The Sublime Obsession of Plane Spotting

1-1Rose Lichter-Marck at VQR:

Plane spotters—or “avgeeks,” as some call themselves—travel around the world in order to hang out near airport runways so that they can watch and document planes as they take off and land. Before the advent of the internet, spotters would meet up at conventions or connect in the back pages of enthusiast magazines in order to trade mounted film slides of their best shots. Now they post pictures on online forums such as,, and, as well as on Flickr and Facebook groups dedicated to the art and practice of aviation enthusiasm.

The details they collect provide an open-source trove of data about global commerce and politics, which has been invaluable to journalists and whistleblowers (not to mention various intelligence-gathering agencies) seeking to identify planes and their passengers. When Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s private plane flew to Florida in the summer of 2014, his visit was documented by spotters at Miami International, which allowed reporters to predict the return of LeBron James to his hometown. In December 2014, spotting data helped analysts track unlisted flights between Tel Aviv and the United Arab Emirates, despite the fact that Israel had a limited diplomatic relationship with the monarchies of Persian Gulf states. In the fall of 2015, Israel announced it would be opening it’s first diplomatic mission in the UAE. In 2007, Tunisian blogger Astrubal searched plane-spotting sites for Tunisia’s presidential plane. His crowdsourced effort revealed that although the president had made only three state-sanctioned trips, the plane had left the country more than ten times, with visits to European capitals where there was no record of official business.

more here.


John Freeman in Literary Hub:

ScreenHunter_2395 Nov. 24 20.48I would like to say on his behalf that Colson Whitehead that he is overjoyed to be here, even if he does not show it. “I have a good poker face,” Whitehead wrote in Noble Hustle, his book about gambling and Las Vegas, “because I am half dead inside.” “I was a skinny guy, but I was morbidly obese with doom.”

We know him in NYC as Mr. Sunshine, and, to a small, small cadres, Cuddles, but no writer across all of America has had more fun with serious things in the last twenty years as Colson Whitehead. If Ishmael Reed & Thomas Pynchon collaborated to put together an absurdist theater group, they might call it Colson Whitehead. It would have been established in 1969, in Manhattan, nurtured at Harvard, and workshopped at the Village Voice, where Colson Whitehead was for a few years a TV critic.

He once said he liked that job because he could work four hours a week. It was in the other thirty that he began his first book, The Intuitionist, a parody of a detective story about a woman named Lila Mae in the Department of Elevator Inspectors who has stumbled on a moment of intrigue. That novel was a brilliant evocation of the notion of racial uplift in a city much like New York, just slightly different.

Across the rest of his career, Whitehead has been the dour-faced poet laureate of the city which is his home.

More here.

U.S. Military researchers are developing responses for accidental or malicious “genetic spills”

Josie Garthwaite in Scientific American:

ScreenHunter_2394 Nov. 24 20.41If a tanker splits its hull and dumps oil into the sea, trained teams show up with specialized gear to begin the process of stanching the flow and cleaning up the spill. Today, there’s no equivalent team or tools for resolving a “spill” of genetic material into the environment, but that could soon change.

Over the next four years a new program in the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to cultivate, among other things, a kind of cleanup crew for engineered genes deemed harmful to or undesirable in an ecosystem. The initiative, called Safe Genes, comes at a time when so-called “gene drive” systems, which override the standard rules of gene inheritance and natural selection, are raising hopes among some scientists that the technology could alter or suppress populations of disease-carrying insects or other pests in as few as 20 generations.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sees so much promise in gene drive technology that it plans to double spending on its Target Malaria initiative, which aims to create systems for driving genes in two species of malaria mosquitoes, to $70 million. Yet without careful precautions, a gene drive released into the wild could spread or change in unexpected ways. Kevin Esvelt, head of the Sculpting Evolution lab at MIT Media Lab, which is applying for Safe Genes funding in collaboration with eight other research groups, predicts that eventually, perhaps around 15 years from now, an accident will allow a drive with potential to spread globally to escape laboratory controls. “It’s not going to be bioterror,” he says, “it’s going to be ‘bioerror.’”

More here.

