Dave Chappelle’s show is a rip-off

Damian Reilly in The Spectator:

Towards what seemed like the halfway point of his show in London last night, Dave Chappelle announced to the crowd he was going to tell us something he was refusing to tell the media. He wanted us to know, he said while looking sadly at the floor, that his quarrel was not with the gay or the trans communities . No, no. Looking up and raising an index finger, he explained: ‘I’m fighting a corporate agenda that needs to be addressed.’ Thinking we still had another hour of the show to go, we cheered. ‘You fight those corporate vampires, Dave!’ we thought. He then let us know, whenever it was possible, that we should be kind to one another. Very shortly after that he raised his thumbs aloft and walked off stage: 45 minutes. Friday night tickets are £160. You show those corporate vamp… oh.

Dave Chappelle is a very rich man. Reading through the coverage of the whirligig of controversy he quite deliberately tipped off last week by finishing his latest Netflix special The Closer with the observation that (to paraphrase) ‘trans pussy is not the same as non-trans pussy’, the thing that really stood out was how much he is paid to do those specials. Since 2017, he’s done six – each about 70 minutes long. Netflix reportedly pays him $20 million per show.

At last night’s show in Hammersmith (3,500 seats, so about $3.5 million for 8 nights – or six hours on stage, all in), Chappelle seemed keen to let us know he was richer than us. He told a joke at the outset that involved the detail he’d reached 60 miles an hour in his car on his driveway, in pursuit of a malefactor. ‘That probably seems pretty fast for a driveway,’ he said. ‘But that’s because you’re thinking of your own house.’ Repeatedly, too, he bought his bodyguards out from the wings so we could see them for ourselves.

I’d warned my wife on the way in she would probably hate every second of it. I thought she’d be appalled by much of his humour. But the show was funny. It wasn’t as subversive or anything like as provocative as The Closer, but he still had her and the rest of the audience roaring through a lengthy section on male-on-male rape. Chappelle is very good at what he does. In The Closer, he unironically references the Greatest of All Time status some have bestowed on him, which is a considerable stretch – particularly on last night’s showing. But is he the hero we need? Certainly, comedy now seems the only force capable of making meaningful inroads against the unsmiling, dark armies of cancel culture and corporate-backed wokery. It’s only the comics who are allowed to say what is increasingly deemed unsayable for the rest of us.

More here.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

How Emerging Markets Hurt Poor Countries

C. P. Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh in Boston Review ( Image: James Robertson/Jubilee Debt Campaign):

It is by now well known that three decades of financial globalization have led to massive increases in income and asset inequalities in the United States and Europe. But in the developing world, the effects of financial globalization have been even worse: along with new inequality and instability, the creation of “emerging markets” to support investment in poor countries has undermined development projects and created a relationship in which poor countries supply financial resources to rich ones. This is exactly the opposite of what was meant to happen. Yet this growing disparity in per capita incomes across the global North and South is not a bug in the system but a result of how global financial markets have been allowed to function.

The biggest promise of neoliberal finance, initially pushed by economists such as Ronald McKinnon from the late 1970s onward, was that it would enable greater and more secure access to resources for development for countries deemed too poor to generate enough savings within their own economies to fund necessary investment. To access savings from abroad, they were encouraged to tap into global financial markets.

At the same time, changes in the economies of the developed world in the late 1980s generated mobile finance willing to slosh around the globe in search of higher returns. Deregulation enabled new financial “instruments,” such as credit default swaps (which supposedly insure against debt default) and other derivatives, that suddenly made it attractive to provide finance to activities and borrowers that were previously excluded. In the United States this gave rise to the phenomenon of “sub-prime” lending in the housing market, but it also encouraged international finance to provide loans to countries without much previous access to private funds. Indeed, many lenders actively sought out new borrowers, as moving capital was one of the major routes to higher profitability in the financial sector.

These developments gave rise to the term “emerging markets,” first used by economists at the World Bank’s private investment arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in 1981 to promote mutual fund investments in developing countries.

More here.

