What does Gilets jaunes mean?

Rumblings on the hustings, the corporate global economic order has Always been predicated on sacrificing the working class. Always:

It’s obvious now, however, that the new model not only weakened the fringes of the proletariat but society as a whole.The paradox is this is not a result of the failure of the globalised economic model but of its success. In recent decades, the French economy, like the European and US economies, has continued to create wealth. We are thus, on average, richer. The problem is at the same time unemployment, insecurity and poverty have also increased. The central question, therefore, is not whether a globalised economy is efficient, but what to do with this model when it fails to create and nurture a coherent society?

In France, as in all western countries, we have gone in a few decades from a system that economically, politically and culturally integrates the majority into an unequal society that, by creating ever more wealth, benefits only the already wealthy.

The change is not down to a conspiracy, a wish to cast aside the poor, but to a model where employment is increasingly polarised. This comes with a new social geography: employment and wealth have become more and more concentrated in the big cities. The deindustrialised regions, rural areas, small and medium-size towns are less and less dynamic. But it is in these places – in “peripheral France” (one could also talk of peripheral America or peripheral Britain) – that many working-class people live. Thus, for the first time, “workers” no longer live in areas where employment is created, giving rise to a social and cultural shock.

Switch out France périphérique for the Rust Belt. They are interchangeable, except that the former has not, as yet, voted straight fascist and retains the habit of taking to the street – as well as tearing up parts of it to throw at the police. It’s how different cultures tackle the same problem: the left-behindness, debt, low pay, high taxes, inequality, and ignorance upon which the limited successes of late capitalism depend. It’s certainly not pleasant, but people have long-understood this and attempted to warn us from the dragons – Dr. K, Joe Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty – nor it is unrelated to the bizarre vortex we’ve been documenting here for ten(!) years. And the Gilets jaunes are not solving this problem. But they are making us look, and we’re not even used to that.

Image: Author photo of a different type of inundation, near Pont Neuf, 2016

Piggies, markets

A can of worms, wrapped in a puzzle, buried inside an enigma, with a little pink flag sticking up, the only thing visible, while the sound of one hand clapping faintly echoes in the background


By the time the subject of the movie finally comes up, we’d already spent half an hour discussing the ossification of our own culture. We talk about how New York City, the place in which Gray set his first five films, has changed so drastically since the mid 1990s; Gray says the Brooklyn of Little Odessa “is totally gone,” and that, while the 1920s tenements in The Immigrant are still there, they now tower above John Varvatos boutiques. Gray specifies that he’s less interested in romanticizing the crime-ridden city of the past than questioning what’s led to the kind of environment in which, he says, one of his friends seems to be the only person actually living in his apartment building on Central Park West, not using it as an investment.

The fundamental issue on Gray’s mind when we talk is how capitalism impacts our priorities as human beings. Saddled with student debt from the moment we set foot in a university, our ability to “study for the sake of learning” is over; instead, we’re “forced to become budding capitalists.” It’s a critique that received major airtime during Bernie Sanders’s campaign, and Gray’s clearly given it some serious thought. “We haven’t figured out a way to monetize integrity, and when you can’t monetize integrity, and you can’t incentivize integrity and incentivize individuality, and you pray at the god of the market, you get a very strange beast that almost consumes itself,” Gray says. “It’s almost like everyone is beholden to this market god, and nobody knows what to do.”

All in one place, this short article has it all. Best of luck to Gray with the The Lost City of Z.

On Bullshit

a-burial-at-ornansOne week from the election, disagreement as political argument has taken a very wide arc around the truth:

Why should we remain beholden to facts? They are, as etymology tells us, not some sort of raw material that we simply find, but rather are the sort of thing that must be actively made — or, to use the Latin past participle, factum. Propagandists, whether Jesuit, Bolshevik, or Rovean, are those people who understand that facts, or at least social facts, are the result of human activity, in part the activity of inserting new ways of thinking and talking into the public realm — and that when this is done effectively, the public, sometimes, can come to a new understanding of the truth.
This, again, is not what Trump is doing. He is a mere bullshitter, and what comes out of his mouth has more to do with pathologies of personality than with any real vision of how the world, or America, ought to be brought into line with some super-empirical truth to which he alone has access.

Trumpism is, however, being helped along by master propagandists who understand very well that, by treating facts as something to be actively made, one may eventually change the way truth is understood. (Let us not, here, consider the specter of social constructionism, of whether changing the way truth is understood is the same thing as “creating a new truth.”) The activists of the so-called alt-right have been working for years to change public discourse through a concerted campaign of internet trolling. Their goal has been the creation of “meme magic,” that moment when an idea that they have promoted online makes the leap from virtuality to reality.

