Seize and Resist

Thea Riofrancos in The Baffler:

GLOBALIZATION IS UNDER ATTACK from all quarters. It’s hard to pinpoint when the discord began: the concept, and the process it grasps, is nearly coterminous with the contention swirling around it. January 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect, was also the day the Zapatista Army declared war on the Mexican government. In the United States, the alter-globalization movement erupted in the 1999 Battle of Seattle; in the hemisphere, it peaked with the 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, which registered over 150,000 participants. A few years later came the “movements of the squares” as protesters occupied public spaces from Athens to New York to Cairo. These events coincided with an entire era of resistance to free trade and U.S. hegemony in Latin America, culminating in the Pink Tide, which in turn foreshadowed the global spread of populisms left and right that, though diametrically opposed in their diagnoses, targeted the insipid managerialism of market democracies.

And that was just the beginning. Having survived the turbulence of social movements and financial crises, the fate of the flat earth utopia—the dream of a global humanity linked by the sinews of peaceful trade, digital communication, and international institutions, all protected by benevolent American imperialism—entered into yet another phase of uncertainty. Across multiple continents, right-wing nationalism, itself nurtured by neoliberalism, captured state power. Trade wars, withdrawals from multilateralism, and reconfigurations of historic alliances ensued. Global integration already appeared at a nadir when the novel coronavirus emerged in China before spreading everywhere through the pathways of transnational interconnectedness. Supply chains premised on frictionless circulation and just-in-time production ground to a halt; meanwhile, political leaders of all ideological stripes bemoaned “dependency” not just on China, but on globally dispersed production itself, which manufactures everything from the superficial (fast fashion) to the essential (personal protective equipment). In their place, they called for “re-shoring” supply chains, scaling down production to domestic and regional levels, and balancing economic efficiency with newly salient exigencies of public health. Are we witnessing the twilight of globalization?

More here.

Of Course They Would: On Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Ministry for the Future”

Gerry Canavan in the LA Review of Books:

IT SEEMS PERVERSELY easier to tell a science fictional story about a world centuries in the future than the one just a few years away. Somehow we have become collectively convinced that massive world-historical changes are something that cannot happen in the short term, even as the last five years alone have seen the coronavirus pandemic; the emergence of CRISPR gene editing; too many droughts, hurricanes, and wildfires to count; the legalization of gay marriage in many countries, including the United States; mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting; the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements; the emergence of self-driving cars; Brexit; and the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. We are living through historic times — the most widely tumultuous period of transformation and catastrophe for the planet since the end of World War II, with overlapping political, social, economic, and ecological crises that threaten to turn the coming decades into hell on Earth — but it has not helped us to think historically, or to understand that no matter how hard we vote things are never going to “get back to normal.” Everything is different now.

Everything is always different, yes, fine — but everything is really different now.

The Ministry for the Future is Kim Stanley Robinson’s grimmest book since 2015’s Aurora, and likely the grimmest book he has written to date — but it is also one of his most ambitious, as he seeks to tell the story of how, given what science and history both tell us to be true, the rest of our lives could be anything but an endless nightmare. It is not an easy read, with none of the strategies of spatial or temporal distancing that make Mars or the Moon or the New York of 2140 feel like spaces of optimistic historical possibility; it’s a book that calls on us instead to imagine living through a revolution ourselves, as we are, in the here and now. Robinson, our culture’s last great utopian, hasn’t lost heart exactly — but he’s definitely getting deep down into the muck of things this time.

More here.

How Digitalization Is Preparing a Fight for World Market Supremacy

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Peter Schadt and Hans Zobel in Jacobin:

The United States and China are engaging in a trade war that British think tank Chatham House calls rooted in “a race for global technological dominance.” And for German business daily Handelsblatt, “Europe is getting caught in the crossfire of [this] technology war.” Faced with this threat, the European Commission has reserved large parts of its coronavirus recovery fund to boosting or maintaining Europe’s “digital sovereignty.” Technology, it would seem, is a matter of power politics. But what does “technological dominance” mean in the digital age?

