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More Bodies for “Never Forget”

Jacob Silverman   April 01, 2015
The Empty Sky memorial in New Jersey. /

Watching the NCAA tournament Friday night at a bar in New York’s West Village, I found myself staring at an American flag pinned to the wall. The World Trade Center, lately rebuilt, loomed about one-and-a-half miles away, its well-lit spire tumescently patriotic at 1,776 feet tall. The flag in the bar was covered in small text—the names of everyone killed in the 9/11 attacks, a plaque noted, adding the obligatory mantra that we shall never forget. On the opposite wall hung a sign advertising one of the bar’s specials: the Bin Laden, or two shots of (American) whiskey and a splash of water.

On the scale of national jingoism, none of this rates very highly. It hardly approaches the fervor of ten years ago, when this form of the American religion was practiced at every gas station and street corner. But there was a painful, tired familiarity about it, a curious sense that no matter what changes in the rest of the world, this Never Forget-ism, now one of our country’s folk beliefs, will always be in vogue. In the long hangover of the global war on terror, we are forever returning to the hair of the dog, with the addict’s justification that this time, we’ll get it right; this time, we know what to do.

That flag, in other words, will be hanging on the bar’s wall for a long time to come. Whether it will be a cautionary artifact or merely a touristic emblem from an alien time is harder to say.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   April 01, 2015
We're waiting with bated breath to see what's next from Elon Musk. / Kārlis Dambrāns

TechCrunch recently hosted a meetup in Dubai for would-be startup entrepreneurs in the hopes of “disrupting” the Middle East.

• Right in The Baffler’s own backyard, the Boston Redevelopment Authority is seeking to extend its “urban renewal authority” [read: eminent domain]. Though the mayor has promised not to take any property for the Olympic facilities themselves, the BRA has plenty of ideas about snapping up land to make the city vibrant enough to woo the International Olympic Committee with its bid for the 2024 Games.

• PayPal cofounder and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has announced the launch of a new product line, expanding the company’s reach beyond the automotive market. What do we have to expect from the web mogul-cum-space explorer’s new line? No one knows, but Musk isn’t concerned; you’ll buy it anyway.

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Coming-of-(Middle)-Age Tales

Sady Doyle   March 31, 2015
While We're Young / A24 Films

Ah, the comedy of coming of middle age. The sad, respectable adulthood of the formerly young and cool has been milked for laughs since at least The Big Chill (1983), acclaimed in its time for brilliantly documenting the Baby Boomers’ unwilling decline into middle-class stability, and now known to anyone under the age of thirty as “that movie where all the sad-sacks danced around in a kitchen.”

Successive generations—including your generation, dear reader, either sooner or later (heed the wise words of Grampa Simpson)—have eased into the genre like a fine rocking chair, using it to rest their aching bones. This week alone, we’re getting no less than two examples of the Coming-of-Middle-Age comedy: While We’re Young, a new movie by Noah Baumbach, and Younger, a new TV show by Sex and the City’s own Darren Star, adapted from the book by Pamela Redmond Satran.

Yet as the genre, like the unwitting adults it focuses on, has aged, it has become increasingly hackneyed.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   March 31, 2015
You are what you innovate? /  Eva Marley

• Dressing for Success: In a post on creative work attire that calls to mind our fashion-themed current issue, Amber Stott lets us in on how urban farmers and foodies can be just as innovative as Silicon Valley startup bros.

• Rahim Madhavji recounts the woes of the struggling startup mogul in the Observer, right down to having to give up the private jets of his boring old finance job. Get your Kleenex ready.

• Just when you didn’t think it could get worse in the world of print publishing, Cablevision is making a $1 bid for the beleaguered New York Daily News.

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Out of the Blue

John Summers   March 30, 2015
German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz's "normal face / socialchannel.it

Andreas Lubitz, the 27-year old German copilot who flew a jetliner into a mountain in the French Alps last week, seemed normal, according to preliminary reports of his character and personality. Sure, Lubitz had worries—his girlfriend was pregnant; he was having difficulty with his vision; he was taking antidepressants. But he gave no advance sign that these ordinary facts would lead him to commit mass murder. He was normal, until he was not. What happened to him? “Investigators and journalists continue to search for clues from every period and corner of his life,” sums up the New York Times. The mental autopsy offers the rest of us the reassuring illusion that, with enough hard evidence and dogged empirical analysis, we can apprehend the mind of the suicidal killer.

