Without Workers, We Wouldn’t Have Democracy

Shawn Gude in Jacobin:

Discussions about the state of democracy are suddenly all the rage. And it’s not hard to see why: Bolsonaro in Brazil, Trump in the US, Erdoğan in Turkey, Orbán in Hungary — all point to a resurgent authoritarianism and a diminution of democratic forms. But we can’t understand the current retrenchment without understanding how mass democracy came about in the first place.

In Capitalist Development and Democracy, first published in 1992, a trio of scholars (Evelyne Huber, John Stephens, and Dietrich Rueschemeyer) provide a sweeping examination of democracy’s rise in the twentieth century across three regions: Europe, North America, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Breaking from the conventional story, they argue that capitalism has been crucial to democracy’s ascension not because of its natural symbiosis with popular government, but because it breaks up traditional power structures and generates a larger, more organizable working class. “Capitalism,” they write, “creates democratic pressures in spite of capitalists, not because of them.”

Huber and her coauthors pay special attention to how distributions of power, both domestically and internationally, have opened up or closed off democratic struggles.

More here.

Sally Wen Mao’s Visionary Poems

Dan Chiasson at The New Yorker:

Sally Wen Mao’s new book of poems, “Oculus,” borrows its slightly menacing title from the Latin word for “eye,” which also refers to, among other things, a virtual-reality company and the eye-shaped skylight at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. There are eyes everywhere in “Oculus,” but not all of them are blessed with sight. Some are all-seeing, panoptic; others are yearning and blinkered, unable to return the gaze they attract. These poems are haunted by images of human faces staring out from all kinds of screens, faces that are themselves screens upon which the world projects its fantasies and anxieties. “The stories about our lives do not have faces,” Mao writes. Her strange and morally succinct book is, in part, a sustained defense of writing. Mao’s poems intervene in a culture glutted with visual images, on behalf of what she calls “the self you want to hide”—the “sad, pretty thing,” lost behind the images. “Because being seen,” she writes elsewhere, “has a different meaning to someone / with my face.”

more here.

The Final Days of EMI

John Harris at The Guardian:

In the summer of 1965, the Rolling Stones released “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. On the US version, its B-side was a makeweight piece titled “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man”, which directed sneering contempt on some poor unfortunate who worked for the group’s record label: “I promo groups when they come into town / Well they laugh at my toupee, they’re sure to put me down.”

Thus began a lineage of rock songs founded on the eternal contradiction between the artistic impulse and the hucksterish, often seedy ways of the music business. This reached a peak of fury and cynicism in the era of punk with the Sex Pistols’ gloriously incoherent classic “EMI”, in which John Lydon vents his rage at the company that put out the group’s first single in 1976, only to dump them. “It’s an unlimited supply,” he spits. “And there is no reason why / I tell you it was all a frame / They only did it ’cos of fame / Who? / EMI!”

more here.

Finding Redemption in Daphne Du Maurier’s Cornwall

Kitty Wenham at The Quarterly Conversation:

The beating heart of it all, Du Maurier’s estate Menabilly, remains a secret few have been allowed to penetrate. Nestled behind locked gates, a visitor would find it impossible to catch even a glimpse of its infamous facade from the roadside. Nearby is the town of Fowey. Another great love. Once referred to as Du Maurier’s ‘salvation’, it is the picture of gentle tranquillity. By a twinkling blue estuary lined with quaint white cottages, you can glance at her other famous home —Ferryside. The coves are full of families, the beaches always busy. Journey on for forty minutes more, and you might stumble across the infamous Jamaica Inn. Far from an isolated hub of menacing activity and excitement, it now stands on a busy motorway leading out of Cornwall — an impersonal, family stop on the way back from a typical summer road trip.

I first came to Cornwall searching for Daphne Du Maurier in August 2013, the first of many family trips to the coast. I imagined the high, thrashing waves of the sea, the ruined mansions, the wild landscape untamed, overrunning every bend in the road. Instead, I found Cornwall to be a place of solitude.

more here.