In her State of the European Union address in September, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced that we have ahead of us nothing less than a “digital decade,” and demanded clear-cut goals for a digital Europe by 2030. As she put it, “Europe must now lead the way on digital — or it will have to follow the way of others, who are setting these standards for us. This is why we must move fast.”

The three remaining world powers — the EU, China, and the United States — are today struggling for world market supremacy. The battles will be fought in the field of digital technology. And as von der Leyen indicated, one of their most important weapons will be the bid to impose their own standards on the global market. Let’s have a look at their battle plans.

More here.

The Militia Question

Suzanne Schneider in n+1:

FLOATING SOMEWHERE BETWEEN the optimism that Donald Trump will soon be fired by the American people and the fear that he will eke out a victory, a number of anxious questions circulate: Will he honor the results? Will he try to discredit the election? Will the task of deciding the presidency come down to the courts, for the second time in two decades? What if he refuses to go? Will the military really dispatch him with the swiftness that Joe Biden has promised? What if the transfer of power happens but is anything but peaceful—accompanied by protestors, police, vigilantes, and federal troops facing off on American streets? Pundits stress how unprecedented, and thus dangerous, it is to be even asking such questions; friends share ominous magazine articles about right-wing militias gearing up for civil war. In major cities, corporations are boarding up their storefronts in advance of Election Day.

For many scholars like myself, whose academic work chiefly concerns developments in the Global South, there is a certain familiarity to this disaster-in-the-making. The United States is facing a legitimation crisis of epic proportions, one that will not evaporate should Joe Biden oust Trump from the presidency.

More here.

How Latin America Reimagined Classical Economics

Nicola Miller in Boston Review:

As disillusionment with neoliberalism has grown over the last decade, many have called for an alternative vision of political economy—one that rejects market fundamentalism, embraces a notion of the public good, and remains sensitive to the way politics, economics, and ethics are deeply intertwined. In this effort to imagine new futures, it can be helpful to return to neglected resources of the past, and one striking example of vibrant economic thinking comes from Latin America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

This rich legacy is often obscured by a mistaken assumption. The conventional account has it that classical political economy (CPE)—with its emphasis on self-regulating markets, free trade, and the pursuit of individual self-interest—was the dominant approach in Latin America from independence until after World War II, when new ways of thinking about development economics, pioneered by Argentine Raúl Prebisch and others in the 1950s, displaced the old paradigm. This standard story points out that in the late nineteenth century Adam Smith and David Ricardo were widely cited by Latin American authors, that John Stuart Mill’s Principles of Political Economy (1848) became a bible of economic wisdom, and that the idea of comparative advantage became naturalized. Laissez faire governments of the time parroted the theory, we are told, and allowed the proceeds of primary product exports to accumulate in the hands of a minority, with little concern for the rest of the economy. If industrialization took place—and economic historians have found more and more of it, earlier and earlier—it was despite, not because, of any deliberate policy, let alone a theory.

More here.

Cats and Philosophy

Tim Adams at The Guardian:

Gray never bought the idea that his book was a handbook for despair. His subject was humility; his target any ideology that believed it possessed anything more than doubtful and piecemeal answers to vast and changing questions. The cat book is written in that spirit. If like me you read with a pencil to hand, you will be underlining constantly with a mix of purring enjoyment and frequent exclamation marks. “Consciousness has been overrated,” Gray will write, coolly. Or “the flaw in rationalism is the belief that human beings can live by applying a theory”. Or “human beings quickly lose their humanity but cats never stop being cats”. He concludes with a 10-point list of how cats might give their anxious, unhappy, self-conscious human companions hints “to live less awkwardly”. These range from “never try to persuade human beings to be reasonable”, to “do not look for meaning in your suffering” to “sleep for the joy of sleeping”.

more here.

