Over 100 years, small images of athletes went from tobacco companies' marketing materials to overhyped investments favored by nostalgic grown men. Now, they're worth virtually nothing. A Cultural History of the Baseball Card.
Jackson Lears is interviewd by Public Books on The Confidence Economy
Absolutely, the confidence games take the form of their setting. In capitalist settings, it’s multivalent. Not only does one need confidence to trust the merchant who’s selling you an item, but the merchant needs confidence to start his own business, he needs it to invest, and the market needs it to be propelled forward. Of course we’re sitting here talking about this in the shadow of the banking crisis and recession! The cultural feature we’re talking about may be common to human interaction, no matter the specific setting, but those specific settings—a Mississippi River steamboat in the the mid-nineteenth century, or Catholic Italy a half millennium before—give form to its expression.[more inside]
Product of Mexico: Hardship on Mexico's farms, a bounty for U.S. tables — the first in a series of four Los Angeles Times long-form stories about labor conditions discovered during an 18-month investigation of Mexican vegetable farms that supply produce to the United States. [more inside]
On Wed Nov 19, 2014, in an awards ceremony emceed by Daniel Handler-aka-Lemony Snicket, Ursula K. Le Guin gave "the most ferocious speech ever given at the National Book Awards." Le Guin's acceptance speech for the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters touched on the Amazon vs Hachette throwdown and the practice of art in an age of capitalism. Video. Transcription.
Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings.
Ben Smith of Buzzfeed reports: Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt On Journalists [more inside]
Paul Mason: What Shakespeare taught me about marxism.
Memos from Bear Cave. Inspired by the 1970s memos of perpeptually apoplectic Edward "Tiger Mike" Davis ("I am not fond of hippies, long-hairs, dope fiends, or alcoholics"), SomethingAwful writers created a series about the manliest CEO in the 1970s soup-manufacturing industry. While Tiger Mike is hard to top, the saga of JD Boruff, who swims in his own soup and monitors his employees' toilet flushes, takes on a strange and hilarious charm as its universe expands.
There are eighteen epistolary stories in the series to date, indexed below the fold. [more inside]
There are eighteen epistolary stories in the series to date, indexed below the fold. [more inside]
In a wide-ranging discussion about democracy, capitalism, and the American body politic; Chris Hedges interviews political theorist Sheldon Wolin in eight parts. (via) (previously) [more inside]
So, what is the balance-sheet of transition? Only three or at most five or six countries could be said to be on the road to becoming a part of the rich and (relatively) stable capitalist world. Many are falling behind, and some are so far behind that they cannot aspire to go back to the point where they were when the Wall fell for several decades. Despite philosophers of “universal harmonies” such as Francis Fukuyama, Timothy Garton Ash, Vaclav Havel, Bernard Henry Lévy, and scores of international “economic advisors” to Boris Yeltsin, who all phantasized about democracy and prosperity, neither really arrived for most people in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The Wall fell only for some.On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall Branko Milanovic looks at how the transition to capitalism worked out for the ex-communist countries of the USSR and Eastern Europe.
In the Billfold: a tale of a day-long tryout for an early stage startup, the author dubs The Start-up From Hell. The COO responds in Valleywag, "While it posted today (October 21), the article [...] relates to an experience she says she had 15 months ago. [...] At that time, Handybook employed less than 15 people. Today, Handy is two and a half years old and employs 200 people. [...] In short, as we continue to grow we're working every day to ensure the happiness of our customers and employees." [more inside]
"In my experience, the reminder that the sexual fantasy isn’t real, that the women who perform availability aren’t ACTUALLY available, that we aren’t ACTUALLY clamouring to be sexualized by men, that we control when the fantasy starts and stops, and that our performance is just that, a performance that requires compensation… well, some men find that hard to swallow." [more inside]
According to the philosopher Anselm Jappe, who has come to Lisbon to give a talk at the Teatro Maria Matos, in capitalism we are defined by our relation to labor. But the system is a “house of cards that is beginning to collapse”. It is time to rethink the concept of labor.