‘BlacKkKlansman’ Was The Most Frighteningly Accurate Movie Of 2018

Talia Lavin in Huffington Post:

2018 was a year overstuffed with culture. That’s just the way it is now, movies and TV and songs and memes and thoughtful features and endless, endless politics scrolling past our weary eyes at the speed of silicon and too-blue light. But in all the chaos there’s a moment where my hazy memories of frenetic consumption pause, for a piece of filmmaking that called on me to think hard and to remember. That movie was Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman.” It’s currently raking in a modest haul of awards, but for me, it’s going to linger long past the last bottle of popped January 1st champagne, a remarkable slice of light to which I’ll return for years to come.

Much has been said about the film ― its ambition, historicity and panache have been amply noted. But I’ve elected to discuss it here because I admire it as a piece of artistry and as a salvo launched at the perfect cultural moment. he film is about a pioneering black cop who confronts the Ku Klux Klan, providing the voice of a would-be Klansman on the phone while his Jewish co-worker offers a white body to attend the meetings in person. Any summary would be a bare gesture at the substance of the movie, which deftly conjures up the early 1970s with both winking kitsch and careful verisimilitude. “BlacKkKlansman” delivers more than any blockbuster ever needs to, filling its slick packaging with layers of complexity that Hollywood rarely allows for. The film addresses the conditional whiteness of Jews in America; the ways in which the presumed fragility of white womanhood can provide a shield for those who would do violence; the vitality of student activism, and the way it forms an irresistible target for those who would silence dissent; and the role of music, rhetoric and film itself in shaping black and white identities. It does all this and so much more, wrapped in a compulsively watchable package.

There’s a bravura quality to it, a bracing reminder of the need to combat racism in both its most overt guises ― Klansmen burning crosses ― and its subtler incarnations, as when rookie black cop Ron Stallworth faces an array of racist behaviors at his new workplace, from skepticism to outright slurs.

More here.

Need a New Self-Help Guru? Try Aristotle

John Kaag in The New York Times:

Three years ago, New Year’s came and I promised to eat only organic. I lasted two weeks. A year ago, I resolved to run before dawn and take a cold shower every morning. That lasted two days. This year, I don’t have a resolution. Instead I read Edith Hall’s “Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life,” and concluded I probably didn’t have to undergo some painful — and therefore temporary — transformation to remake my life. I just had to put some sustained effort into being properly happy.

There is a pernicious, but widely held, belief that turning over a new leaf always involves turning our worlds upside down, that living a happy, well-adjusted life entails acts of monkish discipline or heroic strength. The genre of self-help lives and dies on this fanaticism: We should eat like cave men, scale distant mountains, ingest live charcoal, walk across scalding stones, lift oversize tires, do yoga in a hothouse, run a marathon, run another. In our culture, virtuous moderation and prudence rarely sell but, taking her cues from Aristotle, Hall offers a set of reasons to explain why they should.

Hall’s new book clears a rare middle way for her reader to pursue happiness, what the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia, usually translated as well-being or prosperity. This prosperity has nothing to do with the modern obsession with material success but rather “finding a purpose in order to realize your potential and working on your behavior to become the best version of yourself.” It sounds platitudinous enough, but it isn’t, thanks to Hall’s tight yet modest prose. “Aristotle’s Way” carefully charts the arc of a virtuous life that springs from youthful talent, grows by way of responsible decisions and self-reflection, finds expression in mature relationships, and comes to rest in joyful retirement and a quietly reverent death. Easier said than done, but Aristotle, Hall explains, is there to help.

More here.

Memories of Irish Birdsong

Liam Heneghan in The Irish Times:

1. My mother once saw the chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs; in Irish: “Rí Rua”) take a shit on Grafton Street and she scolded him. He just kept repeating his distinctive call “pink, pink, pink, trup,” over and over again, but you could kinda tell that he was mortified. Good bird, really; had trouble later with the auld drugs, and got very stout. Died way too young. In the eighties, those birds had a string of great hits.

2. I worked one summer on the Cork Train on the food trolley. A young fella with me in the kitchen car was really into the skylark (Alauda arvensis, in Irish: “Fuiseog”). He could play skylark’s famous guitar riff on his knock-off Les Paul (you know the one, it goes “chirrup… chirrup, trrrp”). Claimed the skylark did not play a real Gibson either. I will never forget that little detail; I lost touch with that kid later on.