Sean Carroll’s Physics Thanksgiving

Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:

ScreenHunter_2393 Nov. 24 20.36This year we give thanks for a feature of the physical world that many people grumble about rather than celebrating, but is undeniably central to how Nature works at a deep level: the speed of light. (We’ve previously given thanks for the Standard Model Lagrangian, Hubble’s Law, the Spin-Statistics Theorem, conservation of momentum, effective field theory, the error bar, gauge symmetry, Landauer’s Principle, the Fourier Transform and Riemannian Geometry.)

The speed of light in vacuum, traditionally denoted by c, is 299,792,458 meters per second. It’s exactly that, not just approximately; it turns out to be easier to measure intervals of time to very high precision than it is to measure distances in space, so we measure the length of a second experimentally, then definethe meter to be “the distance that light travels 299,792,458 of in one second.” Personally I prefer to characterize c as “one light-year per year”; that’s equally exact, and it’s easier to remember all the significant figures that way.

There are a few great things about the speed of light. One is that it’s a fixed, universal constant, as measured by inertial (unaccelerating) observers, in vacuum (empty space). Of course light can slow down if it propagates through a medium, but that’s hardly surprising. The other great thing is that it’s an upper limit; physical particles, as far as we know in the real world, always move at speeds less than or equal to c.

That first fact, the universal constancy of c, is the startling feature that set Einstein on the road to figuring out relativity. It’s a crazy claim at first glance: if two people are moving relative to each other (maybe because one is in a moving car and one is standing on the sidewalk) and they measure the speed of a third object (like a plane passing overhead) relative to themselves, of course they will get different answers. But not with light. I can be zipping past you at 99% of c, directly at an oncoming light beam, and both you and I will measure it to be moving at the same speed. That’s only sensible if something is wonky about our conventional pre-relativity notions of space and time, which is what Einstein eventually figured out.

More here.

History: The city of lost dreams

Sibtain Naqvi in Dawn:

NazimIt is a universally acknowledged truth that an overwhelming majority of Karachi’s immigrant intellectuals once lived in Nazimabad. Talking about it invariably turns into a litany of famous names who resided there. Some well-known former Nazimabad residents include artists Sadequain and Iqbal Mehdi, Justice Lari, actor Shakeel, film-maker Saeed Rizvi, actress Sangeeta, writers Mukhtar Zaman and Ibn-i-Insha, scholar Alia Imam, poet Ahmad Siddiq aka Majnun Gorakhpuri, journalist Mujahid Barelvi, columnist Nasrullah Khan, singer Salman Alvi (then known on radio as Salman Mian the banjo player), plastic surgeon Dr Mohammad Jawad (of Saving Face fame), and Aale Raza, brother of Hashim Raza.

This isn’t surprising as from the 1950s to 1970s Nazimabad was the centre of India’s Muslim culture and an inheritor of Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb. Partly this has to do with the way history unfolded: most refugees to Punjab or Bengal, who fled persecution, moved from the Indian part of the province to the Pakistani. As a result, homogeneity of language and culture in Lahore or Dhaka was maintained. Immigrants who came to Karachi, however, were different. Many did come due to unrest in their hometowns but most came for opportunities in a new nation. They originated from cultural centres of the subcontinent such as Lucknow, Delhi, Amroha and Hyderabad. Among these new immigrants was the first generation of educated, socially-mobile Muslims; graduates of Aligarh or Osmania University who had played an important role in the Pakistan movement. As Jaun Alia once acidly remarked, “Pakistan … ye sab Aligarh ke laundon ki shararat thi” (Pakistan — this was the mischief of boys from Aligarh).

More here. (Thanks to Sadia Abbas)

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ”John Inglefield’s Thanksgiving.”

ImgresAn old Thanksgiving Day essay from my days at The Smart Set:

It takes Satan to bring out the true spirit of Thanksgiving. That’s because it can be hard to give thanks unless you know why you are doing it. Plenitude is lovely. Abundance is a delight. I think of the famous painting by Norman Rockwell. A large American family sits around a comfortable table as the venerable mother carries a moose-sized turkey as the centerpiece. The painting was originally titled “Freedom from Want” and was part of Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series, meant to promote the buying of war bonds during World War II. If there is an unsettling message hidden in the Rockwellian sentimentality, though, it’s that these people, this nice American family, knows nothing of want. They are giving thanks for an abundance that is taken for granted.