A Poet Who Mesmerizes by Zigs and Zags

David Orr at The New York Times:

To write as an ironist, especially today, is to risk that the reader loses patience with hedging, backtracking, spirals of cleverness. But sometimes the layers of the onion ensure the purity of the tears. “That Was Now, This Is Then” is anchored by “Collins Ferry Landing,” an elegy for the poet’s father. Its middle section, in prose, begins by addressing Seshadri’s father in the self-amused voice that is typical for this writer: “I have a friend. (You’ll be glad to know.) She and I work together. (You’ll be glad to know I still have a job.) She’s an ally. She’s sympathetic.” But it turns out that this sympathetic ally has done something terrible. The poet had been speaking about his loss (“I was telling her about you”) and then shied away from it into a galaxy of other subjects (“I was describing cultures of shame evolving across millennia; economies of scarcity versus economies of surplus. … Deep India, strewn with elephants and cobras”). And then the woman does this: “She put her right hand on my left arm and said, ‘He’ll always be with you. In your heart.’”

more here.

Skin in the Game: Wall Street’s answer to the student-debt crisis

Avi Asher-Schapiro in Harper’s Magazine:

Susan Simien was born and raised in San Francisco, but he had begun to feel like a stranger in his hometown. In the Nineties, when Simien was growing up, the Ingleside neighborhood where he lived was diverse—nearly half of its households were, like Simien’s, middle-class and African-American. But in recent years, friends and neighbors had left for more affordable towns and suburbs—so many that Simien had lost track. Over the course of his lifetime, the African-American population in San Francisco had been cut in half. “You can’t throw a rock and hit someone who actually grew up around here,” Simien liked to say.

As a teenager, Simien knew he wanted to work in the tech industry. While other kids in his neighborhood were playing outside, he was shooting aliens on his Xbox; when anyone in his family needed help with a broken printer or new cell phone, they called Simien. In 2017, at age twenty-five, he joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, and he was soon making $30 to $40 an hour as an AV installer—as much as $75,000 a year if he could get steady work. Over the long term, though, the pay wasn’t going to cut it in the Bay Area. “Low six figures was beginning to feel like low-income,” he told me. Simien and his family were just the sort of people getting priced out. He lived with his grandparents near the top of a sloping block in a boxy, two-story, suburban-style tract house—the kind of building that developers erected after World War II to accommodate the upwardly mobile families filling out the city’s edges. Simien’s grandmother worked for decades as a manager at a department store; by the mid-Nineties, she had saved enough money to buy the house for $150,000. The family is still paying off the mortgage. “I didn’t want to ever have to leave that house,” Simien told me. “I knew I had to do something.”

One day in 2017, Simien was riding the BART train when he saw an ad for the Holberton School, a for-profit technology training program. Holberton had plastered the stations with posters that said things like ivy league salaries and no up-front tuition and become a software engineer in 2 years or less. The ads featured flattering photos of people who looked like Simien’s friends from Ingleside: twentysomething African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos. They were all grinning.

More here.

William Faulkner’s Demons

Casey Cep in The New Yorker:

What if the North had won the Civil War? That technically factual counterfactual animated almost all of William Faulkner’s writing. The Mississippi novelist was born thirty-two years after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, but he came of age believing in the superiority of the Confederacy: the South might have lost, but the North did not deserve to win. This Lost Cause revisionism appeared everywhere, from the textbooks that Faulkner was assigned growing up to editorials in local newspapers, praising the paternalism and the prosperity of the slavery economy, jury-rigging an alternative justification for secession, canonizing as saints and martyrs those who fought for the C.S.A., and proclaiming the virtues of antebellum society. In contrast with those delusions, Faulkner’s fiction revealed the truth: the Confederacy was both a military and a moral failure.

The Civil War features in some dozen of Faulkner’s novels. It is most prominent in those set in Yoknapatawpha County, an imaginary Mississippi landscape filled with battlefields and graveyards, veterans and widows, slaves and former slaves, draft dodgers and ghosts. In “Light in August,” the Reverend Gail Hightower is haunted by his Confederate grandfather; in “Intruder in the Dust,” the lawyer Gavin Stevens insists that all the region’s teen-age boys are obsessed with the hours before Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. In these books, no Southerner is spared the torturous influence of the war, whether he flees the region, as Quentin Compson does, in “The Sound and the Fury,” or whether, like Rosa Coldfield, in “Absalom, Absalom!,” she stays.