I noticed a throwaway detail amid the many and ongoing attempts to reconstruct Lubitz’s state of mind: His ex-girlfriend told a German newspaper that he suffered from nightmares. He would wake up screaming that his plane was going down. That anxiety in this form would disturb the sleep of a young pilot is hardly surprising, of course. But consider two more details. Lubitz crashed the plane in the same area of the Alps where he flew gliders as a teenager. And a voice recorder is said to capture him breathing steadily in the final moments. Given his psychosomatic problems, the symbolism of the location he chose, and his calm in the face of death, one wonders whether Lubitz felt he was carrying out a prophetic dream.

Such a proposition is virtually inadmissible within the framework of mental health drawn by the professional classes in Europe and the United States. In public life, we use dream language metaphorically, as in “Andreas Lubitz was the boy who grew up dreaming of flying and of one day becoming a pilot.” Less often pointed out, though, is that Western culture has largely abandoned the ancient science of dream interpretation, and what remains of dissenting thought has no truck with what Theodor Adorno called “the melancholy science” of alienation. Our failure of imagination is a telltale sign of our stagnation. The grand ambition of figures such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung—to translate the universal experience of dreaming into therapeutic self-understanding—has been replaced by the instrument-guided, precision explorations of neuroscience. That’s why we know so much more about the workings of a technologically sophisticated jetliner than about the mind of the normal person copiloting it.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   March 30, 2015
You're sure it wouldn't fit in your apartment? / LeAnn E. Crowe

Baffler founding editor Thomas Frank talked bank regulation on WBAI’s Julianna Forlano Show this weekend.

• Living in an area with high income inequality could be shortening your life, according to the New York Times.

• In yet another round of waxing philosophical on the spending habits of Millennials, the Washington Post reports that twenty- and thirty-somethings don’t want their parents’ discarded, oversized furniture. Is it because “Millennials are design-conscious, informed consumers,” or because they are “living a more transient life in cities. They are trying to find stable jobs and paying off loans.” Either way, the Post oh-so-astutely observes, those darned Millennials “don’t appear to be defined by their possessions, other than their latest-generation cellphones.”

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Taking a Cat Photo Approach to History

Dale Lately   March 27, 2015
If you want your photo to go viral, cats and hugs are both good bets. / Photo by Dizão Gonçalves

In the midst of chaos and tragedy of the 2014 Ferguson riots, a white cop embraced a black youth. It was a moment of harmony within a storm of racial conflict. It was a beautiful photograph. No wonder we made it the defining image of the riots by sharing it 400,000 times on Facebook.

But wait—the photo wasn’t quite the spontaneous moment of race-reconciliation it purported to be. Twelve-year-old Devonte Hart had been holding a sign offering “free hugs” in Portland, Oregon; police sergeant Bret Barnum got talking to him and asked for one. As did many other people that day. The image tells us nothing about the riots half a country away, let alone the tensions and conflicts motivating them. So why did that particular photo become “iconic”?

To answer that, we have to acknowledge that something unprecedented is happening to the news process. A third of adults in the U.S. get their news from Facebook, which is fast becoming the most powerful delivery platform on the planet (not to mention, soon, a host for news content itself). This transforms not only the distribution of information but its redistribution—not simply the way the news is shaped in partisan interests, but how we re-shape to suit our own agendas (or to appease our consciences). A photo that offers a feel-good view of race is exactly what America wants to click on. It’s not a record of events. It’s a record of how we want to remember events.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   March 27, 2015
Photo by Tony Fischer

• The investigator becomes the investigated: NYU professor and human rights activist Andrew Ross, who wrote in The Baffler about his travels and travails fighting for migrant worker rights in the United Arab Emirates, is now apparently the target of a “murky inquiry” by a private investigator who will not say who hired her. Ariel Kaminer, a reporter who has also written about labor conditions at NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus in the past, is also being targeted. “I am amazed that anyone would waste time investigating a reporter instead of trying to help these workers,” Kaminer told the New York Times.

• George Will trolls in the Washington Post with an op-ed entitled “How income inequality benefits everybody,” because innovative and creative billionaires, or something.

• Today in Bespoke: Best not to speak too soon, but we may have located an entirely appropriate, non-annoying use of the term—custom-made tools for the process of slowly decommission a nuclear reactor (“bespoke equipment to lift off the top plate of the Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR)…in order to remove trapped fuel elements”). Congratulations, everyone. We did it.

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