When the devil is on your doorstep, however, thanks takes on a different timbre. The American most consistently preoccupied with thoughts of Satan was probably Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne never trusted in the good times. He saw the devil lurking in every moment of pleasure, waiting for the chance to pounce on the unsuspecting reveler when his guard was down. Hawthorne’s story, “John Inglefield’s Thanksgiving,” is appropriately evil-obsessed. Utterly bleak, it is a difficult fit in the traditional American story of goods asked for, goods delivered, thanks given.

more here.

The cultural criticism of Mark Greif

Cover00Gideon Lewis-Kraus at Bookforum:

In a 2005 essay for the New York Times Magazine, the critic A. O. Scott considered two recent and rather quixotic decisions, made in parallel by rival camps of young writers, to devise print magazines. One was The Believer, inaugurated in 2003 by Dave Eggers’s independent San Francisco publishing house McSweeney’s, and the other was n+1. WhereThe Believer gave itself over to historical whimsy,n+1 self-consciously styled itself the heir, in its mandarin ambition, to the little politics-and-culture magazines of midcentury. Its founders’ model was the later Partisan Review, a magazine they admired for its droll, caustic attitude, and for the flexible liberal intelligence exemplified by its successful reconstitution after its break with Stalinism. The editors of n+1 looked backward, as Scott put it, to “organize a generational struggle against laziness and cynicism, to raise once again the banners of creative enthusiasm and intellectual engagement.” Keith Gessen, one of n+1’s founders, proposed to Scott his own origin myth with deliberate understatement: “Here I am with all this fiction no one would want to publish, and here’s Mark with these essays no one’s going to publish, and after a while we felt like we had this critical mass of stuff that nobody would want to publish.”

Mark is Gessen’s colleague and friend Mark Greif, and those strange, uncategorizable essays “nobody would want to publish” remain, along with the early writing of Elif Batuman, the most distinguished, original, and consequential body of work to have come out of n+1’s first decade. They have now been collected in a volume called Against Everything. The individual pieces have been grouped into five sections: one on the basic necessities of food, sex, and exercise; another on varieties of pop music; a third on reality television, YouTube, and the evolution of the epithet hipster; a fourth on police and war; and one loose, interpolated sequence on Stanley Cavell and Thoreau and the “Meaning of Life.” Most of the essays appeared in n+1 and reflect the journal’s general complexion—academically current but free of jargon; discontented but free of resignation; gladiatorial but free of truculence; sincere but free of gentility.

more here.

For a democratic polarization

ImgresJürgen Habermas at Eurozine:

Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik: After 1989, all the talk was of the 'end of history' in democracy and the market economy; today we are experiencing the emergence of a new phenomenon in the form of an authoritarian/populist leadership – from Putin via Erdogan to Donald Trump. Clearly, a new 'authoritarian international' is increasingly succeeding in defining political discourse. Was your exact contemporary Ralf Dahrendorf right in forecasting an authoritarian twenty-first century? Can one – indeed must one – speak of an epochal change?

Jürgen Habermas: After the transformation of 1989-90, when Fukuyama seized on the slogan of 'post-history', which was originally coined by a ferocious kind of conservatism, his reinterpretation expressed the short-sighted triumphalism of western elites who adhered to a liberal belief in the pre-established harmony of market economy and democracy. Both of these elements inform the dynamic of social modernisation, but are linked to functional imperatives that repeatedly clash. The balance between capitalist growth and what was accepted by the populace as a halfway fair share in the average growth of highly productive economies could be brought about only by a genuinely democratic state. Historically speaking, however, such an equilibrium, one warranting the name of 'capitalist democracy', was the exception rather than the rule. That alone made the idea of a global consolidation of the 'American dream' an illusion.

The new global disorder, the helplessness of the USA and Europe with regard to growing international conflicts, is profoundly unsettling; the humanitarian catastrophes in Syria or South Sudan are unnerving, as are Islamist terror acts. Nevertheless, I can't recognise in the constellation you indicate a uniform tendency towards a new authoritarianism; rather, I see a variety of structural causes and many coincidences.

more here.

