Know This: Kony's white saviour army, oral fixation, enough politeness, auction flirts, nuclear fail
Out of all this Kony business – and, by the time freelancers and columnist get all up in your web-browser about it, the thing IS a business – the most insightful, cutting response was from Teju Cole. Witness:
In an often satisfying and sometimes frustrating article about "food obsession," Eliane Glaser in the Guardian lands some good punches: "But we are like orally fixated toddlers, transfixed by Nigella’s cupcakey bosom, Starbucks’ vanilla frappuccinos and Michelin-starred creamy, frothy sauces. We need to wise up to the rhetoric of food and start tasting reality." Along the way, there are observations about the gendered nature of celebrity chefs (dudes do the serious public stuff, ladies do the homey domestic stuff) and the millions needed to keep up the just-like-you image of Jamie (with his private gardener) and Nigella (with her Saatchi husband and his multi-multi-multi millions). Also of note: the mischief making of the organic food industry/delusion.
Laurie Penny injected some needed spirit into International Women's Day with her piece, "Enough Politeness": "To get into the UN Commission on the Status of Women, you have to get past several ranks of large armed men. In the foyer, you can buy UN women-themed hats and tote bags, and pick up glossy pamphlets about this year’s International Women’s Day, but what you can’t pick up is the slightest sense of urgency. In the 101 years since the first International Women’s Day, all the passionate politics seems to have been leached out of the women’s movement. International Women’s Day began as a day of rebellion and outlandish demands – Equal pay! Votes for women! Reproductive rights! – but 101 years later, judging by the invitations in my email inbox, it seems to be more about jazzy corporate lunches, poetry competitions and praising our valued sponsors."
Richard Seymour on Murdoch and the conspiracy machine: "The rule of thumb is that if you think of the worst thing the Murdoch papers could possibly be doing, and double it, it's only a matter of time before it is matched and surpassed by real life." As the many revelations continue, what it's easy to miss, Seymour writes, is the network of relationships that is becoming apparent. "None of this criminality would have been possible were it not for the relationships between the Murdoch press, politicians, the police, judiciary and sections of the business establishment. And those relationships themselves were predicated on the power accumulated by Murdoch's awesome media dominion. Yet, something about the nature of these relations lent itself to illicit practices. The history of News International's involvement in criminal conspiracies is not one of aberrant crookedness, defying the integrity and professional standards of the industry. Somehow it is inscribed in the very network of relationships that makes media power what it is today. It is in the structures of news production itself. News is not a given set of facts, but rather a carefully sorted and selected presentation of pieces of information that, in their total effect, produce a common stock of ideas and knowledges about the societies in which media institutions operate. Stuart Hall and his colleagues at the Centre for Cultural Studies in Birmingham identified some of the mechanisms by which the 'newsworthy' is identified and produced for mass consumption. The media is overwhelmingly reliant upon 'accredited' and 'authoritative' sources of information. This is embedded in the ideology of 'objectivity', a rigorous distinction between fact and opinion, which underpins the journalist's professional code."
Australian Economist John Quiggin writes of new film Margin Call that "boring is good." The obvious contrast is the morality tale of Wall Street: "None of the characters in the movie is a cardboard villain like Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street but, equally, there is no question of any of them heroically doing the right thing. Comparing Margin Call with older films about the finance sector, including Wall Street, is striking in many ways. First, there’s hardly any exposition of the 'As you know, Bob…' variety, in which the intricacies of, say, insider trading or even the eponymous margin calls are explained by one character to another, for the benefit of the audience. Rather, it’s assumed that the viewers have a pretty clear idea about the role of, say, the head of risk management in an investment bank, and the fact that a failure of the volatility assumptions used by the bank’s trading desk is likely to have catastrophic consequences."
Alice Gregory visits Sotheby's and reports on the strange flirtations on the auction-room floor and all the glamour of some otherworldly wealth: "These girls seemed immune to New York’s damning seasons, which always threaten to expose one’s tax bracket, especially if it is low. The summer sun didn’t melt their makeup, and the winter wind didn’t mar their manes. They were driven in cars and cabs that were kept at a constant 68 degrees. At night and on weekends, they attended galas, museum openings, and brunches in East Hampton."
Ever wondered how sites do that amazing deal on free shipping? Warehouse wage slaves. (An article with a sub-header worth quoting in full: "My brief, backbreaking, rage-inducing, low-paying, dildo-packing time inside the online-shipping machine.")