‘Ted Lasso’ is not about what you think

David M. Perry and Matthew Gabriele over at CNN:

The breakout show of the pandemic has been Apple+’s “Ted Lasso,” now just finished with its second season. The titular character, an American college football coach who improbably finds himself coaching the fictional English football club AFC Richmond, seems to exude kindness and optimism. He comes across as a folksy rube at the beginning — the worst kind of stereotype of Americans abroad — but during the first season manages to win just about everyone over to his side even in the face of betrayal and disaster. The second season seemed to continue this trajectory, as Ted and those around him confront their inner demons.

But although the show’s superficial focus over the first two seasons has been on Ted as a “nice guy,” that’s not really what the show is about. It isn’t a happy-go-lucky dramatization of optimism, but about the work and necessity of building communities in which we draw strength from one another. The show’s tension and success stem not from its oft-touted emphasis on kindness, but from its ability to embody something that in the past would have been called caritas.
The Latin word caritas is most often translated as “charity,” but a better meaning is “love” — a certain kind of love, though, one that’s selfless, that puts others first. The “love” of the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13 (that it is “patient,” “kind,” etc.), the staple of so many Christian weddings, for example, is translated from caritas in the Latin. This is a type of love that thinks more about others than oneself. As the 13th century theologian Thomas Aquinas explained, it’s simply to “wish good to someone.”
More here.

The disastrous voyage of Satoshi, the world’s first cryptocurrency cruise ship

Sophie Elmhirst in The Guardian (Illustration by Pete Reynolds):

On the evening of 7 December 2010, in a hushed San Francisco auditorium, former Google engineer Patri Friedman sketched out the future of humanity. The event was hosted by the Thiel Foundation, established four years earlier by the arch-libertarian PayPal founder Peter Thiel to “defend and promote freedom in all its dimensions”. From behind a large lectern, Friedman – grandson of Milton Friedman, one of the most influential free-market economists of the last century – laid out his plan. He wanted to transform how and where we live, to abandon life on land and all our decrepit assumptions about the nature of society. He wanted, quite simply, to start a new city in the middle of the ocean.

Friedman called it seasteading: “Homesteading the high seas,” a phrase borrowed from Wayne Gramlich, a software engineer with whom he’d founded the Seasteading Institute in 2008, helped by a $500,000 donation from Thiel. In a four-minute vision-dump, Friedman explained his rationale. Why, he asked, in one of the most advanced countries in the world, were they still using systems of government from 1787? (“If you drove a car from 1787, it would be a horse,” he pointed out.) Government, he believed, needed an upgrade, like a software update for a phone. “Let’s think of government as an industry, where countries are firms and citizens are customers!” he declared.

More here.

A Biography of W.G. Sebald

Dwight Garner at the NYT:

W.G. Sebald is probably the most revered German writer of the second half of the 20th century. His best-known books — “The Emigrants,” “The Rings of Saturn,” “Austerlitz,” published here between 1997 and 2001 — are famously difficult to categorize.

Carole Angier, the author of a new biography, “Speak, Silence: In Search of W.G. Sebald,” likes to refer to them, borrowing from the writer Michael Hamburger, as “essayistic semi-fiction.” I prefer a comment from one of Sebald’s students, who said that his otherworldly sentences resemble “how the dead would write.”

His themes — the burden of the Holocaust, the abattoir-like crush of history in general, the end of nature, the importance of solitude and silence — are sifted into despairing books that can resemble travel writing of an existential sort.

more here.

Why Middlemarch Still Matters

Johanna Thomas-Corr at The New Statesman:

Eliot’s humanism tends to inspire awe in her readers. “She seems to care for people, indiscriminately and in their entirety, as it was once said God did,” wrote Zadie Smith in a 2008 essay on Middlemarch. As it was once said God did. My first thought is of Middlemarch’s omniscient narrator: sage, a little sarcastic, a little judgemental as she tunes into the thoughts of each character, catching them in the act of realising something about themselves.