‘Social Science’: Trumpism’s Collateral Damage

Sanjay Reddy in his blog reddytoread:

ReddyThe shocking event that is the rise of trumpism has been by now analyzed widely. Most focus on the appeal of Donald Trump to those in the United States who for one another reason or another feel left behind, wish to retrieve an earlier, lost, social order, and rebuke establishment politicians who they feel do not serve their interests. In this, the recent American revolt echoes the shock of the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and other recent events, but it is of far greater significance as it promises to reshape the entire global order, and with it the complaisant forms of thought that accompanied it.

…Finally, interpretations of politics were too restrictive in thinking of people’s political choices as based on instrumental and usually economic calculations, while indulging in a wishful account of their actual conditions (for instance, focusing on low measured unemployment but ignoring measures of distress and insecurity, or the indignity of living in hollowed-out communities). Mainstream accounts of politics recognized the role of identities in the form of wooden theories of group mobilization or of demands for representation. However, the psychological and charismatic elements, which can give rise to moments of ‘phase transition’ in politics, were altogether neglected, and the role of social media and other methods of mobilization in politics hardly registered. As new political movements (such as the Tea Party and then trumpism in the US) emerged across the world, these were deemed ‘populist’—both an admission of the lack of explanation and a token of disdain. The essential feature of such movements, the obscurantism that allows them to offer many things to many people, inconsistently and unaccountably, while serving some interests more than others, was little explored. The failures can be piled one upon the other. No amount of quantitative data provided by polling, ‘big data’, or other techniques comprehended what might be captured through open-eyed experiential narratives. It is evident that there is a need for forms of understanding that can comprehend the currents within the human person, and go beyond shallow empiricism. Mainstream social science has offered few if any resources to understand, let alone challenge, illiberal majoritarianism, now a world-remaking phenomenon.

Trumpism is a crisis for the most prestigious methods of understanding economic and social life, ennobled and enthroned by the metropolitan academy of the last third of a century. It has caused mainstream ‘social science’ to fall like a deck of cards. It can only save itself through comprehensive reinvention, from the ground up.

More here.

Thursday Poem

The Republic of Conscience


At immigration, the clerk was an old man
who produced a wallet from his homespun coat
and showed me a photograph of my grandfather.

The woman in customs asked me to declare
the words of our traditional cures and charms
to heal dumbness and avert the evil eye.

No porters. No interpreter. No taxi.
You carried your own burden and very soon
your symptoms of creeping privilege disappeared.


Fog is a dreaded omen there but lightning
spells universal good and parents hang
swaddled infants in trees during thunderstorms.

Salt is their precious mineral. And seashells
are held to the ear during births and funerals.
The base of all inks and pigments is seawater.

Their sacred symbol is a stylized boat.
The sail is an ear, the mast a sloping pen,
the hull a mouth-shape, the keel an open eye.

At their inauguration, public leaders
must swear to uphold unwritten law and weep
to atone for their presumption to hold office –

and to affirm their faith that all life sprang
from salt in tears which the sky-god wept
after he dreamt his solitude was endless.


I came back from that frugal republic
with my two arms the one length, the customs
woman having insisted my allowance was myself.

The old man rose and gazed into my face
and said that was official recognition
that I was now a dual citizen.

He therefore desired me when I got home
to consider myself a representative
and to speak on their behalf in my own tongue.

Their embassies, he said, were everywhere
but operated independently
and no ambassador would ever be relieved.

by Seamus Heaney
from The Haw Lantern
Noonday Press, 1987

Read more »

Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age

Gregg Herken in the New York Times:

20herken-blog427In a controversial lecture more than 50 years ago, the British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow suggested that natural scientists had “the future in their bones.” Snow was speaking in 1959, when the public still held scientists — particularly physicists — in a kind of awe, because of their role in the invention of the atomic and hydrogen bombs. But Snow might well have had in mind the Italian-born physicist Enrico Fermi, the subject of a new scientific biography by the husband-and-wife team of Gino Segrè and Bettina Hoerlin. Fermi’s “intuito fenomenale” — phenomenal intuition — and his near infallibility in predicting the results of experiments were characteristics that prompted colleagues at the University of Rome to designate him “the Pope.” One of his graduate students marveled: “Fermi had an inside track to God.”

