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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   May 24, 2016

• In Baffler, no. 31 (which is out next week!), Astra Taylor columnizes on the effects of the EU-Turkey deal, supposedly designed to stem the flow of migrants over the sea by sending them into Turkey. Contrary to that agreement, though, the Greeks aren’t willing to deport migrants to a nation that stifles human rights and the press, as writes the Economist. “Greek officials insist that the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees must be respected. They say that Turkey does not fully comply with the convention since it is not a safe haven for all refugees.”

• Also appearing in issue 31 is Melissa Gira Grant’s salvo on Boston’s forgotten red light district, the “Combat Zone.” In Pacific Standard today, Gira Grant weighs up changes in attitudes since the publication of the anthology Whores, in 1997: “Whores was premised on challenging the feminist polarization about either being ‘for’ or ‘against’ sex work. But fighting sex workers’ rights out on those terms puts a politics of sex in front of what could be a politics of sex as work.”

• Godforsaken Yahoo boss Marissa Mayer was very weirdly painted as Jesus for Variety’s May issue. (Quoth Yahoo: “Running that cover illustration is Variety’s own burden to bear.”) We would like the cover better if Baffler senior editor and former Yahoo news executive Chris Lehmann, featured in the tableau.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   May 23, 2016
Billionaires vs Broadway./ Randy Lemoine

• “Someone like Snowden should not have felt the need to harm himself just to do the right thing,” says John Crane in a Guardian excerpt of Mark Hertsgaard’s book Bravehearts, about the discrediting and danger whistleblowers face. Also quoted is former NSA worker and whistleblower Bill Binney, who Kade Crockford interviewed on the Baffler blog.

• Megyn Kelly has a book out a week after the election, in which, she teases, “for the first time I will speak openly about my year with Donald Trump.” The mutual publicity that Kelly and Trump have lavished on each other by way of their public tiff reached its natural conclusion last week when, as Christian Lorentzen writes, “Kelly treated him [in Tuesday’s interview] like an occasionally vengeful but ultimately benign demigod.”

• Today in huffs: Angry Billionaire Denied Entry to Musical.


Interview with Whistleblower Bill Binney

Kade Crockford   May 23, 2016

Bill Binney resigned from his job as technical director of the NSA in October 2001. The data-monitoring tool he had developed, ThinThread, had been shelved and, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush-Cheney administration chose dragnet monitoring instead. He spoke to Kade Crockford in February of this year.

Kade Crockford:  You, Bill Binney, are a mathematician. You built a tool, ThinThread, that would enable the NSA to filter the world’s Internet traffic, but only wiretap the communications that likely contained information about threats to U.S. security, is that right?

Bill Binney:  Yes, based on probable reasons to look at people.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   May 20, 2016
A rose by any other name? / satanslaundromat

• Google’s annual I/O conference is “making nerds go outside” this year, its new, open-air venue prompting comparisons to Coachella.

• Healthcare for all? A recent study found that HIV-positive cancer patients are less likely to receive diagnosis and treatment for cancer than their HIV-negative counterparts.

• Our friends over at Pacific Standard report on the petition to rename Rikers Island, one of the nation’s most famous prisons. The institution is back in the spotlight after recent prisoner abuse scandals, and, according to historians, “the Riker name [has come] to represent both a contemporary crisis and a series of long-forgotten historical crimes.”


The Trump Psyche

Chris Lehmann   May 19, 2016
Sigmund Freud's couch. / Karen Apricot

You know that the Trump distemper in our body politic has risen to a new threat status because our journalistic thought leaders are enlisting the help of mental-health professionals. The new issue of the Atlantic, for one, features a stem-winding cover story by psychologist Dan P. McAdams devoted to divining just where the tangle of Trump pathologies falls along the spectrum of personality disorders of presidents past.