But when Smith talks about Eliot being like God, what she means is that Eliot was “so alive to the mass of existence” that she conferred as much attention on her mediocre characters as she did on her more admirable ones. Smith’s essay is a sort of riposte to Henry James’s 1873 review of Middlemarch, in which he argued that Eliot should have focused her energies on Dorothea, who “exhales a sort of aroma of spiritual sweetness”, rather than lingering so long on the feckless horse-trading Fred Vincy, “with his somewhat meagre tribulations and his rather neutral egotism”.

more here.

The Trump Presidency Is Still an Active Crime Scene

Susan Glasser in The New Yorker:

Every Administration produces a shelf full of memoirs, of the score-settling variety and otherwise. The first known White House chronicle by someone other than a President came from Paul Jennings, an enslaved person whose memoir of President James Madison’s White House was published in 1865. In modern times, Bill Clinton’s two terms gave us Robert Reich’s “Locked in the Cabinet,” perhaps the best recent exposé of that most feckless of Washington jobs, and George Stephanopoulos’s “All Too Human,” a memorable account of a political wunderkind that was honest—too honest, at times, to suit his patron—about what it was really like backstage at the Clinton White House. George W. Bush’s Presidency, with its momentous years of war and terrorism, produced memoirs, many of them quite good, from multiple deputy speechwriters, a deputy national-security adviser, a deputy director of the Office of Public Liaison, and even a deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. President Obama’s White House stenographer wrote a memoir, as did his photographer, his deputy White House chief of staff, his campaign strategists, a deputy national-security adviser, a deputy speechwriter, and even one of the junior press wranglers whose job it was to oversee the White House press pool.

There’s a few golden nuggets to be mined even from the most unreadable, obscure, and self-serving of such memoirs. Even before it ended, the Trump Administration produced a remarkable number of these accounts, as wave after wave of fired press secretaries, ousted Cabinet officials, and disgruntled former aides signed lucrative book deals. There were so many books seeking to explain Trump and his times that the book critic of the Washington Post wrote his own book about all of the books. Trump’s fired executive assistant—ousted because she claimed, at a boozy dinner with reporters, that the President had said nasty things about his daughter Tiffany—wrote a book. Trump’s first two press secretaries wrote books. First Lady Melania Trump’s former best friend wrote a book. Trump’s third national-security adviser, John Bolton, wrote an explosive book with direct-from-the-Situation-Room allegations of Presidential malfeasance that might have turned the tide in Trump’s first impeachment trial had Bolton actually testified in it. And none of those even covered the epic, Presidency-ending year of 2020.

Dozens of books have now been published or are in the works which address the covid pandemic, the 2020 Presidential election, and the violent final days of Trump’s tenure. The history of the Trump Presidency that I am writing with my husband, Peter Baker, of the Times, already has eighty-nine books in its bibliography; many are excellent reported works by journalists, in addition to the first-person recollections, such as they are, by those who worked with and for Trump. This month, Stephanie Grisham became the third former Trump Administration press secretary to publish her account. Grisham, who has the distinction of being the only White House press secretary never to actually hold a press briefing, has written a tell-all that includes such details as the President calling her from Air Force One to discuss his genitalia.

More here.

How the History of Four Centuries Ago Still Shapes American Culture and Politics

Joe Klein in The New York Times:

Through the spring and summer, I’ve been watching the daily maps of Covid-19 cases and vaccinations — the diagonal slash through Appalachia and the South to the Ozarks and Texas, where cases soared; the high vaccination rates in New England — and I’ve thought back to “ALBION’S SEED: FOUR BRITISH FOLKWAYS IN AMERICA,”” David Hackett Fischer’s classic history of British migration to colonial America, which was published in 1989 and explained these phenomena with a clarity that seems even more stunning today. The divide between maskers and anti-maskers, vaxxers and anti-vaxxers is as old as Plymouth Rock. It is deeper than politics; it is cultural.

The Appalachian hill country and much of the Deep South were settled by a wild caste of emigrants from the borderlands of Scotland and England. They brought their clannish, violent, independent culture, which had evolved over seven centuries of border warfare. They were, Fischer wrote, “a society of autonomous individuals who were unable to endure external control and incapable of restraining their rage against anyone who stood in the way.” The spirit of the Scots-Irish borderlanders could also be seen in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol; their ancestors staged the Whiskey Rebellion against the U.S. Constitution.

