a responsibility for the rights of others is the question we should be asking. – Stephanie DeGooyer

We tend to think of rights as self-evident, as grounded in our equality as human beings. But that ground, historically, has been shaky: claims about who is truly human have served to exclude, disenfranchise, and license mass violence against marginalized peoples. Arendt alerts us to the shakiness of the ground of rights, and shows us that the way we can stabilize it is not through appeals to morality, but rather through political action and staging of rights. We “have” rights like we “have” a party or a conference: we have to collectively stage, enact, and demand that we all be treated as individuals capable of claiming our rights. We – as collective political actors – are the constantly changing, yet crucial, figures that give rights-claimers a ground to stand on. – Lida Maxwell

Arendt’s reflections remind us how little has been done to guarantee rights, especially for outsiders to existing states—as well as insiders whose protections are increasingly precarious, and risk becoming outcasts in their own lands. It remains true today that too many people, as Arendt observed, are driven to assert their “humanity” — or have others assert it for them — in the absence of any grounds for rights. – Samuel Moyn

Human beings, we say, are born with rights. But rights are not really a function of anyone’s biological make-up: they are things we can enjoy only as members of a political community made when individuals act together in concert. Historically when individuals have joined communities, it often came as a big surprise to existing members. A telling mark of the quality of our political communities is whether we reject or welcome those who, because they are rightless, need to become members. – Alastair Hunt

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Why are UK academics striking? A beginner’s guide

by Miriam Ronzoni on March 5, 2018

Ingrid has suggested that I write a short post giving a general overview of the current strike action in UK universities, as many CT readers based outside of the UK might actually not know much about it. I am very happy to do so.

UK-based academics are currently engaging in the most massive industrial action ever undertaken by the sector. After being on strike five days overall over the past two weeks, they are committed to an escalation that will lead them to strike four out of five days this week and to a whole week walk-out next week. If negotiations do not progress sufficiently after this, the promise is to move to an assessment boycott. [click to continue…]

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Young Man Has Crisis While Europe Stumbles Into War

by Belle Waring on March 5, 2018

So I have a sort of reading project. I read Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, and it is really the best thing ever. You should all read it, and unlike all the other books I’m thinking of, it’s not eleventy billion pages long. Europe is getting ready for WWI, but there’s no actual WWI in the book until the last five pages or so. This is as it should be because who wants to read about WWI? Then I read The Magic Mountain again which, similarly, has fighting in the mud (perhaps oddly cheerful) in the last…two pages maybe, and that’s it after 900 pages of symbolism of Europe’s decline, and brutal caricatures of European intellectuals, and five nourishing meals a day at the International Sanatorium Berghof. I’m reading all of Kafka now but it’s a detour and I don’t know how I started exactly, especially since Amerika is making me sad. But I’m almost done and setting that aside, next I’ll read The Man Without Qualities? The war’s going on for a while at the end but everyone is just dicking around in Vienna the whole time IIRC. I think the book even makes it to the end of the war?

Unfortunately it seems like I should read Proust next but…I mean, I know a girl’s got to have goals, but there’s a lot of Proust. (There are new translations I have been curious about, but.) It’s literally the best qualified I can think of, and ‘young man having crises’ and ‘Europe stumbling into war’ are lavished with care while ‘fighting in the mud’ is minimized. I think the narrator’s realization at the beach hotel, two years after the fact, that his grandmother is actually dead in a meaningful and tragic sense definitely outweighs any mud, which may not get a look-in at all. I’m pretty sure we get all the way through the war and more without any violence to speak of. Do any of you have good suggestions for the genre I made up (and I should note that young ladies having crises would be fine; I just don’t think there will be any)? I could go sideways and read Totem and Taboo, but although there are young men having incestuous crises there’s no stumbling into WWI IIRC. And if I’m just starting to drift into publication dates/influential works I could read Lukacs’ The Theory of The Novel? But why? It’s hard. It’s fair to ask, “why any of this Belle, and why are you reading Kafka if The Castle and Amerika are bumming you out, just stop.” BELLE WARING DON’T STOP READING NO BOOKS, IS WHY. And just in case you think I’m so fancy and all I read is fancy things I also just read Stephen King’s It, which is scary. Not as scary as WWI in some important sense, but pretty darn scary. [It should go without saying that I spend multiple hours dorking around on the loserweb, too.] And this may all be put on hold so I can help John by reading science fiction, anyway.

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I don’t get it

by John Holbo on March 5, 2018

Maybe someone could ask Sarah Huckabee Sanders (or someone who’s in charge of this stuff) to explain the joke?

The comment was made behind closed doors, and appeared to be in jest: President Trump told donors on Saturday that China’s president, Xi Jinping, was now “president for life,” and added: “I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll want to give that a shot someday.”