Also, ensorcelled. Image: A Burial at Ornans, by Gustave Courbet, 1851

How a Bill becomes a Law

un-apNo, not that one – but I love that one. This one, directed at Earthlings, named for our universe’s cultural heart and designed to avoid the worst:

the Paris climate agreement had passed a critical milestone toward adoption. At a UN General Assembly meeting in New York this morning, 31 nations officially signed onto the accord, making it very likely that the deal will enter legal force this year.

You may remember that the Paris agreement—an international pledge to limit us to 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, by weaning every nation off fossil fuels—was adopted at an international summit in December 2015. But before it can go into effect, it needs to be formally ratified by 55 countries that together account for 55 percent of global carbon emissions.

The accord received a major boost earlier this month, when the United States and China, two carbon behemoths that together account for nearly forty percent of global emissions, jointly announced their intention to ratify the deal. Before today, 27 other nations that collectively represent some 2 to 3 percent of global emissions had also signed on.

This is the tipping point we were looking for, to try to put off that other one. So many other wires have been tripped in setting off the renewable energy cascade, we might as well formalize the shift. Many difficulties still afoot and Team Fossil is going to fight even harder, but this is continued progress to be promoted and echoed.

What does the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo mean?

ghmapjpgFor the better part of a century, the southern US border was open, more or less, and people moved back and forth as need or desire dictated. From our friends at Balloon Juice, two maps and a few more words:

You’ll notice that on both the map prepared for the negotiations of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Rural Health Information’s map of Hispanic or Latino population of the US based on the 2010 Census that the area that the US would get from Mexico in 1848 is still where the largest percentage of the Hispanic or Latino population of the US live. This doesn’t count south Florida, which has a different historic pattern of Hispanic settlement. What the patterns of settlement shown on the maps show us is that the border was moved on the map, but the pattern of settlement remained largely unchanged.

Reckoning with the reality of steady demographics in this vast region despite changing borders or enforcement regimes is a prerequisite to sustainable immigration policy. It will come as a great surprise to many people that we can have a population that loves the land even if they call it something different and/or the name changes from time to time. I know: shocking.

Green My Card

naturalizationNobody goes there anymore – it’s too crowded:

In just the first quarter, more than 252,000 U.S. residents applied to become naturalized citizens, a 28 percent increase from the same period a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Besides the 41 percent increase in Florida, gains were registered in swing states: about 6,000 applications in Pennsylvania, 3,000 in Nevada, 4,000 in North Carolina and 3,000 in Colorado. There are 8.8 million permanent residents living in the U.S. eligible for citizenship, of whom 2.7 million are from Mexico, according to government estimates.

8 million, and the election won’t even be that close. This development is an unadulterated good – not just that all these people are becoming naturalized – that’s more of a civic responsibility on their part. But that in-migration is so strong, and especially with people who already take the responsibility side of citizenship seriously enough to not be afraid of the scary rhetoric and are actually moved to become a part of the solution. In sports parlance, we’re having a strong draft this year.
Via Washington Monthly.

Income inequality slowing growth

QE4PRight. Water is wet. Mud, muddy. Dirt, still dirty. In other news, when people don’t have money to buy things, people that make things aren’t able to sell things. This model is fully scalable to the global economy:

Think of an economy as a large network of individuals and firms who make and use things, interact and exchange with one another. Any party can, in principle, transact with any other, buying and selling, the only constraint being the budget of the buyer. Economists have studied network models of this sort — called random exchange economies — to explore how normal trading activity might (or might not) make an economy approach equilibrium.

Now some European physicists have used such a model to examine a different question: How does a significant change in inequality affect the overall level of exchange? Their study makes use of some fairly abstruse mathematics coming from physics, developed precisely for messy network problems of this kind. What they find is troubling, although not all that surprising — rising inequality tends to undermine exchange.

The reason is quite simple. As inequality gets more pronounced, a larger fraction of the population faces more stringent budget constraints, and the spectrum of possible economic interactions open to them narrows. Fewer people have the wherewithal to engage in economic activity. This mathematical economy actually demonstrates a sharp transition, akin to the abrupt freezing of a liquid, as the level of inequality exceeds a certain threshold. Worryingly, the wealth distribution in the U.S. over the past few decades has been moving ever closer to this critical edge.

When will it sink in that you don’t have to be a dirty socialist or believe that everyone should have exactly the same income (and color VW in the garage) to understand that beyond some point, income inequality becomes poison for the entire system. Capitalism can’t work without broad participation, without a diversity of exchange, without the possibility that people may rise into the sphere of [at least] middle class consumption. The 1% idea is not just rhetoric; it’s unhealthy economically as well as politically.