In New England, it was quite the opposite. “Order was an obsession” for the Puritan founders. Everything was regulated. Local selectmen had to report — that is, to spy — on the domestic tranquillity of every family in their jurisdiction. Cotton Mather defined an “honorable” person as one who was “studious, humble, patient, reserved and mortified.” These habits have lingered, too.

“Albion’s Seed” makes the brazen case that the tangled roots of America’s restless and contentious spirit can be found in the interplay of the distinctive societies and value systems brought by the British emigrations — the Puritans from East Anglia to New England; the Cavaliers (and their indentured servants) from Sussex and Wessex to Virginia; the Quakers from north-central England to the Delaware River valley; and the Scots-Irish from the borderlands to the Southern hill country.

More here.

Saturday Poem

No Weapons of Mass Destruction Found

Of course the newspapers are mad at being lied to.
The press, the investigating committee,
the appropriate government officials,
everyone expresses dismay except for, not surprisingly,
my granddaughter, who is too busy
chasing the cat, and my nine-month-old grandson,
who has his own problems, because
every time his sister bumps into him or the sun
gets in his eyes or he tires of a toy
he cries. I don’t need a network of intelligence agents
to know what’s wrong. All I have to do is search inside Tyler’s mouth
where the two subversive teeth, those little terrorists,
are wreaking havoc on his gums,
and so I dance him from the last place
he felt awful to the next place he hasn’t had a chance yet to fill
with is sobs. I hum louder
than his crying, as if to make clear to the pain
that it’s met its match in me.
Later I peel what’s soiled off Tyler
and Josie and plop them both in the bath
and ask the water once more for a miracle,
and then I bundle them in towels they immediately throw off
as if that’s the whole point of taking a bath:
running naked afterward through the house,
intending never to dress,
pretending that one’s free to stay like this forever
if one wishes, the object of everyone’s
scolding, everyone’s delight. For now
there’s no point in turning on the television or radio,
no call for any news
but this. For now. These two
three-lettered words may be some of the most important
in our language. For now.

by Chris Bursk
The First Inhabitants of Arcadia
University of Arkansas Press, 2006

Friday, October 15, 2021

Hanging Out With Joan Didion: What I Learned About Writing From an American Master

Sara Davidson in Literary Hub:

I arranged to meet Joan Didion in 1971 after reading Slouching Toward BethlehemI found her essays hypnotic, in a voice I’d never heard, expressing ideas I knew were true but couldn’t have articulated. I was reporting for several magazines and asked a colleague who’d met her to introduce us. He gave me her number and when I was in LA, I took a deep breath, dialed it, and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, picked up the phone. I asked for Joan Didion.

“Who’s calling?”

I told him my name, and said I wanted to tell her how much I liked her work. Then, realizing he was also a writer, I stammered, “I… I mean… I like your writing also…”

“Just a minute,” he said. Joan picked up the phone and her first words were: “Would you like to come to dinner?”

Although she’s shy and can be reticent with strangers, we had much in common: we’d grown up in California, gone to Berkeley, joined a sorority and quit, majored in English and studied with Mark Schorer but in different decades—she in the 1950s, I in the 60s.

More here.

The brain has a team of conductors orchestrating consciousness

Morten L Kringelbach in Psyche:

The execution of any musical symphony is a difficult task, demanding significant skills from each musician. Perhaps the hardest task lies with the conductor who must orchestrate the musicians so the music comes alive cohesively and speaks to our deepest emotions. The human brain is like an orchestra: different regions perform different types of processing, much like the individual musicians who must read the music, play their instruments, and also listen and adapt to the sounds others make. Yet the conductor’s role is different from anything that occurs in the brain. Without a conductor, the music almost always fails – as the filmmaker Federico Fellini showed in Prova d’orchestra (1978), or Orchestra Rehearsal.

Do such musical metaphors give us any insights into actual brain functioning? Since the beginning of neuroscience as its own discipline in the early 20th century, there have been many theories about how the brain works. One of the most heated discussions was between two Nobel Prize-winners – Santiago Ramón y Cajal and Camillo Golgi – over the role of local versus global coding and processing in the brain. Ramón y Cajal was arguing for a localist perspective where the single neurons carried out most if not all of the coding, while Golgi was in favour of global, distributed processing.

