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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   October 24, 2014
Forget the piggy bank, kid, it's not worth it. / Photo by

• This is great. Pocket Money Loans, Payday Loans for Kids! From the site’s FAQ: “Q: What does APR mean? / A: It stands for Annual Percentage Rate and it’s really confusing and boring. / Q: I’m worried that getting a pocket money loan will put me in debt and I won’t be able to pay it back. A: What are you, a scaredy cat?” (Via Darren Cullen.)

• The Paris Review looks back at the 1978 newspaper strike, which shut down all three major New York papers for nearly three months, and which also inspired a beautiful and very thorough spoof by George Plimpton and his friends called Not the New York Times. (Via Jaime Fuller.)

• Wait but this one is real: an illustrated, “Detailed Guide” on WikiHow called “How to Be Different.”


“So, What Else Do You Do?”

Sarah Burnside   October 23, 2014
Photo by Ulyana Gazdick

In a recent piece on “the work fetish,” German journalist Patrick Spaet wrote that “Probably no other sentence comes up at a party as often as: ‘So, what do you do?’” Spaet noted that this question contains within it the seeds of another, unspoken inquiry: “Are you useful?” He observed that work “determines our social status: tell me what your job is–and I’ll tell you who you are.”

This inevitable question is indeed irksome, as is the underlying notion that paid work defines our worth. But the question isn’t limited to how we pay the rent. Our hobbies (those things that well-rounded adults are meant to have on their CVs) offer competing identities as well. I’m not referring to casual pastimes like watching television, drinking beer, or writing morose thinkpieces, but to the kinds of obsessive hobbies that keep us fully occupied–and lord knows, it’s important to be busy these days. No longer are we doomed to be tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor; instead, we can be CrossFitter, foodie, swing dancer, rollerderby player. It’s not just what we do for a living that defines us, but what we do for fun in our constrained leisure time. A character in the 2000 movie High Fidelity, based on the Nick Hornby novel, said that “what really matters is what you like, not what you are like.” Increasingly, and with the help of our social media posturing, the former blurs into the latter.

I’m trying to tread carefully here; in a world that has given us the phrase “brunch-industrial complex,” it’s clear that tastes and preferences are apt to be over-analyzed. Further, I don’t want to overstate the novelty of pastimes-as-identity, as subcultures have been part of western societies for many years, and hobbies are nothing new either. In his 1941 essay “The Lion and the Unicorn,” George Orwell referred briefly to “the addiction to hobbies and spare-time occupations, the privateness of English life.” For Orwell, England was “a nation of flower-lovers, but also a nation of stamp-collectors, pigeon-fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon-snippers, darts-players, crossword-puzzle fans.”


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   October 23, 2014
Nonononononono / Photo by tup wanders

• Chapman University has conducted a nationwide poll about what Americans fear most. The fears they ranked include hurricanes, identity theft on the Internet, clowns, child abduction, and public speaking, among many others. Fun fact: Americans are more afraid of Obamacare than they are of toxic waste contaminating their drinking water. Another one: among all the factors the researchers evaluated as predictors of a person’s high levels of fear, one of the surest predictors was a high frequency of television watching.

• The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that the upcoming mid-term elections will cost $4 billion, “by far the most expensive ever. The candidates and parties alone will combine to spend about $2.7 billion, while outside groups will likely spend close to $900 million on their own.” (Via Politico Playbook.)

• Okay, okay, so we can’t have flying cars, or even self-driving cars; not yet, anyway. But honestly, we haven’t even figured out a proper hoverboard yet? Where are this country’s priorities?


How to Ease the Burden of the 1 Percent

Katya G. Cohen   October 22, 2014
The view from a tourbus / Photo by NERSI

Departures, a magazine that helps the 1 percent spend their money creatively, is a great read. It comes free with your American Express platinum card. If you don’t have an American Express platinum card, there’s a good chance you’ll find this magazine in a bathroom of your rich friend, right by the toilet seat. Open to any random page, and the pretentious bullshit will blow your mind.

“Are you still waking up to a traditional alarm clock and showering with ordinary municipal water?” begins one article. “That’s so old school.” You are in luck: from this article you will learn that showers infused with vitamin C, lighting that optimizes your circadian rhythms, and task-specific aromatherapy, will soon be available—perfectly suited to tend the occupational injuries one may incur by sitting in front of a Bloomberg terminal all day.

Departures is missing the bigger picture. The burden of the 1 percent is the lack of any real adventure in their lives. If you belong to that “vitamin shower” market niche, but have also read Hemingway in your youth, you will, at some point, sense that something is not quite right. You will sense a dissonance. As a former member of the 1 percent myself, I know the feeling.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   October 22, 2014
Photo by Sam Howzit

• Yesterday brought two intriguing developments in the future availability of indigent legal defense. From Capital came the news that “New York State has settled a lawsuit with the New York Civil Liberties Union, and agreed to ensure new standards for legal representation of indigent defendants in five upstate counties.” From the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers came the news that it “has been selected by Koch Industries, Inc. to receive a major grant in support of NACDL’s efforts to address the nation’s profound indigent defense crisis.” Hm.

• Uber drivers in Santa Monica are planning a walkout today, to protest “an unfair and arbitrary deactivation and firing process” and other grievances, reports Fast Company. In this case, “walkout” means that the drivers will turn off their apps for several hours. (Via Anjali Mullany.)

• The SEIU has employed a deadpan parody ad in its campaign to shame the non-union real estate developer AvalonBay, which is building a new high-rise in Manhattan and marketing it to the youngs of New York. The video is actually funny, and it’s only a very slight exaggeration of the ridiculous real thing. “One-bedroom apartments start at just eleven iPads per month!”


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.


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.


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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