The title stuck, for a different reason, when Fermi; his wife, Laura; and their two small children emigrated to America in December 1938, a move hastened by the racial purity laws of Mussolini’s ally, Nazi Germany. (Laura’s parents were Jewish; both would perish in the Holocaust.) In contrast to other scientists who fled European fascism, Fermi exuded an almost ethereal calm, and he remained unflappable in the face of both triumph and disaster. Lacking Einstein’s nimbus of white hair, Oppenheimer’s tortured introspection or Teller’s mercurial temperament, Fermi — “small, dark and frail-looking” as a child, according to his sister — more closely resembled a middle-aged Fiat mechanic than a mover of the universe.

More here.

Yes, your pronouns are up for discussion

Neil Macdonald at CBC News:

Vancouver-pride-parade-20140803They is hot nowadays.

No, not are. Is.

As grating as it may be to those of us who still carry Strunk and White's The Elements of Style around in our heads, the singular “they” – grammatically a contradiction in terms — is breaking out of the genderless pronoun pack, loping toward general acceptance.

The singular “they” was in fact voted word of the year last January by the American Dialect Society “for its emerging use as a pronoun to refer to a known person, often as a conscious choice by a person rejecting the traditional gender binary of he and she.”

As in: “Sally looked lovely. They wore a green dress, with their hair neatly arranged in a French braid.”

“It looks like 'they' is going to take the cake,” says Sali Tagliamonte, a professor of linguistics at the University of Toronto. “That's the way language works.”

More here.

To Understand Facebook, Study Capgras Syndrome

Robert Sapolsky in Nautilus:

ScreenHunter_2392 Nov. 23 23.06We start with the case of a woman who experienced unbearable tragedy. In 1899, this Parisian bride, Madame M., had her first child. Shockingly, the child was abducted and substituted with a different infant, who soon died. She then had twin girls. One grew into healthy adulthood, while the other, again, was abducted, once more replaced with a different, dying infant. She then had twin boys. One was abducted, while the other was fatally poisoned.

Madame M. searched for her abducted babies; apparently, she was not the only victim of this nightmarish trauma, as she often heard the cries of large groups of abducted children rising from the cellars of Paris.

As if all this pain was not enough, Madame M.’s sole surviving child was abducted and replaced with an imposter of identical appearance. And soon the same fate befell Madame M.’s husband. The poor woman spent days searching for her abducted loved ones, attempting to free groups of other abducted children from hiding places, and starting the paperwork to divorce the man who had replaced her husband.

In 1918, Madame M. summoned the police to aid her in rescuing a group of children locked in her basement. Soon she was speaking with a psychiatrist. She told him she was the direct descendant of Louis XVIII, the queen of the Indies, and of the Duke of Salandra. She had a fortune of somewhere between 200 million and 125 billion francs, and had been substituted as a toddler in a conspiracy to deny her this money. She was constantly under surveillance, and most, if not all, of the people she encountered were substituted doubles, or even doubles of the doubles.

The psychiatrist, Joseph Capgras, listened patiently. It’s delusional psychosis—disordered thought, grandiosity, paranoia—he thought. Pretty standard fare. But then again, no one had ever described the particular delusion of a loved one being replaced by an identical double. What could that be about?

More here.

I Spent 5 Years With Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans. Here’s What They Won’t Tell You

Arlie Russell Hochschild in Mother Jones:

ScreenHunter_2391 Nov. 23 22.55In a framed photo of herself taken in 2007, Sharon Galicia stands, fresh-faced and beaming, beside first lady Laura Bush at a Washington, DC, luncheon, thrilled to be honored as an outstanding GOP volunteer. We are in her office in the Aflac insurance company in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Sharon is heading out to pitch medical and life insurance to workers in a bleak corridor of industrial plants servicing the rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and petrochemical plants that make the plastic feedstock for everything from car seats to bubble gum.

