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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   May 02, 2016
Daniel Aaron, founder of the Library of America, has died. / Chris Drumm

• The news that George Mason University has renamed its law school for recently-deceased racist homophobe Antonin Scalia may not come as a surprise to anyone following the school’s ideological agenda—but it’s as good a reason as any to revisit Amber A’Lee Frost’s advice column on whether to pretend to respect a “human trash golem” while its corpse is still warm (no).

• Also in schoolwork: “It’s important that people get an education, of course,” says our founding editor Tom Frank, interviewed over at In These Times. “But the idea that this is what is holding them back is simply incorrect as a matter of fact. What’s holding them back is that they don’t have the power to demand higher wages.”

• The Baffler’s very own Hannah Gais, in Kiev’s Chernobyl Museum, questions the motivations of the disaster tourism industry, commenting that the place “feels and looks like an off-beat holy site. An iconostasis framed with barbed wire and radiation warning signs greets visitors as they walk up the stairs.”


The Schizophrenic and the California Brood Mare

Natasha Vargas-Cooper   April 29, 2016
Quinn Dombrowski

The flourishing free market of sperm, eggs, surrogates, uterine transplants, and embryos has outpaced functional regulation and ethical consideration. Consumers, donors, and clinics are exploiting an under-regulated marketplace to get what they want (namely, babies and money), and the results are gruesome.

Here’s one bizarre case: Melissa Cook is a forty-seven-year-old surrogate in California with four children of her own. She gave birth to triplets in February of this year (all boys, seven weeks premature), having entered into surrogacy with an out-of-state man who wanted a baby. The two had never met but with Cook, the man—a deaf postal worker who lives with his elderly parents, and is named in court documents only as C.M.—signed a 75-page contract created by C.M.’s lawyer. The sperm would come from him and the eggs from an anonymous donor. For her service as a surrogate, they had agreed, Cook was to be paid $27,000, with an additional $6,000 for multiples. C.M. would cover all of the medical expenses.

Cook underwent in-vitro fertilization, an extremely costly procedure. Due to the price-tag and the possibility that an embryo may not take, doctors often use two or three embryos hoping that at least one develops into a fetus. (This despite cases like that of Nadya Suleman, an unemployed mother of six who had twelve new embryos implanted in her by a physician. Seven took, with one splitting into twins. Since giving birth in 2009, Suleman’s become best known by her tabloid moniker: Octomom.)


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   April 27, 2016
In the name of science, or democracy, or whatever. A roundup of gross innovations. / Carmen

Politico alum Jim VandeHei’s recent WSJ column on third-party candidates, Mark Zuckerberg, and “Normal America” (presumably composed of folks Mr. VandeHei has never met or previously expressed much interest in) has left many in the media scratching their heads—including our own Chris Lehmann and David Rees. You’ll find as many turds in David’s “poop and farts”-themed take on the column as there are in VandeHei’s original text.

• An Italian neurosurgeon claims to be prepared to perform the first head transplant. (May we back up a moment and suggest Mr. VandeHei as a worthy candidate?) But as Corey Pein wrote in Baffler no. 30, such advances are often not all they’re cracked up to be, and the quacks behind them soon begin to prey on the desperate. Take Valery Spirodonov, the 31-year-old software programmer suffering from a muscle-wasting disease, soon to take part in the first attempted head transplant, or Kim Suozzi, the 23-year-old dying of brain cancer, who became the recipient of a dubious chance at a future as a frozen head.

• Even media critic Jeff Jarvis, who takes everything very seriously—especially himself—took to Medium to weigh in on the VandeHei column, sort of. More to the point, Jarvis was quick to point out that he was DEFINITELY NOT RESPONSIBLE for the VandeHei praise emanating from the parody Twitter account that bears his name, and that now has a byline in Esquire. Rather than weighing in on the (complete lack of) merits of the VandeHei column, Jarvis is intent on reminding readers of his (non)role in the melee. The possibility of his VERY IMPORTANT OPINIONS being misconstrued, the real Jarvis wrote, “was personally upsetting. My anxiety was pushing my heart back into afib for the first time in a few years.”


His Inanity Bubbleth Over

Chris Lehmann   April 27, 2016
The view from the bubble. /  Neil Williamson

We’re nearing the endgame of a tumultuous and anxiety-inducing primary season, and the pundits are feeling feisty. You can’t blame them, really. Campaign ’16 has been an unrelieved study in the terrible folly of confident campaign prognostication. Remember anointed frontrunner Jeb Bush? Scott Walker fever? How Ben Carson led the polls before anyone could honestly say they understood whatever it was he was saying?

Since then, the woebegone members of our pundit class have only seen their hard-won self-image as tough-minded arbiters of the politically plausible shrivel further in the face of the Trump insurgency on the right and the Sanders uprising on the left. (Neither one of which, of course, they saw coming a mile off.) Hence the desperate longing for a heroic rescue from some Great Man (and yes, in the fevered pundit subconscious, it is almost always a Man) lurking just offstage from the Guignol-in-progress. There was the on-again, off-again Michael Bloomberg bubble. There were the successive, doomed infatuations with such ludicrously ill-suited deus ex machinas as Mitt Romney and David Petraeus. There’s even the still-percolating fantasy that the House’s diehard Rand propagandist and P90X shredder Paul Ryan will tame the unholy populist spirits of the GOP at a brokered convention, and restore a modicum of sense and order to the political world. To quote the pet phrase of a certain Republican poll-leader: Sad.

