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The Marquis de Sade’s Executive MBA

Kurt Newman   October 21, 2014
The Deadline, by Tom DeMarco

The Deadline: A Novel of Project Management, Tom DeMarco’s 1997 novel, is not a good book. But it is, in its way, a miraculous object: it is, apparently, the first amalgamation of two of our modern world’s most powerful textual forms—the novel and the airport bookstore management tract. It seems like it shouldn’t exist, save perhaps as limp Marxist parody, or an errant data point on one of Franco Moretti’s maps and graphs of world literary history.

A bad book from 1997: why bother? The only justification, really, would be that DeMarco’s text illuminated something essential about contemporary capitalism that would otherwise remain hidden. And it does. The Deadline: A Novel of Project Management shines a light on our economic order’s sadomasochistic core.

We are familiar, perhaps over-familiar, with sadomasochistic fiction such as American Psycho, Fight Club, and 24. But what distinguishes The Deadline: A Novel of Project Management is its illumination of the role of sadist and masochistic fantasies—not in the psychopathologies of day traders, not in the hollow rituals of postmodern consumption and therapy, and not in the torture chambers of late-capitalist militarism—but in the world of industrial relations. DeMarco takes as his topic the exotic kink that permeates the halls of Harvard Business School.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   October 21, 2014
Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões

• Rich idiots are bathing in wine and sand, and paying extra for fancy ice. (Thanks to Ben Walsh for that sand one.)

• From this New Yorker piece about Janet Yellen’s recent speech we learn that “In 1989, the bottom half of the distribution owned just three per cent of all wealth. By 2013, that figure had fallen to one per cent.” Since 1989, the average net worth of American families in the bottom fifty percent has fallen from $22,000 to $11,000. (Via Nicholas Thompson.)

• Economists provide more proof that Thomas Piketty is right about capital returns growing faster than the rest of the economy.

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Happy Birthday, Jean-Arthur Rimbaud

Lauren Kirchner   October 20, 2014
Rimbaud, photographed by Etienne Carjat in 1872. / Photo in the public domain, via Photographie conservée à la Bnf.

The words and work of Jean-Arthur Rimbaud, French poet and libertine, have been dear to The Baffler since the very start. The introduction to our inaugural issue, way back in the hazy days of 1988, name-checked Monsieur Rimbaud as an example of the bold voices that were missing from that era’s “ever-slicker periodicals.” The founding editors, Thomas Frank and Keith White, wrote:

American literature has lately succumbed to a variety of alarming maladies. Fiction has been captured by the professional innovationists of college writing workshops, who assure the marketability of their products (and, hence, the expansion of their reputation) by regularly announcing “the newest thing.” […]

[M]alaise has wreaked its greatest destruction on poetry. The all-too-human angst expressed by such spirits as Rimbaud and Plath seems alien to today’s poets of theory and inscrutable word games. Theory and facile avant-gardism have rendered impotent civilization’s most expressive form: its practitioners strive to maximize esotericity and churn out scarcely-comprehensible “gibberish.”

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   October 20, 2014
The answer was there all along. / Photo by slgckgc.

• A Fox News reporter, interviewing State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf on Friday about the global Ebola crisis, very earnestly asked why the government has not yet considered launching an “ice bucket challenge” to combat the disease.

• Today in Billionaires: A reader responds to the Los Angeles Times piece about “Tom Steyer’s climate change crusade,” writing in a letter to the editor that, “I don’t think we’ll solve this crisis via a billionaire-vs.-billionaire grudge match.”

• Today in Bespoke, from The Baffler’s new favorite website, Pursuitist: “Designers Pamela Love and Lulu Frost have created bespoke mailboxes for Veuve Clicquot.” Yes, mailboxes. According to the company’s press release, “Clicquot Mail is a chic gift offering for Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label that is fashioned in the shape of a modern day mailbox to celebrate Veuve Clicquot’s rich heritage of correspondence.”