After a 20-minute drive along flat terrain, we pull into a dirt parking lot beside a red truck with a decal of the Statue of Liberty, her raised arm holding an M-16. A man waves from the entrance to an enormous warehouse. Warm, attractive, well-spoken, Sharon has sold a lot of insurance policies around here and made friends along the way.

A policy with a weekly premium of $5.52 covers accidents that aren't covered by a worker's other insurance—if he has any. “How many of you can go a week without your paycheck?” is part of Sharon's pitch. “Usually no hands go up,” she tells me. Her clients repair oil platforms, cut sheet metal, fix refrigerators, process chicken, lay asphalt, and dig ditches. She sells to entry-level floor sweepers who make $8 an hour and can't afford to get sick. She sells to flaggers in highway repair crews who earn $12 an hour, and to welders and operators who, with overtime, make up to $100,000 a year. For most, education stopped after high school. “Pipe fitters. Ditch diggers. Asphalt layers,” Sharon says. “I can't find one that's not for Donald Trump.”

More here.

rauschenberg in china

201612_CU_RAU_07-WEBCaroline Roux at The Economist:

Earlier this year Robert Rauschenberg’s famous visual narrative, “The ¼ Mile or 2 Furlong Piece” – the longest artwork ever made – was exhibited in its entirety for the first time. It was not shown in Texas, where Rauschenberg was born, nor in New York where he worked as a young man after the war and became close to Jasper Johns, nor even on Captiva – the island off the coast of Florida where he ended his days. It was displayed in Beijing at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA). Philip Tinari, UCCA’s director, knew his history and was convinced that the show would help persuade visitors that Rauschenberg was the first global contemporary artist.

In 1985 Rauschenberg became the first Western artist to exhibit in communist China. For the Chinese who had been raised on a diet of Soviet-style socialist realism, the show was a breath of fresh air. Ask any artist of a certain age – Xu Bing, former vice-president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, or Qiu Zhijie, chief curator of the 2012 Shanghai Bienniale, for instance – and they can tell you just how the exhibition was hung at the National Museum of China on the east side of Tiananmen Square. “We had never seen anything like it,” Qiu says.

In considering America’s post-war artists, Rauschenberg has always been overshadowed by Andy Warhol, the man most Westerners see as the bellwether of the art world and the prism through which Western art of the past half-century is always viewed. But this may be about to change. A new exhibition, opening first at Tate Modern in London before travelling toMoMA in New York and San Francisco, will argue that Rauschenberg’s work was the compass that first showed where contemporary art was heading.

more here.

The Marquis de Sade and the office novel

DesadeJustine1Lucy Ives at Lapham's Quarterly:

Like the word bureaucracy, sadism is a neologism that has taken on a life of its own. Today, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, sadism is an “enthusiasm for inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others.” Yet Sade’s notion of dispassionate intimacy is quite particular. His sadism is less concerned with pleasure in the pain of others than with a lack of feeling regarding the pain of others. Though many of Sade’s writings describe characters who engage in cruel and murderous acts of sexual congress, few if any seem to enjoy the pain of others, no matter how necessary the mutilation of flesh to the act in question. Sade’s embodied economic processes, his sometimes rather less than mutually consenting coworkers, labor to produce orgasm—which is really just a route to apathy. After orgasm, Sade’s libertines are briefly freed from the confusing sensation of need. The libertine looks dispassionately down upon the flayed corpse in which he has just succeeded in ejaculating and experiences clarity. The corpse cannot, reasonably, be the object of affections or emotion; it holds no spell of either generosity or dependency over the Sadean character who has just made use of it. A corpse, even if nominally endowed with life, can inspire nothing other than apathy in the libertine. And apathy is the aesthetic mode that, for Sade, correlates with the best forms of agency, since it demonstrates the libertine’s freedom from Christian sympathy and its attendant hypocrisies. An absolutely liberated, absolutely impersonal pleasure testifies to the libertine’s refusal of insincere social bonds. “Virtue suffers the punishment of crime,” wrote Simon-Nicolas-Henri Linguet in 1771, “even as crime enjoys with impunity the pleasures that should be the rewards of virtue.” Sadean sex is, to inject a contemporary term, the fuck of the spreadsheet, in which all markers of identity and sentimentality are like the footlong dildo the eponymous libertine heroine of The History of Juliette uses to impale a nine-year-old girl: detachable, iterable, and sortable by size. Anyone can be a libertine, provided she or he is willing to be systematic.

more here.