Ten years ago today saw the English launch of a quirky Japanese puzzler, a sleeper hit that would go down as one of the most endearing, original, and gleefully weird gaming stories of the 2000s: Katamari Damacy. Its fever-dream plot has the record-scratching, Freddie Mercury-esque King of All Cosmos destroy the stars in a drunken fugue, and you, the diminutive Prince, must restore them with the Katamari -- a magical sticky ball that snowballs through cluttered environments, rolling up paperclips, flowerpots, cows, buses, houses, skyscrapers, and continents into new constellations. It also boasts one of the most infectiously joyous soundtracks of all time -- an eccentric, richly produced, and incredibly catchy blend of funk, salsa, bossa nova, experimental electronica, J-Pop, swing, lounge, bamboo flute, hair metal, buoyant parade music, soaring children's choirs, Macintalk fanfares, and the finest theme song this side of Super Mario Bros. Called a consumerist critique by sculptor-turned-developer Keita Takahashi (who after one sequel moved on to Glitch, the supremely odd Noby Noby Boy, and playground design), the series has inspired much celebration and thought [2, 3] on its way from budget bin to MoMA exhibit. Look inside for essays, artwork, comics, lyrics, more music, hopes, dreams... my, the internet really is full of things. [more inside]
The political economy of a universal basic income: "your view of what is feasible should not be backwards looking. The normalization of gay marriage and legalization of marijuana seemed utopian and politically impossible until very recently. Yet in fact those developments are happening, and their expansion is almost inevitable given the demographics of ideology... UBI — defined precisely as periodic transfers of identical fixed dollar amounts to all citizens of the polity — is by far the most probable and politically achievable among policies that might effectively address problems of inequality, socioeconomic fragmentation, and economic stagnation." [more inside]
"In reconsidering the metrosexual, we must first distinguish between the metrosexual’s imagined and actual properties. Like hipsterism, metrosexuality is an insult more readily slung than substantiated. According to canon, David Beckham is the ur-metro. Although Beckham initially goes unmentioned in the word’s first printing (in 1994), the word’s progenitor, Mark Simpson, introduced American readers to metrosexuality through the British football star in 2002, when he called Beckham a "screaming, shrieking, flaming, freaking metrosexual…famous for wearing sarongs and pink nail polish and panties…and posing naked and oiled up on the cover of Esquire." " - Johannah King-Slutzky for The Awl on the 'Metrosexual' situation a decade later
"Using contractors it calls "brand ambassadors," Uber requests rides from Lyft and other competitors, recruits their drivers, and takes multiple precautions to avoid detection. The effort, which Uber appears to be rolling out nationally, has already resulted in thousands of canceled Lyft rides and made it more difficult for its rival to gain a foothold in new markets. Uber calls the program "SLOG," and it’s a previously unreported aspect of the company’s ruthless efforts to undermine its competitors."
Producer Michael Shamberg Wants to 'Invent the Future' With BuzzFeed Motion Pictures - "I don't think there's ever been a Hollywood R&D model like we have here." (previously 1,2,3) [more inside]
"Kayfabe is a slinky thing, in what it masks: it’s sheer enough to let us marks in on some of the fun, yet supple enough to obscure most of the human cost." On the disposability of professional wrestlers, by Dan O'Sullivan, aka @Bro_Pair
"Neoliberal is the new hipster: everybody's it except you, and nobody can explain what it means"
I think that’s well-put, and that the similarity between the terms is no accident; hipsterism is an especially salient iteration of neoliberal subjectivity, one that gains currency by being slippery and inarticulable. These concepts become normalized by becoming boring and frustrating to talk about. The apparent vagueness in the terms seems to make them unalterable. The struggle to define them reflects the stakes of keeping them amorphous, capable of absorbing more and more behavior, making the way of thinking they describe feel inescapable, natural.[more inside]
Advice on how to survive late capitalism: "Your life is sold to serve an economy that does not serve your life. You don’t seem to be entertained, Bank-robbin’; your white-hot rage festers. It probably doesn’t help that you live in Brooklyn—this place where in the last ten years rent has spiked 77 percent while real median income has dropped, where the rich (the top 10 percent of earners who, as is well known, control 80 percent of the wealth) and their children live right on top of some of the worst poverty known to this country, while 20 percent of Brooklynites survive somehow below the poverty level, such that the widening income and wealth gap becomes achingly visible here. I could advise you to leave Brooklyn. But I don’t want you to leave Brooklyn."