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Indignation Nation

Robert Appelbaum   October 17, 2014
Photo by Rob Boudon

One of the great pleasures in life is indignation. It’s right up there with anger, love, and fear.

Technically speaking, indignation is one of the “reflective” or “cognitive” emotions. When something big, metallic, and fast hurls toward you down the road, you feel fear without thinking. This is a good thing, because the fear makes you get out of the way. When someone cuts in front of you in the line to get your passport stamped, you feel anger without thinking—which may or may not be a good thing, if it causes you to say or do something you might regret.

But to be indignant, you have to think first. Some bastard has done or said some deplorable thing. I judge that it is wrong, unjust, and repellent. But I don’t just judge it as wrong; I also feel it. And so I get indignant.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   October 17, 2014
A man in his Nantucket Reds who may or may not be named Rex. / Photo by Andrew Malone

• The nonpartisan group Crowdpac has compiled the most common first names of conservative and liberal political donors, with interesting results. As Katherine Miller of BuzzFeed puts it, “The liberal names generally sound like a group of women in their late 20s; the conservative names sound like the members of a large bluegrass band from the 1930s.” While the names on the liberal list are of the “Kate” and “Allison” variety, here is the complete list of the top twenty names in the conservative list: Doyle, Billy, Eldon, Buddy, Lamar, Vern, Homer, Royce, Rusty, Tommy, Rex, Virgil, Boyd, Jimmy, Dewey, Orville, Grady, Bud, Bobby, and Dudley.

• Laura Poitras talks to Wired about the encryption tools that made her new documentary of Edward Snowden, Citizenfour, possible. Also in encryption news, F.B.I. director James Comey said yesterday that new cellphone encryption technology being offered by Google and Apple will make us all less safe.

• Vitamin and natural supplement sellers have been caught trying to market cinnamon and Vitamin C as natural Ebola cures. (Via Mother Jones and Julia Lurie.)

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The Jobs vs. the Environment Myth Lives On

Scott Beauchamp   October 16, 2014
Photo by Chrishna

Earlier this month, MSNBC host Chris Hayes participated in a bit of sparring with Cecil Roberts of the United Mine Workers of America. Placing himself firmly in the “anything but country music” camp of post-Carter American liberalism, Hayes brashly proclaimed, “in fifty years, no one should have a job mining coal in the world.”

Hayes might have meant that life would be better for everyone single one of the inhabitants of our devastated planet if we used renewables to fuel our tragically exploitative economic system. Instead, he came off as more smug than compassionate. Roberts had an equally hard-headed response: “You know and I know that’s not going to happen. Let’s talk about reality. Do you really believe that in your lifetime, you’re a young man, that you’re going to see the day that China stops using coal or even cuts back on using?”

The encounter, a showdown between the Park Slope ensconced journo-nerd Hayes, and Roberts, a spokesman for the miners whose labor extracts the raw materials that power the televisions and computers on which people watch MSNBC, exemplifies a rift on the Left that we thought had become passé to the point of cliché: having to choose between jobs and the environment. Apparently, there’s still work to be done.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   October 16, 2014
An altered Airbnb ad on a NYC subway platform, by Poster Boy

• New York’s attorney general is releasing a report today declaring that nearly three-quarters of all Airbnb listings in the city are illegal. “Commercial operators, not hard-luck residents, supply more than a third of the units and generate more than a third of the revenue,” reports the New York Times. “At least a handful of landlords are running what amount to illegal hostels.” This makes the ad campaign that the company has been pushing these days in New York seem especially ironic: “Airbnb helps the majority of NYC hosts stay in their homes.”

• Speaking of housing, here’s a thorough look at how racist housing policies, not just cultural racism, primed Ferguson for this summer’s confrontations, by Richard Rothstein in The American Prospect.

• “A Pennsylvania man says he assaulted his dentist with a tire iron because he couldn’t afford dental treatment and knew he’d get it in prison” reports the Erie Times-News. (Via June Thomas.)

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