A new book by Michael Gorra, “The Saddest Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War” (Liveright), traces Faulkner’s literary depictions of the military conflict in the nineteenth century and his personal engagement with the racial conflict of the twentieth. The latter struggle, within the novelist himself, is the real war of Gorra’s subtitle. In “The Saddest Words,” Faulkner emerges as a character as tragic as any he invented: a writer who brilliantly portrayed the way that the South’s refusal to accept its defeat led to cultural decay, but a Southerner whose private letters and public statements were riddled with the very racism that his books so pointedly damned.

More here.

Saturday Poem

Ceci n’est pas un pot?

—But what if one insisted on saying that there must also be something boiling in the
picture of the pot?
—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 297


The old forger might have laughed,
had he lived long enough to see
his youthful face on the 500 franc note,
recalling, after the war, printing his own
bank notes, painting fake Picassos,
adding de Chirico town squares to the mounting sum
of de Chirico squares just to stay alive.
“This is,” he might have said, “my face.”
“This,” he might have said, “is not my face.”


“What is in the pot, Rene?”
Sheila coyly asks. Steam
rises, or perhaps blows
a fierce whistle. He
has planned all afternoon
to offer her a cup of tea
with sugar or a boiled
potato with butter and salt
to keep her a little longer—
his wife away on social calls—
to talk of art, or nothing at all.
“Nothing,” he answers. “It is
my upturned derby pouring out
desire. It is the river Sambre,
where my mother drowned.”

M.L. Williams
Plume Magazine

A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence

Becky Cooper in Crime Reads:

I asked Iva and James to tell me everything they knew. They looked uncomfortable, whispering despite the fact that there wasn’t really anyone there but the barista.

The professor’s name was Karl Lamberg-Karlovsky, they said, and the story James had heard, like the one Morgan told me, was that this Harvard professor—tenured, and still on faculty—had an affair with his student and killed her when she wouldn’t end the liaison and threatened to tell either his wife or the university, he couldn’t remember which. His version also involved red ochre, but none of the cigarette butts. Red ochre, they explained, was used in many ancient burial rituals, either to preserve the dead or to honor them on their way to the afterlife. Its use seemed to limit the circle of suspects to someone with intimate knowledge of anthropology. Everyone in the department at Harvard, they said, knew the story. They had heard that another Harvard archaeology professor got too drunk at a recent faculty dinner and spilled the sordid tale to his students. In fact, they wouldn’t be surprised if most people in the field of archaeology knew and whispered about that particular professor.

I couldn’t understand how such a huge scandal, if any of it was true, could stay so quiet.

More here.

A sinister attractor – why men are more likely to be left-handed

Kevin Mitchell in Wiring the Brain:

It seems an innocent enough question: why are males more frequently left-handed than females? But the answer is far from simple, and it reveals fundamental principles of how our psychological and behavioural traits are encoded in our genomes, how variability in those traits arise, and how development is channelled towards specific outcomes. It turns out that the explanation rests on an underlying difference between males and females that has far-reaching consequences for all kinds of traits, including neurodevelopmental disorders.

recent tweet from Abdel Abdellaoui showed data on rates of left-handedness obtained from the UK Biobank, and asked two questions: why is left-handedness more common in males and why are rates of reported left-handedness increasing over time?

I don’t think the answer to the second question is known but I presume it has to do with the declining practice of forcing left-handers to write right-handed. This once common practice reflects a long history of prejudice against lefties, illustrated by the derivation of the word “sinister”, which in Latin means “left”, as opposed to “dexter” meaning “right” which is the root of the positive words “dexterity” and “dextrous”.

The first question – why is left-handedness more common in males? – is the one I want to explore here, as it opens up some fascinating questions about robustness, variability, and developmental attractors.

More here.

Conspiracy theories are extremely effective emotional tools

David Brooks in the New York Times:

For those awash in anxiety and alienation, who feel that everything is spinning out of control, conspiracy theories are extremely effective emotional tools. For those in low status groups, they provide a sense of superiority: I possess important information most people do not have. For those who feel powerless, they provide agency: I have the power to reject “experts” and expose hidden cabals. As Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School points out, they provide liberation: If I imagine my foes are completely malevolent, then I can use any tactic I want.