3. Back in the day, I’d hear corncrakes (Crex crex; in Irish: “Traonach”) along the Co Mayo coast all the time. They are a rare breed now, of course; almost extinct. Once when I was pushing my bike up a laneway I saw the corncrake standing with his sister outside a cottage. He must have thought I had looked at his sister funny, as he snarled “kerrx-kerrx” at me and started to fling his droppings. I was told afterwards that the whole family was mad. Brothers all musicians in America.

More here.

The Uncertain Future of Particle Physics

Sabine Hossenfelder in the New York Times:

The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest particle accelerator. It’s a 16-mile-long underground ring, located at CERN in Geneva, in which protons collide at almost the speed of light. With a $5 billion price tag and a $1 billion annual operation cost, the L.H.C. is the most expensive instrument ever built — and that’s even though it reuses the tunnel of an earlier collider.

The L.H.C. has collected data since September 2008. Last month, the second experimental run completed, and the collider will be shut down for the next two years for scheduled upgrades. With the L.H.C. on hiatus, particle physicists are already making plans to build an even larger collider. Last week, CERN unveiled plans to build an accelerator that is larger and far more powerful than the L.H.C. — and would cost over $10 billion.

I used to be a particle physicist. For my Ph.D. thesis, I did L.H.C. predictions, and while I have stopped working in the field, I still believe that slamming particles into one another is the most promising route to understanding what matter is made of and how it holds together. But $10 billion is a hefty price tag. And I’m not sure it’s worth it.

More here.

The Existential Englishman: Paris Among the Artists

Alexander Larman in The Guardian:

Michael Peppiatt’s memoir is subtitled Paris Among the Artists, but it could be called A Portrait of the Art Critic As an Older Man. Peppiatt, who is best known for his biography and memoirs of his friend Francis Bacon, has spent the greater part of his working life in Paris, and this book is a love letter to the city, although not an uncritical one. He writes in the preface that he will explore “my lifelong attachment to this bewitching, temperamental, exasperating city and the deep love-hate relationship that binds me to it”. Yet he is ultimately a romantic, and the scent that rises from these pages is a heady aroma of Gauloises and red wine. Peppiatt, as a young man, was rather fond of the bottle; this book, at its best, has a similarly intoxicating quality, if one allows for the inevitable moments of self-absorption.

Peppiatt was brought up to be bilingual, because his father believed that he stood a better chance of getting on in the world if he spoke French. His faith was rewarded when his son obtained a job at the culture magazine Réalités in 1964, from where he headed to the English-language version of Le Mondeand then to Art International, which he both published and edited. He accomplished this, as well as writing numerous books about art, with an air of cultured insouciance. Yet, as he notes, “the luxuries, the grandeurs, have no meaning without the drudgery and misères of the daily round”. It must be said that Peppiatt’s luxuries and grandeurs are rather more grand than the rest of us might expect. When he writes about drinking champagne at the Paris Ritz, or being led on grand bacchanals by famous chums, it is hard not to feel that Peppiatt has led an unusually gilded existence.

More here.

General Strikes, Explained

Kim Kelly in Teen Vogue:

The word strike seems to be on everyone’s lips these days. Workers across the world have been striking to protest poor working conditions, to speak out against sexual harassment, and to jumpstart stalled union negotiations. And as we just saw with the Los Angeles teachers’ successful large-scale strike, which spanned six school days, strikers have been winning. Despite the shot of energy that organized strikes have injected into the labor movement, many people aren’t content with run-of-the-mill work stoppages, or even with more militant wildcat strikes.

As President Donald Trump’s scandal-plagued government shutdown stretches into its fourth week and more than 800,000 federal workers struggle to survive sans paychecks, the words general strike have begun appearing with increasing frequency on social media and in a spate of articles. On January 20, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson suggested that a general strike could potentially end the government shutdown. The fact that a labor union official is speaking about such drastic action now is very significant, for one thing because there has not been a major U.S. general strike since the government cracked down on labor following 1946’s Oakland general strike. Also, a general strike is an incredibly massive undertaking; while many organized industry-specific strikes can comprise hundreds or even thousands of workers, a general strike could potentially involve millions.

So what does it all mean? How is a general strike different from a planned, industry-specific work stoppage; why are people interested in the idea now; and what would one look like in 2019?

