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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   February 11, 2016
The much-mocked standoff between a hungry Oregon militia and the U.S. government has come to an end. / Chris Piascik

• “Holy Shit!” writes Gizmodo‘s Maddie Stone, on the discovery of the gravitational waves originally posited by Einstein in his 1916 general theory of relativity, which ends “a century-long hunt” for the spacetime ripples that scientists hope will soon allow us to explore the mysteries of black holes and neutron stars.

• And then there were none: Three of the remaining armed occupants of an Oregon wildlife refuge surrendered to authorities this afternoon, leaving a lone holdout in the government-owned building. The final crusader, David Fry, surrendered soon after. The standoff, originally met with comic disbelief as the ill-prepared “protestors” released a lengthy list of snack requests, ultimately resulted in the death of one militia member, killed by the Oregon state police.

• Need some advice? The Baffler is pleased to introduce our newest web column, Amber Frost’s “Your Sorry Ass.”

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Letting the Draft In

Amber A’Lee Frost   February 11, 2016
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Our world is riddled with fundamental conundrums governing adult conduct in our dubiously polite society. If you’re a megalomaniacal plutocrat seeking still more power, you probably need to know if it’s acceptable to call a professional rival a “pussy” while advocating a regime of unaccountable torture. Or if you’re a “Berniebro” seeking to hound a Hillary superdelegate into submission, are you permitted to use a Tinder account with a female pseudonym?

Fortunately, Amber A’Lee Frost has the answer to these, and countless other quandaries of our postmodern world, in her Baffler–branded advice column, “Your Sorry Ass.” Read and learn, you wayward philistines!

Dear Your Sorry Ass, 

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Hillary’s Handlers: We Need Some Muscle Here

Chris Lehmann   February 10, 2016
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What is it that makes so much of our national politics reporting so grindingly, predictably awful? We’re in an election cycle that—for all its many shortcomings—features a genuine clash of ideas and core philosophies of government. How is it that a wide and fast-multiplying agora of press outlets can so consistently treat it as a glorified Game of Thrones recap? Who’s up and who’s down? Who’s going negative and who’s doubling down? Who won the week? Who called who a pussy, and a liar? Who the fuck cares?

Thanks to the FOIA hounds at Gawker, we now have a partial, if profoundly demoralizing, answer to this puzzle. In the fierce jockeying for the meaningless distinction of a “scoop,” political reporters routinely barter away editorial judgment for the holy grail of access.

The key offender in this case is former Atlantic politics hand Marc Ambinder, but really, it could have been any among the hundreds of reporters tasked with mass-producing the appearance of novelty and insight for a politics readership. Ambinder’s sin, documented in nauseating detail from the trove of emails that Gawker FOIA’ed from the account of Hillary Clinton fixer Philippe Reines, was to allow Reines to dictate coverage of a speech that then Secretary of State Clinton was delivering before the Council on Foreign Relations, to showcase her expert foreign-policy chops. What Ambinder got in return for this pledge, quite pathetically, was an early release of the speech to trumpet across the digital media sphere. Reines, in his winning power-schmoozing style, set down three conditions for the deal:

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   February 10, 2016
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• Today in politics: the New Hampshire presidential primary votes are in, and Trump—the winner on the Republican side—is showing no sign of going away quickly or quietly. On the bright side, the night wasn’t only aggravating balderdash—Bernie Sanders made history by becoming the first Jewish American, not to mention non-Christian candidate, to win a state in a presidential primary. That makes Clinton’s purported next move—attacking Sanders on Israel—even odder. Plus, it’s unlikely Sanders’s biggest, most enthusiastic demographic—millennials—would put much stock in those attacks. After all, as Baffler founding editor Thomas Frank told Radio Open Source, “[young people] are screwed, and they know it. And they’re reaching out to someone who promises to unscrew them.”

• Meanwhile, over at The Nation, Michelle Alexander—author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness—takes on Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill, the effect it’s had on black Americans, and why Bill’s policy wonk confidant, Hillary, doesn’t deserve black votes. Part of that crime bill, as Natasha Vargas-Cooper noted in Bad Behavior last week, included the myth of the superpredator, which still bedevils us today. 

• Would anyone be talking about water in Flint if it weren’t for Black Lives Matter?