Nuclear power is the dream that failed, according to The Economist. "The enormous power tucked away in the atomic nucleus, the chemist Frederick Soddy rhapsodised in 1908, could 'transform a desert continent, thaw the frozen poles, and make the whole world one smiling Garden of Eden.' Militarily, that power has threatened the opposite, with its ability to make deserts out of gardens on an unparalleled scale. Idealists hoped that, in civil garb, it might redress the balance, providing a cheap, plentiful, reliable and safe source of electricity for centuries to come. But it has not. Nor does it soon seem likely to." There's more in their special report.
Typically, The Economist has faith in industry and the market to come up with answers to the loss of faith in nuclear energy. Christian Parenti is not so faithful. He argued earlier this year that climate change will make you love big government. "Individuals invent technology, but in the United States it is almost always public money that brings the technology to scale, be it in aeronautics, medicine, computers or agriculture. Without constant government planning and subsidies, American capitalism simply could not have developed as it did, making ours the world’s largest economy. Yes, the entrepreneurs we are taught to venerate have been key to all this, but dig a little deeper and you soon find that most of their oil was on public lands, their technology nurtured or invented thanks to government-sponsored R&D, or supported by excellent public infrastructure and the possibility of hiring well-educated workers produced by a heavily subsidized higher-education system. Just to cite one recent example, the now-familiar Siri voice-activated command system on the new iPhone is based on—brace yourself—government-developed technology. And here’s a curious thing: everybody more or less knows all this and yet it is almost never acknowledged. If one were to write the secret history of free enterprise in the United States, one would have to acknowledge that it has always been and remains at least a little bit socialist. However, it’s not considered proper to discuss government planning in open, realistic and mature terms, so we fail to talk about what government could—or rather, must—do to help us meet the future of climate change."
Dispiriting stuff going on in the UK, as even the tabloid-sensationalists at the Daily Mail ratchet up the rhetoric over the Tory government's slash-and-burn approach to welfare. The government has virtually cut out payments for unemployed people with disabilities and those diagnosed with a terminal illness. "With all this insistence of paid employment for the terminally ill (despite the fact that we have almost 3 million unemployed) it is no wonder that job centres, up and down the land, have been issued with details on how to handle suicides in their establishments. Something, apparently, they are anticipating rather more of since the WRB was voted in." The facts of that missive about suicides are disputed in the comments. But even as apocryphal imagery, it's resonated with many traditional conservatives who seem to think David Cameron has gone too far with this. The same Cameron whose disabled son died two years ago...
And, even for the able bodied and healthy, things are looking bleak for those unsexy middle-aged workers now unemployed across Britain. Much has been made of the 21-24 year old bracket that commentators are now referring to as a "lost generation." Owen Jones wants some attention on a slightly older age group, like his dad: "But if the under-24s are 'lost', the unemployed over-40s are the 'forgotten generation'. Well over a third of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance are in this bracket. But a middle-aged, ex-local authority worker isn’t sexy enough to make newspaper copy. Even as official unemployment stands at 2.7 million – and, as the TUC pointed out last month, it’s likely to be more than six million once you take into account other economically inactive and 'underemployed' people – the reality is almost airbrushed from our newspapers and TV screens. "
Unless countries reduce income disparities the next financial collapse is inevitable, argues economist Michael Kumhof. Perhaps a surprising conclusion from a senior researcher at the IMF. In an interview with Swedish journal Arena, he argues that equality is the best recipe against crisis. Kumhof notices that "the richest five per cent of the population lends parts of its wealth to the remaining 95 per cent via an inflated financial sector. The rich try to find ways to invest their surplus wealth, while the less well-off majority attempt to maintain the level of consumption they have grown used to but no longer can afford. The result is increased indebtedness and the gradual build-up of a debt crisis. The only way of sustainably minimising this debt is to reduce income inequality."
The analysis chimes with Swedish sociologist Göran Therborn, who has written that: "Increasing social distance between the poorest and the richest diminishes social cohesion, which in turn means more collective problems and fewer resources for solving all our other collective problems." If inequality seems a thing of the past – particularly if you name is Wayne Swan – it's worth remembering that: "The gap in income between those at the top and the average worker is now much wider than it was in pre-modern times. In 1688 English baronets had an annual income about one hundred times higher than that of labourers and out-servants, and 230 times that of cottagers and paupers. In 2007-8, chief executives of the FTSE top 100 companies received remuneration 141 times higher than the median income of all full-time employees in the UK, and 236 times higher than those of people in 'sales and customer service occupations'." But, you know, shut up and work more. We live in the golden age. You've never had it better.