The answer will not likely surprise you. Yes, Trump is an angry, rampaging narcissist in the mold of Andrew Jackson—but unlike most classic narcissists, he shows no evidence of crippling parental neglect in his early childhood development. (Old Hickory also came by his self-love the hard way, battling for distinction along the white-trash frontier of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; Trump’s domineering parents were already presiding over a multimillion-dollar real-estate fortune.) And yes, Trump is a callous manipulator of the unfortunate souls he thinks may be cluttering his career path, in the winsomely paranoid style of Richard Nixon—yet unlike that scheming whack-job, Trump is an incurable extrovert, feeding on mass adulation as he glides joyously from rally to primary-victory celebration to radio interview and cable news hit. (This insatiable “extroversion,” McAdams observes, places Trump in the approval-craving ranks of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Teddy Roosevelt.) That tortured Shakespearean prince Nixon, meanwhile, would prowl around Nixon-hating peace rallies in the dark of night; revenge, rather than approval, was his drug of choice. So at great length, McAdams alights on his diagnosis: Trump embodies the archetype Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung called “the warrior.” Here the historical framework widens considerably, even as the overall terms of analysis begin audibly to creak:

Going back to ancient times, victorious young combatants enjoyed the spoils of war—material bounty, beautiful women. Trump has always been a big winner there. His life story in full tracks his strategic maneuvering in the 1970s, his spectacular victories (the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Trump Tower) in the 1980s, his defeats in the early 1990s, his comeback later in the same decade, and the expansion of his brand and celebrity ever since. Throughout it all, he has remained the ferocious combatant who fights to win.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   May 18, 2016

• Over at Current Affairs, Baffler columnist Amber A’Lee Frost takes on the necessity of political vulgarity—or, more bluntly, “rudeness.” One needn’t look further than Donald Trump and the rise of the “anti-cuckservative” movement to see its efficacy today.

Trump’s vulgarity is appealing precisely because it exposes political truths. As others have noted, Trump’s policies (wildly inconsistent though they may be) are actually no more extreme than those of other Republicans; Trump is just willing to strip away the pretense. Other candidates may say “national security is a fundamental priority,” whereas Trump will opt for “ban all the Muslims.” The latter is far less diplomatic, but in practice the two candidates fundamentally mean the same thing. We should prefer the honest boor, as polite euphemism is constantly used to mask atrocities.

• An anonymous former Facebook staffer illustrates some of the lesser-known horrors that befell the company’s news “curators.” 


When the Instagram Snitch Is Your Honey

Amber A’Lee Frost   May 18, 2016

Welcome to The Baffler’s agony corner, YOUR SORRY ASS, where Amber A’Lee Frost dispenses bossy, judgmental advice on how to live your life fairly, kindly, and with good humor. Send us your rants and pleas, please:

Dear Your Sorry Ass,

Recently while on vacation, I posted a blurry photo on Instagram of me skinny-dipping in the ocean—with a funny caption, of course. Soon after, I was surprised to see that it had been reported for nudity and that Instagram had actually taken the picture down. After bringing it up with my boyfriend over the phone—he was not on vacation with me—he admitted that he was the one who reported it! His explanation was that it made him “uncomfortable.” This isn’t the first time he’s mentioned his discomfort with me posting nude-ish photos of myself on Instagram, but I’m annoyed that he didn’t ask me to take it down personally before reporting me to “the man.” Am I right to be upset, or should I be more attuned to his feelings of discomfort?


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   May 17, 2016
Quinn Dombrowski

• Matthew Sweet traces the history of research into whether power corrupts, starting in 1870. It’s fascinating, running the gamut from Piritim Sorokin’s view that “the ruling groups are more talented intellectually and more deranged mentally than the ruled population,” to Sweet’s own contention that “It may be that rich people are better at disguising their true nature than poor people.”

• Who’s looking out for the landlords? That was, we presume, the burning question that prompted new app Rentberry. Surprisingly, Rentberry is not a platform that enables you to mash up fruit in your mouth and spit it out for the next idiot—instead it asks San Francisco homeseekers to bid on properties, eBay-style: 

Tenants would be able to see how many people are competing for the property and what the highest offer currently is. They can make multiple offers before the bidding ends, but landlords would not be compelled to accept the highest bid. For example, they might consider a higher-quality bidder with a lower offer more suitable.

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