The remarks, confirmed by a leading Republican lobbyist who attended the luncheon at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, were first aired by CNN, which obtained an audio recording of his comments.

The statement, which drew laughter from those in attendance and was said by a smiling president, according to the lobbyist, was given on a day when Mr. Trump was out for laughs.

With so many people laughing, surely at least one person must be in on the joke. We on the outside, looking in, want to know.

Is it one of those ‘it’s funny because it’s true’ type things? The inevitability of someone – possibly Trump himself – overthrowing the constitutional order and becoming President For Life is the new ‘the VCR is inevitably going to blink 12:00’ kind of gags?

Or is it one of those ‘ha ha I’m an awful person but aren’t we all awful in our hearts, the things we wish for, so this is actually kind of deep – I’m a symbol of human nature itself, I contain dark multitudes’ things?

Or is it just one of those ‘politicians give the people what they deserve, good and hard’ jokes

Or is kind of a higher synthesis of those last two: ‘you know I want it, but I know you know I know I can’t ask for it, so I’m just, like, wink-wink’ type things? So the joke is it’s not a joke but an ask, plus deniability?

Asking for a friend.

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Post Democracy in Italy

by Henry on March 5, 2018

Written five years ago

The Italian Democratic Party is caught on one tine of the post-democratic dilemma. It is trying to work within the system as it is, in the implausible hope that it can produce real change within a framework that almost seems designed to prevent such a thing. As the party has courted Grillo, it has started making noises about refusing to accept austerity politics and introducing major institutional reforms. It is unclear whether senior Democratic figures believe their new rhetoric; certainly no one else does. If the party does somehow come to power, the most it will do is tinker with the system.

The Five Star Movement has impaled itself on the other tine, as have the Indignados in Spain, Occupy in the US and UK, and the tent movement in Israel. All have gained mass support because of the problems of post-democracy. The divide between ordinary people and politicians has grown ever wider, and Italian politicians are often corrupt as well as remote. The Five Star Movement wants to reform Italy’s institutions to make them truly democratic. Yet it, too, is trapped by the system. As Grillo told the Financial Times in October: ‘We die if a movement becomes a party. Our problem is to remain a movement in parliament, which is a structure for parties. We have to keep a foot outside.’

… All are embroiled, in different ways, in the perplexities of post-democracy. None has any very good way out. Ever since France’s president François Mitterrand tried to pursue an expansive social democratic agenda in the early 1980s and was brutally punished by international markets, it has been clear that social democracy will require either a partial withdrawal from the international economy, with all the costs that this entails, or a radical transformation of how the international economy works.

It is striking that the right is not hampered to nearly the same extent. Many mainstream conservatives are committed to democracy for pragmatic rather than idealistic reasons. They are quite content to see it watered down so long as markets work and social stability is maintained. Those on the further reaches of the right, such as Greece’s Golden Dawn, find it much easier than the Five Star Movement or Syriza, the Greek radical-left coalition, to think about alternatives. After all, they aren’t particularly interested in reforming moribund democratic institutions to make them better and more responsive; they just want to replace them with some version of militaristic fascism. Even if these factions are unlikely to succeed, they can still pull their countries in less democratic directions, by excluding weaker groups from political protection. The next 10 years are unlikely to be comfortable for immigrants in southern Europe.

Post-democracy is strangling the old parties of the left. They have run out of options. Perhaps all that traditional social democracy can do, to adapt a grim joke made by Crouch in a different context, is to serve as a pall-bearer at its own funeral. In contrast, a new group of actors — the Five Star Movement and other confederations of the angry, young and dispossessed — have seized a chance to win mass support. The problem is, they seem unable to turn mass frustration into the power to change things, to create a path for escape.

Perhaps, over time, they will figure out how to engage with the mundane task of slow drilling through hard boards that is everyday politics. Perhaps, too, the systems of unrule governing the world economy, gravely weakened as they are, will fail and collapse of their own accord, opening the space for a new and very different dispensation. Great changes seem unlikely until they happen; only in retrospect do they look inevitable. Yet if some reversal in the order of things is waiting to unfold, it is not apparent to us now. Post-democracy has trapped the left between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born. We may be here for some time.

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Free speech, unfair dismissal and unions

by John Quiggin on March 4, 2018

I’m seeing a lot of comments from the political right and centre-right worrying about the possibility that workers may be fired for expressing conservative views. For example, here’s David Brooks (paywalled, I think) linking to Andrew Sullivan.

It strikes me that this would be a really good time for people like Brooks and Sullivan to campaign for an end to employment at will, and the introduction of the kind of unfair dismissal laws that protect workers in most democratic countries, but not, for the most part, in the US. Among other things, these laws prohibit firing employees on the basis of their political opinions. Better still, though, would be a resurgence of unionism. Union contracts generally require dismissal for cause, and unionised workers have some actual backup when it comes to a dispute with employers.

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