Modern public relations has, in its own parlance, an image problem. As an investigation copublished by the Columbia Journalism Review and ProPublica put it, the industry was literally birthed from a train wreck.... In stark contrast to newsrooms, in which women have never exceeded 38 percent, public relations operates as a solidly pink-collar sector of the creative industries and comprises a labor force that is currently over 85 percent female. The palpable distaste for PR practitioners that continues to swell — spearheaded by the very same members of the media with whom publicists theoretically enjoy a symbiotic relationship — requires, then, a deeper look at how gendered assumptions about work continue to shape our contemporary notions of creative labor under capitalism.
Carlos Slim calls for a three-day working week "We've got it all wrong, says Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecoms tycoon and world's second-richest man: we should be working only three days a week." also btw: The four-day work week (previously)
Monopoly is back: Barry Lynn on the concentration of American economic power — and how we can restore fairness. Highlights: [more inside]
Where does the new interest in the “history of capitalism” come from? I’d suggest the following rudiments of an answer. The financial crisis of 2008-09 has clearly placed certain issues of historicization on the agenda. If the accelerated and seemingly unstoppable drive for the “flattening” of the world through a process of neoliberal globalization since the early 1990s has not actually brought us to a permanently unfolding and self-reproducing neoliberal present, but has rather encountered severe structural problems, then how do we historicize this current time? That is, how do we understand the contemporary crisis of capitalism, in all its political and social ramifications, in relation to longer-run processes of capitalist restructuring and their logics of development and difficulty; and how do we locate the history of the present inside a larger-scale framework of periods and conjunctures? [more inside]
The open source revolution is coming and it will conquer the 1%, says an ex CIA spy: The man who trained more than 66 countries in open source methods calls for re-invention of intelligence to re-engineer Earth [more inside]
"Hi, Marc... You seem to think everyone's worried about robots. But what everyone's worried about is you, Marc. Not just you, but people like you. Robots aren't at the levers of financial and political influence today, but folks like you sure are. People are scared of so much wealth and control being in so few hands... Unless we collectively choose to pay for a safety net, technology alone isn't going to make it happen." [more inside]
"Advertising is not well. Though companies supported by advertising still dominate the landscape and capture the popular imagination, cracks are beginning to show in the very financial foundations of the web. Despite the best efforts of an industry, advertising is becoming less and less effective online. The once reliable fuel that powered a generation of innovations on the web is slowly, but perceptibly beginning to falter. Consider the long-term trend: when the first banner advertisement emerged online in 1994, it reported a (now) staggering clickthrough rate of 78%. By 2011, the average Facebook advertisement clickthrough rate sat dramatically lower at 0.05%. Even if only a rough proxy, something underlies such a dramatic change in the ability for an advertisement to pique the interest of users online. What underlies this decline, and what does it mean for the Internet at large? This short [PDF] paper puts forth the argument for peak advertising—the argument that an overall slowing in online advertising will eventually force a significant (and potentially painful) shift in the structure of business online. Like the theory of Peak Oil that it references, the goal is not to look to the immediate upcoming quarter, but to think on the decade-long scale about the business models that sustain the Internet." [more inside]
Brazil has spared no expense for the upcoming World Cup. The month-long competition will feature 64 matches in 12 cities across the country. Refurbishing old stadiums and building new ones has cost Brazil $3.6bn. Several of the new stadiums will seldom be used after the World Cup, and Brasilia's World Cup stadium is estimated to have cost taxpayers $900m. [more inside]
We are all very anxious - how constant observation and mass precarity undermine our ability to change and resist. [more inside]
When I reached out [to Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti] yesterday, asking whether he saw Buzzfeed as embodying the trends described in the paper or as subverting them, he simply replied, "lol."
Alan Prendergast writing in Westword reflects on the history of "Bloody Ludlow."