The Oscars’ Lack of Diversity

oscar_0Not exactly a punchy title but… my own reaction to the monochromatic handing out of the little gold guys doesn’t feel so cheeky.

Is it the lack of good movies with stars of color? Decent roles for any other than white actors? The more questions you attempt to formulate, the more perverse this choosy reality seems. I will agree that it is positive that consensus seems to be congealing around the fact that something is wrong with this picture these pictures. But still, why is it that in 2016 only white actors are being recognized for their efforts in mass-marketed motion pictures? Even writing that sounds intentional and stupid.

Are we putting too much on the Academy?

“We absolutely are. This is not really about the Academy. The Academy is a reflection and a symptom of a very deep problem in Hollywood and, I would say, in American popular culture generally. I am fortunate enough to do a lot of my work in Los Angeles. I go to many meetings at studios in L.A. and you see, by and large the decision makers at the top of departments and organizations are almost uniformly white and largely male as well. The demographics are not the only story. The key there is not just the color of people sitting behind important desks, it’s the thought process. It’s what are deemed important stories. It’s what are deemed merely entertaining stories. I think when ‘Straight Outta Compton’ was green-lit and produced, people saw it only as an entertaining movie, not as an important movie because it was only about a hip-hop group. As opposed to seeing it as telling a story about a defining chapter in recent American history, which it actually does. It’s not just about hip-hop, which is important in and of itself, but it’s about the Rodney King riots, racial conflict and police brutality and all of these things make it important. Same with ‘Creed’.”

SMH, as the kids say (walking out of the theatre).

Grey Lady Blushes, Again

pointsourcepollutionThis will not get enough attention, but the source pollution problem at the New York Times, as Cholly Pierce so precisely put it, is a devious issue of national proportions:

As is now obvious, somebody fed the paper bad information on San Bernardino murderess Tashfeen Malik’s social media habits. It was said that she was posting jihadist screeds on Facebook. The Times hyped the scoop by stating pretty clearly that the government—and the administration running it—slipped up. It was the inspiration for endless bloviating about how “political correctness is killing people” at Tuesday night’s Republican debate. Then comes FBI director James Comey to say that, no, there were no public Facebook posts that the government missed because there weren’t any at all.

More than a few people have noted that two of the three reporters who were fed this story also had their bylines on the notorious (and thoroughly debunked) piece about how the FBI had launched a “criminal inquiry” into Hillary Rodham Clinton’s alleged mishandling of classified materials in her e-mails.

Of the Clinton emails non-story, she wasn’t a target, it wasn’t a criminal referral and the emails weren’t classified. Other than that, great story! And the thing is, even pointing out this makes one sound like an HRC apologist, but nevermind.

The broader issue is, this is the problem if we’re only going to allow ourselves one national paper. The purchase of the major Las Vegas daily by its hometown casino magnate-cum-Republican kingmaker is further symptomatic of this self-replicating double-bind. The news as business, scandal as profit generator, reporters trained in the finer arts of the same and quaint rules of journalism secure under glass at the few J-schools left all equal an untenable republic. Remember: No Checks = No Balances.


Old Times There

Is New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta a microcosm of environmental catastrophe? If you are paid per word, it may be more remunerative to try to describe why it isn’t:

NASA_neworleansExtensive studies done after Katrina verified what lifelong residents of southeastern Louisiana already knew: Unless the rapidly disappearing wetlands are made healthy again, restoring the natural defense, New Orleans will soon lay naked against the sea (see satellite image, below).

So, how does one reengineer the entire Mississippi River delta—one of the largest in the world—on which New Orleans lies?

Three international engineering and design teams have reached a startling answer: leave the mouth of the Mississippi River to die. Let the badly failing wetlands there completely wither away, becoming open water, so that the upper parts of the delta closer to the city can be saved. The teams, winners of the Changing Course Design Competition, revealed their detailed plans on August 20. Graphics from each plan are below.

Scientists worldwide agree that the delta’s wetlands disintegrated because we humans built long levees—high, continuous ridges of earth covered by grass or rocks—along the entire length of the lower Mississippi River. The leveed river rims the southern boundary of New Orleans and continues another 40 serpentine miles until it reaches the gulf. The levees, erected almost exclusively by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, prevented regular floods from harming farms, industries and towns along the river’s course. However those floods also would have supplied the brackish marshes with massive quantities of silt and freshwater, which are necessary for their survival.

Good grief. Emphasis mine because they mean that so literally, when we throw around all kind of colorful euphemisms to describe and debate I guess after a while we return to original meanings again. What the miles of levees have wrought, let now engineering decisions and new diversion structures put asunder. Or let the delta die. May 1,000 new songs be written, though immaculate recordings and an army of busking crooners still won’t dull the pain of the [algal] bloom.

Via LGM.