Under Trump, the Republican identity is defined not by a set of policy beliefs but by a paranoid mind-set. He and his media allies simply ignore the rules of the epistemic regime and have set up a rival trolling regime. The internet is an ideal medium for untested information to get around traditional gatekeepers, but it is an accelerant of the paranoia, not its source. Distrust and precarity, caused by economic, cultural and spiritual threat, are the source.

What to do? You can’t argue people out of paranoia. If you try to point out factual errors, you only entrench false belief. The only solution is to reduce the distrust and anxiety that is the seedbed of this thinking. That can only be done first by contact, reducing the social chasm between the members of the epistemic regime and those who feel so alienated from it. And second, it can be done by policy, by making life more secure for those without a college degree.

More here.

On ‘There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job’

Rebecca Liu at Prospect Magazine:

“God,” a friend of mine recently confided to me, “needs to make a comeback.”

She sounded like she was joking, she continued, but she wasn’t. Growing up in the overwhelmingly secularised milieu of millennial city-dwellers was not delivering her any meaning, particularly during the era of Covid-19. The already apparently trivial demands she faced daily at work seemed to not slow down, but rather accelerate. Her bosses were still urgently demanding her to work to an increasingly arbitrary schedule; clients still desperately needed action from her, today. At a time of mass suffering, there seemed little to reflect on how best to live.

The protagonist in Kikuko Tsumura’s There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job, translated by Polly Barton (and the first of Tsumura’s novels to be translated into English), lives in a world bereft of meaning, flitting between—like my friend, like most of us—roles that promise us a respectable claim to adult life: jobs.

more here.

Remembering Jan Morris

The Editors at The Paris Review:

Wales mattered to Jan. In midlife, and at more or less the same time as her gender reassignment, she embraced what she called Welsh Republicanism. Her home, Trefan Morys, is in a remote area near the town of Criccieth. You leave the main road, take a long, rutted drive, negotiate the narrow entrance in a high stone wall, and you are suddenly in an enchanted space. Elizabeth was the architect of the garden and Jan the interior designer. You enter the house through a two-part stable door (Jan always greeting you with the words, “Not today, thank you”), into a cozy kitchen, and then the main downstairs room. The walls are lined with eight thousand books, including specially leather-bound editions of Jan’s own. Up the stairs there is another long room, with an old-fashioned stove in the middle. Here are more books, but this space is given over mainly to memorabilia and paintings. Pride of place is given to a six-foot-long painting of Venice, done by Jan, in which every detail of the miraculous city is rendered (including tiny portraits of the two eldest sons, who were very young at the time Jan painted it). Model ships hang from the ceiling, and paintings of ships adorn the walls. Jan loved ships from the time she spied them, as a child, through a telescope as they passed through the Bristol Channel near her family’s home.

more here.

NHS to trial blood test that can detect over 50 cancer types

From Medical Device Network:

The UK National Health Service (NHS) is set to initiate the trial of Galleri blood test that can potentially detect over 50 types of cancers. Developed by GRAIL, the test is capable of detecting early-stage cancers through a simple blood test. In research on patients with cancer signs, the test identified many types like head and neck, ovarian, pancreatic, oesophageal and some blood cancers, which are difficult to diagnose early. The blood test checks for molecular changes. NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens said: “Early detection – particularly for hard-to-treat conditions like ovarian and pancreatic cancer – has the potential to save many lives. “This promising blood test could therefore be a game-changer in cancer care, helping thousands of more people to get successful treatment.” Anticipated to start in the middle of next year, the GRAIL pilot will involve 165,000 people. This participant population will include 140,000 people aged 50 to 79 years who have no symptoms but will have annual blood tests for three years.

Those tested positive will be referred for investigation in the NHS.

Furthermore, another 25,000 people with possible cancer symptoms will be offered testing to fast-track their diagnosis after being referred to a hospital in the normal way. The results of these studies should be available by 2023. On obtaining positive outcomes, the study will expand around one million participants in 2024 and 2025.

More here.