Marine Le Pen in the age of Trump

MarineElizabeth Zerofsky at Harper's Magazine:

Resentment toward career politicians is potent and perhaps even more deeply rooted in France than it is in the United States. Functionaries are a class defined and regulated by laws of the state, i.e., themselves. Only 8 percent of French citizens say they trust political parties, and 88 percent believe the political class doesn’t care about people like them. “I can feel so much anger in the country,” Vincent Martigny, a political scientist at the École Polytechnique who recently published a book on the discourse of French national identity, told me. “There is rejection of all sorts of traditional authority. People think establishment figures are all lying. And there is a rejection of some forms of political reality—all sorts of dodgy websites that part of the electorate believe are saying more true things than traditional media.” President Hollande’s Socialist government is the most unpopular administration of the postwar era; one columnist recently joked about sending Hollande to “prison for mediocrity.” Among the mainstream-right party, Les Républicains, the lineup for the presidential election opens like a high-school yearbook of the establishment: Alain Juppé, a former Prime Minister and current mayor of Bordeaux, is expected to win the primary. He is seen as a moderate and a unifier—the likely next president—and has been in politics for several decades, yet he presents himself as a new figure, especially to young voters who don’t recall his time in national government during the Nineties. (“It’s mad but true,” Martigny said.) In the last few days, Juppé’s challenger François Fillon, another former Prime Minister, has climbed in the polls. And on Wednesday, Emmanuel Macron, a thirty-eight-year-old former economy minister, announced his candidacy as an independent; while he offers a young, modernizing, and optimistic voice, he will have a hard time distancing himself from his classically establishment background. Juppé’s main competitor is the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been running such a stridently nationalist campaign that Jean-Marie Le Pen recently declared him to the right of his daughter.

more here.

The Speculative Dread of “Black Mirror”

Giles Harvey in The New Yorker:

BlackLike TVGoHome, “Black Mirror” is powered by an engine of speculative dread. As an anthology show, it is made up of stand-alone episodes, each featuring its own fictional world and cast of characters. Some episodes use existing technologies as the basis for their nightmare scenarios. What if an Anonymous-style group of hacktivists began blackmailing members of the public with unsavory snippets of their Internet browsing history? What if a popular cartoon character, controlled by an actor at the helm of a live-motion-capture system, successfully ran for Parliament on an anti-establishment platform? Others entertain unsettling day-after-tomorrow hypotheses. What if people had a microchip embedded in their necks that recorded their lives and allowed them to replay memories at will? What if there was a software program that enabled a bereaved person to communicate with a lost loved one by creating an avatar using the deceased’s digital footprint?

The show, which first aired in Britain, on Channel 4, in 2011, became an international hit, with licensing rights sold in more than ninety territories. In 2014, Netflix acquired exclusive U.S. streaming rights for the first two seasons. Last year, Brooker and his longtime collaborator Annabel Jones signed a contract with Netflix to make twelve new episodes. (The deal was reportedly worth forty million dollars.) “Black Mirror” answers to a mood of global unease about the breakneck pace of technological development; Brooker’s audience already knows what it is like to witness the sudden arrival of the future—or, as he put it in his weekly column for the Guardian, to recognize how “nuts-deep into the future we already are.” Last month, on the day the third season was released, a cyberattack crashed several popular Web sites, including Spotify, Reddit, and Netflix. On Twitter, Stephen King described “Black Mirror” as “terrifying, funny, intelligent. It’s like The Twilight Zone, only rated R.” Zadie Smith considers it one of the best things to appear on British TV in decades. “It’s the ultimate commentary on shit television by virtue of being head and shoulders above everything else,” she wrote in an e-mail. “It reminds me of TVGoHome in that it’s formed out of a sort of exquisite rage, but it’s also so terrifically and fully imagined—the speculative fiction element is sublime.”

More here.