More here.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Annual Report

Bill and Melinda Gates at the website of their foundation:

A year ago, we sat down to write an unusual Goalkeepers Report. After years of steady progress on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was devastating families, health systems, and economies. We feared it was triggering an unprecedented reversal of progress across nearly every measure of health and prosperity that we track each year in this report.

Indeed, it has been an unprecedented year: Millions of people around the world have died from COVID-19. Millions more have felt the shocks of a global economy in crisis. And still the pandemic rages, with ever more contagious and severe variants spreading around the globe.

In so many ways, the pandemic has tested our optimism. But it hasn’t destroyed it.

More here.

Gregg Bordowitz And Fraught Masculinity

Hua Hsu at The Nation:

Several months after Charlottesville, as part of an exhibition at the New Museum, Bordowitz debuted Some Styles of Masculinity, a trio of improvised monologues on these figures and how they’d shaped him, how they’d enabled him to go off script and to cultivate a performance of gender that accounted for his particular understanding of race, ethnicity, and nationality. The monologues are sincere and hopeful, weird and campy. Bordowitz, who was born in 1964, returns to his roots: He performs under his Hebrew name, Benyamin Zev, fulfilling his longtime fantasy of hosting a variety show. He regards his own body—the way he speaks, stands, listens—as he describes how he became who he is: through worshiping Lou Reed, studying Lenny Bruce routines, absorbing Jewish liberation theology, and engaging in the confrontational, in-the-streets action of late-’80s AIDS activism. But he acts less like a pedagogue or narrator than the host of an off-kilter, otherworldly take on The Carol Burnett Show or The Dick Van Dyke Show. He addresses the audience, casting about for reactions, but he also looks past the crowd—and past the reader—for an audience that has yet to assemble.

more here.

Redrawing The Map Of Surrealism

Jason Farago at the New York Times:

Six years in the making, “Surrealism Beyond Borders” has been organized by Stephanie D’Alessandro at the Met and Matthew Gale at Tate Modern in London, to which the show will travel next year. As in recent shows like “International Pop,” at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, or “Postwar,” at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, this new show conceives of Surrealism as not quite a movement, but a broad, tentacular tendency. Its forms and its aims mutated as they migrated, and therefore simple narratives of this-one-influenced-that-one won’t cut it. This is something grander, messier, and much more compelling: an unstable cartography of images and ideas on the move, blowing across the globe like trade winds of the subconscious.

These movements were, like everything with Surrealism, not quite rational and linear. Surrealism was a free-flowing network of exchanges, translations, idealizations and misunderstandings — and on this matter, all too rarely in this age of smug cultural moralism, the curators actually treat us like adults.

more here.

Interrupting high-fat, high-calorie diet with regular ‘fasting’ cycles helps mice live longer, healthier life: study

From Phys.Org:

In a new USC study on the health effects of a low-calorie diet that mimics fasting in the body, researchers found regular five-day cycles of the diet in mice seemed to counteract the detrimental effects of their usual high-fat, high-calorie diet. The study, published today in Nature Metabolism, analyzed the diet, health and lifespan of three different groups of mice over two years. The findings point to the potential of using a fasting-mimicking diet as “medicine,” according to the researchers. A fasting-mimicking diet, or FMD, is a low-calorie diet that “tricks” the body into a fasting state.

One group of mice ate a high-calorie,  (with 60% of their calories from fat) and became unhealthy and overweight. A second group of mice ate the same poor diet as the first one for approximately 4 weeks, followed by five days where they were fed an FMD and two days of a normal, healthy diet. Study authors say those brief diet interventions were sufficient for that second group to return to normal levels of cholesterol, blood pressure and weight. Notably, the mice who ate the fasting-mimicking diet for five days out of each month lived as long as a third group of mice that was consistently fed a healthy diet. In humans, obesity caused by a high-fat, high calorie diet is a major risk factor for metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

More here.