Archive for the ‘LRB’ tag
I enjoyed Daniel Soar’s review of the Snowden affair from a half-year’s distance. One imagines the upcoming wave of books may surface more such piece’s, but this is the one I read. I’d not known this detail:
Greenwald said that Snowden had planned to put up a manifesto on the web, calling for an end to the surveillance state, but, Greenwald thought, he came across as a bit ranty and Unabomberish. So he persuaded him not to publish. Snowden’s best strategy was to speak in his own voice to camera: he was his own biggest asset. Here was a man – normal-looking, nice-looking, young – who had given up his $200,000 salary as an NSA contractor and his home in Hawaii (‘paradise’, Snowden called it) in order to let the world know what his government had been doing.
I learned a lot I didn’t expect from this short essay about the issue of Malta trying to sell citizenship to itself, and thus the EU citizenship to anyone who can pay:
New legislation, Muscat and his advisers said, would allow carefully screened foreigners to obtain fast-tracked, no-strings-attached Maltese citizenship in exchange for an investment of 650,000 euros. The parliament in Valletta was due to approve the plan once a few details had been ironed out. In the meantime, interested parties should speak to Henley & Partners, the firm that had organised the conference and would be administering the passport programme.
Pankaj Mishra’s article is opinionated, but also a great primer on the recent history and current outlook for the largest and least-talked-about (at least in my little American experience) countries in the world.
There is talk once more of a ‘rising’ Asian economy (the Boston Consulting Group predicts that more than half the country’s 242 million people will qualify as middle class by 2020), though recent economic setbacks suggest, as with similar predictions about India, that this may prove to be fantasy. Wealth has brought disconcerting changes: large parts of Sumatra, ravaged by slash-and-burn investors, resemble a lunar landscape, and smoke from land-clearing fires started by palm-oil prospectors extends as far as the cities of Malaysia and Thailand, where doctors warn people with respiratory diseases to wear masks.
I didn’t expect to, but I actually found something interesting about Daniel Soar’s peeking under the corners of the NSA. Looking more closely than any one else I’ve seen, Soar reveals some unexpected (though understandably quite limited) details about how the NSA actually works:
One of the things these slides are most revealing of is the marketplace within the NSA. At your desk in S2C41, as you sit down to find the best way to home in on dodgy goings-on by senior Mexicans, you have a whole menu of sexy tools to choose from.
Peter Pomerantsev’s profile of Russia’s current politics and public culture is great. The details of the biggest Russian biker gang are fascinating. A subculture triply foreign to me: I’ve never had first-hand experience of syncretic mystical religions, Russia, or bike gangs. And the gang’s on Putin’s payroll:
There are five thousand of them in Russia, five thousand Beowulf-like bearded men in leathers riding Harleys. It’s Weitz who has done most to turn them from outlaws into religious patriots. For the past few years, Vladimir Putin has posed for photo-ops with them, dressed in leathers and riding a tri-bike (he can’t quite handle a two-wheeler). They defended the ‘honour of the church’ after the Pussy Riot affair, roaring in a cavalcade through Moscow bearing golden icons of Mary the Mother of Christ on the front of their Harleys. The Kremlin gives them several hundred million rubles a year and they work to inspire loyalty across the country with concerts and bike shows that fuse flying Yamahas, Cirque du Soleil-style trapeze acts, Spielberg-scale battle re-enactments, religious icons, holy ecstasies, speeches from Stalin and dancing girls (there are booths for go-go girls next to the great crosses).
The easiest way I found to get reasonable pictures of the gang was this tag archive on a blog.
Having last published an old piece I about reading him, I think this piece about what, if anything, we’re supposed to understand all the protests that have gone on around the world in the last few years is an obvious follow-on. A passage that really caught my eye:
The art of politics lies in making particular demands which, while thoroughly realistic, strike at the core of hegemonic ideology and imply much more radical change. Such demands, while feasible and legitimate, are de facto impossible. Obama’s proposal for universal healthcare was such a case, which is why reactions to it were so violent.
Whether or not you know or care who Boris Johnson is, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in Jonathan Coe’s essay about the role that his trademark self-depricating personality has played in making him a political winner. Coe starts with a capable history of of television satire and Britain and comes to a bit of a jarring point:
If anti-establishment comedy allows the public to ‘disclaim with laughter’ any responsibility for injustice, the sticking point is not really satire itself (for satire can take the gravest of forms) but laughter (or ‘sniggering’, to use Peter Cook’s term) in the face of political problems.
As someone who’s never experienced it, I enjoyed Michael Friedman’s undramatic retelling of what it was like to get arrested in New York City for an old, unpaid speeding ticket.
The guards are clearly angry that the police have brought so many people to the Tombs on a Sunday, the police are angry that we aren’t being processed quickly enough for them to bring in more prisoners and make their quotas, and the public defenders seem furious at the whole thing. No one explains what is happening to the prisoners. It is unclear how long any of this will take.
I enjoy occasional dips into the field of Marxist cultural analysis, but I know it’s not for everyone. If you like it too, or are just interested to try some, this piece by Slavoj Žižek highlights many of the best things that those theories can contribute to out modern understanding of the world. A sample:
If the old capitalism ideally involved an entrepreneur who invested (his own or borrowed) money into production that he organised and ran and then reaped the profit, a new ideal type is emerging today: no longer the entrepreneur who owns his company, but the expert manager (or a managerial board presided over by a CEO) who runs a company owned by banks (also run by managers who don’t own the bank) or dispersed investors. In this new ideal type of capitalism, the old bourgeoisie, rendered non-functional, is refunctionalised as salaried management: the new bourgeoisie gets wages, and even if they own part of their company, they earn stocks as part of their remuneration for their work (‘bonuses’ for their ‘success’).
(via The Browser)
Egypt’s changed a lot this year, but as Adam Shatz’s reporting makes clear, not as much as most optimists hoped it would.
The young people who launched the revolution are still protesting, but they have been outflanked by the hard men, the soldiers and Islamist politicians now calling the shots. The Mubarak regime was replaced by a military junta, the 20-member Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), headed by Field Marshal Muhammed Hussein Tantawi.The Scaf has all but declared war on Tahrir, assailing protesters calling for civilian rule as ‘enemies’ of the revolution which it perversely claims to embody.
I link to this in part because it so accurately supports a point I made recently: revolutions don’t really work.