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   February 09, 2016
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• Today in millennials v. owls (we pick up with the owls telling the millennials off for supporting Sanders):

Despite our frank rejection of establishment politics, establishment media waste no time swooping in to lecture us about our cognitive defects like so many pedantic barn owls . . . ‘Stay sane, America!’ hoots David Brooks for the Times . . . But David Brooks is just one gassy bird in the barn . . . what did the great tawny-bellied Paul Krugman have to say to the nation’s waywardly progressive? ‘Sorry,’ he pecked in his Times column. ‘There’s nothing noble about seeing your values defeated because you preferred happy dreams to hard thinking about means and ends.’ Pausing to cough up a mouse carcass, he chittered on: ‘Don’t let idealism veer into destructive self-indulgence.’

• Bottled air surpasses “BLK water” as the year’s snake-oiliest product. Just watch this be-capped charlatan, wielding what looks like a butterfly net in a windy British field (perfect weather for air-harvesting!) to market small jars of nothingness (sorry, “the Louis Vuitton or Gucci” of air) to people living in smoggy cities like Beijing . . . and blink. 

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   February 08, 2016
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• Despite the boom in so-called “women’s conferences”—take “The Women in Policing Conference (‘Hear Them Roar!’),” the “Inc. Women’s Summit (‘Be Inspired, Be Empowered, Get Equipped’),” and the “S.H.E. Summit (‘the world’s most accessible women’s empowerment conference’)”—they don’t seem to correlate with the advancement of women,” comments Anne-Marie Slaughter. Here’s Susan Faludi comparing such Lean In feminism with the collective efforts of the “mill girls” in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1834, in her salvo from The Baffler issue 23.

• Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin has released “My Little Book of Tweets,” a compendium of his digital musings including, prominently, those about bathing: “You might be inclined to read his commitment to keeping the public briefed on his ablutions as a haphazardly staged psychodrama of guilt and purification,” writes the New Yorker, darkly.

• Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem are making last-ditch, guilt-tripping, gaffe-ridden attempts to rally up support for Hillary Clinton, so why not revisit Amber A’Lee Frost’s “My Kind of Misogyny: I Don’t Care If They Call a Warhawk ‘Cankles.’”

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Flu in the Face

A. S. Hamrah   February 04, 2016
Invasion of the Killer Bees. / M&R Glasgow

Anyone who spends time in enclosed public spaces is barraged with images from television news, most often broadcast from the default network, CNN. We glimpse these images, with the sound down, for only seconds at a time as they bounce, germ-like, from corner to corner, chasing us on our way. Fleeting news stories, green-screened behind us as we hustle from place to place, barely register as they seep into our subconscious.

Why are all these TV screens still lurking and hanging around now that our gaze is buried in our phones? They are there to make sure we see advertising right after we find out about the latest disaster that just happened—an explosion, a leak, a crash, then Geico, it’s what you do (the most pulverizing, untrue slogan since America runs on Dunkin’). Between these commercials that destroy meaning, news networks glue one news story to another, attaching them together in symptomatic montages that reveal new meanings. 

In the days leading up to the Iowa caucus, two kinds of hysterical coverage merged into one. The Zika virus, or the news media’s obsession with it, infected the 24-hour political speculation, creating a monster subtext to the anti-immigration rhetoric of the primaries. Once again, a virus linked to American fears of foreign contagion whipped the news media into a spasm of disease-based Othering, this time just as the 2016 presidential race officially began.

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Field of Dreams

Chris Lehmann   February 03, 2016
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 Because the Iowa caucuses are a perversely puny and undemocratic spectacle, heroic exertions are required to endow them with long-term narrative meaning. Worry not, though: Our media-political complex exists largely to billow the semblance of significance into the decaying husk of our public life, and Monday’s surreal and unhinged caucus balloting was certainly no exception.

Begin with the obvious trends that have upset the orderly progression of candidates through the presidential turnstiles. Primary voters in both major parties are in the throes of populist rebellion. A neoliberal leadership class on the Democratic side collects both its funding and its major policy initiatives via a system of glorified graft; the debt-ridden, not-yet-jaded working-class and youth vote on the left rises up in revolt to erase the 60-point lead formerly held by that class’s chosen administrator. Yet, sure enough, the consensus story is that Hillary Clinton has snagged an important victory from Monday’s caucus vote, and will roll on confidently to her eventual anointment as the savior of the Democrats.

Similarly, Republicans have spent the last six months in thrall to a mediagenic xenophobic billionaire, largely on the grounds that his candidacy permits them to say things that are unsayable in polite (or—horrors—politically correct) society. The ugliness of this license shouldn’t conceal that the inchoate Trump insurgency is also reacting to real economic marginalization—a decline in socio-political standing that easily gets translated into immigrant-bashing, self-dramatizing culture-war scripts and worse. Nevertheless, when Trump came up short in Iowa, this, too, was hailed as a long-overdue moment of vindication for the GOP’s own grown-up class of campaign fixers.

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