VC for the people - "It's just that people who have options are much more likely to actually find success than people who don't." [more inside]
David Harvey's latest book looks at the internal contradictions within the flow of capital that have precipitated recent crises and "why this economic engine should be replaced, and with what." Available online are the Prologue, the last two chapters, and video & audio for his April 2nd talk at the London School of Economics.
When I come across the task, "Proposal Flash Mob in Central Park,” I know immediately that I am exactly the wrong person for the job. The training video opens in a mirrored dance studio, with a man in a tight-fitting black t-shirt. "Please make sure you are familiar with this choreography before you commit to that rehearsal so we don't have to waste any time,” he explains in a high-pitched voice before counting out about three minutes of what looks to me like complex choreography. During slow claps at baseball games, I'm the fan who claps on the wrong beat. A real rabbit might have a better chance of learning this dance."A journalist's month-long experiment with the gig economy.
What happens to our financial safety net when we are already renting out our couches, giving rides after work, and running tasks on the weekends just to stay afloat?
Mental health problems are on the rise among UK academics amid the pressures of greater job insecurity, constant demand for results and an increasingly marketised higher education system. [more inside]
These days, the idea of being a “good reader” or a “good critic” is very much out of fashion — not because we believe that such creatures do not exist, but because we all identify as both. The machine of consumerism is designed to encourage us all to believe that our preferences are significant and self-revealing; that a taste for Coke over Pepsi, or for KFC over McDonald’s, means something about us; that our tastes comprise, in sum, a kind of aggregate expression of our unique selfhood. We are led to believe that our brand loyalties are the result of a deep, essential affinity between the consumer and product — this soap is “you”; this bank is “yours” — and social networking affords us countless opportunities to publicise and justify these brand loyalties as partial explanations of “who we are”.
Want to get away with not paying taxes but don't have the money to make your own offshore company in the Cayman Islands? Fret not - you can hijack an existing offshore company starting from the low low price of 99 cents! [more inside]
Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tom Perkins took to the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal to compare progressive angst over income inequality to the sentiment that led to the Nazi Kristallnacht. Citing the recent kerfuffle over Google buses in San Francisco (previously) and accusations of snobbery by San Francisco resident, bestselling author, and Perkins' own ex-wife Danielle Steel (who he describes as "our number-one celebrity"), Perkins asks "Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent 'progressive' radicalism unthinkable now?" [more inside]
Congress takes a casual look at the peer-to-peer economy - “Finding new ways to monetise used or existing assets has the obvious and immediate effects of raising their value and the wealth of their owners, while simultaneously reducing the value of comparable stuff owned by incumbent companies — for whom monetisation already wasn’t a problem, and who find themselves burdened by the newly competitive environment. The innovations also provide a surplus to those consumers who previously would have paid more to an incumbent. And all without any new stuff actually having to be made.” [more inside]
The return of "patrimonial capitalism": review of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st century (pdf) - "Thomas Piketty's 'Capital in the 21st century' may be one of the most important recent economics books. It jointly treats theory of growth, functional distribution of income, and interpersonal income inequality. It envisages a future of relatively slow growth with the rising share of capital incomes, and widening income inequality. This tendency could be checked only by worldwide taxation of capital." [more inside]
An unpublished interview with novelist Sol Yurick by BLDGBLOG's Geoff Manaugh. "[S]uppose we think of The Iliad as one big trade war. Troy, as you know, sat on the route into the Black Sea, which means it commanded the whole hinterland where people like the Greeks and the Trojans did trading. The Trojan War was a trade war." (previously on the 2013 passing of the writer of The Warriors) [more inside]
In real (or at least our preferred) life, we do have other, better things to do. We have books to read, children to raise, friends to meet, loved ones to care for, amusements to enjoy, drinks to drink, walks to take, webs to surf, couches to lie on, games to play, movies to see, protests to make, movements to build, marches to march, and more. Most days, we don’t have time to do any of that. We’re working way too many hours for too little pay, and in the remaining few hours (minutes) we have, after the kids are asleep, the dishes are washed, and the laundry is done, we have to haggle with insurance companies about doctor’s bills, deal with school officials needing forms signed, and more.