But with the last Stop-Trump alliance faltering right out of the gate, the time has clearly come for disenchanted pundits to think big. So, right on cue, we have former Politico impresario Jim VandeHei in the op-ed section of the Wall Street Journal laying out the case for a third party movement to upend our political status quo. (VandeHei’s piece is technically behind the WSJ paywall, but you can access it in full by Googling it. Better yet, you can readily access Baffler columnist David Rees’s expert Mad Libs upgrade of the offering here.) Confessing that he’s only now emerging from the harrowing travail of “two decades in the Washington, D.C., bubble,” VandeHei has seen the light: “Normal America is right that Establishment America has grown fat, lazy, conventional, and deserving of radical disruption.”


Turd-Farty? Bring It On.

David Rees   April 27, 2016
Political Cartoons by David Rees

When I was a kid I was addicted to Mad Libs. I would fill in every blank with some variation of my two favorite words: “toilet” and “fart.” If the prompt asked for an adjective, I would write “toilety.” For adverbs, I found “fartily” fit the bill. I was young and full of ideas. If I’d known who Oscar Wilde was, I would have thought I was him.

Jim VandeHei’s Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for a tech-savvy, third-party candidate to run for president has only been online for a few days but it’s clearly destined to be a classic of the genre. A gelatinous mound of new-economy vocabulary and tried-and-tested-and-failed Silicon Valley fallacies, it employs all the right buzzwords to promote all the wrong ideas. It even has a few typos, perhaps to prove VandeHei’s populist bona fides.

I decided to give it the Mad Lib treatment (in both senses of the phrase), and thereby honor the tiny Oscar Wilde in every American second-grader’s heart.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   April 25, 2016
Joe Shlabotnik

• Thou shalt not decorate thy megachurch with a tacky water feature! So reads the epistle of Baffler senior editor Chris Lehmann to the Americans, or rather his new book The Money Cult, published by Melville House next month. American churches have always been tied up in capitalism, and now, according to an excerpt up on MHP’s site,“the link between the personal discipline exacted by one’s faith and the promised expansion of one’s bottom line is so casually reiterated in the evangelical world that it’s banal.”

• Today in slime: Charles Koch says he might support Hillary Clinton as long as she’s lying to voters, that is “we would have to believe her actions would be quite different than her rhetoric. Let me put it that way.”

• The most human Republican candidate is this guy.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   April 22, 2016
Which one of these babies enjoys free healthcare, cheap daycare, and parents with secure careers? / Mulan

• Snapchat is under fire for a “Bob Marley” filter designed to allow users to style themselves after the reggae great, blackface and all. Even through the 4/20 haze (yes, that’s why the company decided to memorialize Marley in the first place), users were quick to call bullshit on the filter. According to a statement released by Snapchat, notorious for its non-apologies,

“The lens we launched today was created in partnership with the Bob Marley Estate, and gives people a new way to share their appreciation for Bob Marley and his music. Millions of Snapchatters have enjoyed Bob Marley’s music, and we respect his life and achievements.”



Unexecuted Ideas of an Irish Republic

Sarah Jaffe   April 22, 2016

There is still no government in Ireland, more than nine weeks after the general election knocked down the ruling coalition that had imposed Troika-mandated austerity. This means that Enda Kenny, after losing the first vote that would have re-elected him Taoiseach (prime minister), was presiding over the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising as the head of a “caretaker” government, a diminished position, to say the least. It was somehow appropriate that the commemorations of the rebellion that introduced the idea of the Irish Republic were held in the midst of contemporary political battles; less appropriate that the party still in charge was the one most historically opposed to the ideas the rebels of 1916 fought for.

The Rising of 1916 was a failure, if you’re counting battles won and Republics founded. But when they marched out from Liberty Hall, the uniformed and armed members of the labor-affiliated Irish Citizen Army, the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Volunteers, and the women of Cumann na mBan already knew they would probably fail. And yet the rebel army took the General Post Office (GPO) and Pádraic Pearse read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on its steps on Sackville Street to confused passersby who had no idea that a revolution was scheduled, and the rebels held buildings all around town for days of British gunfire and shelling (you can still put your finger in the bullet holes in the pillars in front of the GPO) for the idea of a Republic, free of British rule. “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible,” the Proclamation read.

Eventually, Pearse and its other signatories surrendered unconditionally—the people of Dublin had not risen with them; the rest of the Irish Volunteers had listened to the order calling the Rising off. The Republic was not to be—yet. But the executions of the rebel leaders turned the people of Ireland against British rule for good, and participants in the Rising went on to fight a guerrilla struggle for freedom that led to the Ireland we know today.

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