More here.

Friday Poem


BlogEarlyBlogOften LaughOutLoud!
ShortMessageService is so 2two0thousand0and7seven.
I prefer MicroSoftNetwork, OKay
but only when you’ve got WirelessFidelity.

Every1one of you’ll get
AcquiredImmuneDeficiencySyndrome from
social networking, I
prefer my MovingPicturesexpertsgrouphyphenoneaudiolayer3three
player, it’s so compact.

My headphones nestled
within curls
rectilinear, charred and static,
I always use my GoodHairDays;
I remain faithful to the new religion.

My pal Ryan and I fly airily
away across the wasteland;
earth’s got cheap.

I’ll pick up a souvenir on the
UniversalSerialBus, some
SevereAcuteRespiratorySyndrome, and when I’m

hospitalised, they’ll get in
some visitors: amiable
to send me to zzzzzz

while my friend, Mister Brain
is being insouciantly fried
ears inwards;
by polyphonic microwaves with
toothy blue grins.

Editor’s Note: This poem was a winner of The Poetry Society’s
Foyle Young Poets of the Year award in 2009.

The Music of Éliane Radigue

Sasha Frere-Jones at Artforum:

HOW LONG did an hour feel in 1971? Was it like three 2018 hours? Ten minutes? The music of the eighty-six-year-old French composer Éliane Radigue forces these questions because as much as it’s about synthesizers and magnetic tape and silence and held notes and resonance, it is also about time. Her work cannot be excerpted or sliced into representative swatches or versified. The movement from a piece’s beginning to its end is the motif itself; to lose even a little of that adventure is to lose the music. Œuvres électroniques (Electronic Works), a new fourteen-CD box set recently released by Ina GRM, collects pieces recorded between 1971 and 2007. The shortest of them is a little over seventeen minutes long; most of them run closer to an hour. These days, Radigue composes largely for acoustic stringed instruments, but she remains as focused an artist as electronic music has ever had, possibly because she never needed the equipment to hear her sound, only a series of tools with which to render it.

more here.

What Materialist Black Political History Actually Looks Like

Adolph Reed at nonsite:

As the argument has progressed, a de facto alliance between ostensibly progressive identitarians and Wall Street Democrats has come together around asserting, along with Paul Krugman and others, that “horizontal inequality”—i.e., inequality between statistically defined racial/ethnic groups—is a more important problem than “vertical inequality,” characterized as inequality between individuals and households. That distinction instructively makes class and class inequality disappear, which is consistent with the trajectory of American liberalism across the more than seven decades since the end of World War II. Moreover, in a sort of mission creep, opponents of what they decry as a “class-first” position increasingly have come to denounce any expressions of concern for economic inequality as in effect catering to white supremacy. This tendency, which Touré Reed has argued rests on a race-reductionism, has surfaced and spread within the newly revitalized Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), as even many among those who consider themselves socialists object to the organization’s selection of Medicare for All as its key political campaign on the ground that pursuit of decommodified health care for all is objectionable because doing so does not sufficiently center antiracist and anti-disparitarian agendas. I submit that there’s clearly a problem when anti-socialism is defined as socialism.

more here.

Pierre Huyghe’s Exploration of Consciousness

Matthew Bown at the TLS:

On entering Pierre Huyghe’s exhibition Uumwelt at the Serpentine Gallery, we first notice the large, square, digital screens which flash images in split-second succession. The images are not decipherable, although they seem to reference real things, often organic; one in particular appears to display some kind of cleavage or nudity. They were created in arcane contemporary fashion, with the assistance of researchers into human intelligence based in Japan: a person is presented with pictures and scenarios that he or she is then asked to re-create mentally; this brain activity is scanned, and artificial intelligence, on the basis of these scans, attempts to re-create the things envisaged. These flashing images, accompanied by an unobtrusive electronic soundtrack, also derived from brainwaves, stand out in the scarcely-illuminated gallery space. Soon after, you become aware of the flies: there are hundreds of them, unusually juicy and plump. They settle on the screens, around the light sources, and sometimes on you, the visitor. They form constellations on the ceiling and, in the digital-screen context, seem like demented black pixels.

more here.