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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   November 24, 2015

• “Fast casuals,” fast food chains of a perceived higher quality, such as Chipotle, haven’t yet been the focus of movements like the Fight for $15, but that’s not to say they treat their employees any better than franchises like McDonalds. According to Helaine Olen, writing in The Atlantic, these supposedly holistic outlets are growing and their execs are the richest in the restaurant business—yet Chipotle’s data-driven targets for employees remain harsh, while the pay is low. Even the touted “internal mobility” at the company is a scam: a promotion to a managerial role means “an increase in work hours without the benefit of the overtime pay.”

• Looking for a backhanded gift to give an old person this holiday season? We’ve just the thing. This adorable robot cat, a “Companion Pet,” was developed for the senior market. As Professor Sherry Turkle writes, when we outsource the basic human need for company, “We are tempted to focus so much on whether you can get an elderly person to talk to a robot that you forget that . . . in the case of the robot no one is listening.”

• Airlines are gracelessly bowing to racist customers by kicking Muslims off their flights, so here’s a reminder that “You’re More Likely to Be Fatally Crushed by Furniture than Killed by a Terrorist.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   November 23, 2015

• “Burn Down the House of Commons in Your Brand New Shoes” was Keith White’s ode to Details, which shuttered last week. And it started:

I wanted to be a Details man. I had recognized my need for bee-stung lips, carefully unkempt hair, the washboard stomach, the baggy Versace suits, the attendant awed babes, the tattoos—you get the picture. I wanted to pal around with other young sophisticates dressed just as rakishly as me, chatting about the latest trends in “alternative” music and last week’s party with Drew, Iggy, Uma, and Keanu.

May there be a place for it in paradise, where it will be ministered to by winged and be-haloed Orlando Blooms for all eternity.


For Chyron Out Loud

Chris Lehmann   November 20, 2015

Even amid the fast-multiplying agora of digital platforms, tweets, and instagrams that make up our new millennial mediaverse, one almost-touching platitude continues to transfix the sober lords of the establishment press: the impartial, stern-yet-blasé myth of purely noncommittal, “objective” reporting. While the primly opinionless chronicler of current events is, like Lewis Carroll’s wild snark, something only beheld fleetingly in the wild, the managers of our leading news brands will recur to it reflexively in telling moments of crisis.

This reaction overtook the management of CNN today, as controversy threatened over a tweet authored by the network’s global affairs correspondent Elise Labott about yesterday’s shameful, demagogic vote by the House of Representatives to tighten restrictions on the inflow of Syrian refugees into the United States, on the grounds that many of them are non-Christian, other-than-white, and therefore almost certainly cunning terrorists in the making. Labott’s sin against the cult of cable-news impartiality was to append one short comment as she directed her followers to CNN’s news of the House vote: “Statue of Liberty bows head in anguish.” (My own less decorous tweeted response to the House vote, for the record: “Deport the House of Representatives.”) 

The Washington Post’s ever-vigilant media critic Erik Wemple blew the whistle on this deviation from CNN’s official posture of serene above-the-fray omniscience, contacted the network brass for comment, and the predictable managerial outcome ensued: Labott was forced to retract her offending comment, and was given a two-week suspension. CNN thereby gravely dramatized its commitment to opinion-free reportage, and all was right with the media world.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   November 20, 2015
Facebook wants to give you some more high-tech tools for moving on. / sushiesque

• As the song goes, breaking up is hard to do, but Mark Zuckerberg thinks he can ease the pain for you. Facebook is testing out a new set of tools called “take a break,” which quickly offer coupled users who change their relationship status the chance to see less of a former partner in their newsfeed or automatically untag them from old posts. No need to “unfriend” your old flame . . . this way you can still obsessively stalk their profiles when you’re good and ready.

Pacific Standard reports on recent changes which make the GED test harder to pass, and leave thousands of qualified workers stuck in low-wage jobs. As one veteran GED teacher says, “The old test measured basic skills that made you successful in most job settings . . . What it did . . . was open the door to people to show what they can do. This new test has closed the door to so many, and that includes people who have had good employment histories and put in the extra hours for studying the test.”

• According to Northeastern University, the school will be playing “a key role” in helping NASA send “humanoid robots” to Mars.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   November 19, 2015
The white coat may be losing favor as a symbol of the medical profession.  / Donnie Ray Jones

Wired reports on claims by the Tor Project, a free “onion routing” software for enabling anonymous communication online, that the FBI paid researchers at Carnegie Mellon University $1 million to hack its users aiding in an investigation which resulted in seventeen arrests. Carnegie Mellon denies the claims, saying the university complies with subpoenas, but does not receive compensation for providing such information.

• MIT has developed a Fitbit you can swallow.

• Many doctors are eschewing their white coats, believing the garments contribute to the spread of hospital-acquired infections, though traditionalists argue for the coat’s “cultural significance.” As the debate rages on, some hospitals are providing doctors with neoprene vests, “to address concerns about being cold and needing pockets.”


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   November 18, 2015

• Over at In These Times, Baffler senior editor Chris Lehmann reviews Dinesh D’Souza’s latest book, Stealing America: What My Experience with Criminal Gangs Taught Me About Obama, Hillary and the Democratic Party. “The book, for all its righteous indictment of left-wing larceny, can only be read sympathetically as a desperate cry for help,” Lehmann concludes. Maybe we should throw him a bone and “bring a stop to this tortured psychic display by offering D’Souza a high-rolling gig as a Democratic lobbyist—or better yet, a PAC bundler.”

• Today in the journalism world: Gawker announced it intends to undertake a major strategic shift, changing their area of focus from media and New York, to politics. That means shuttering a number of smaller sites—such as Valleywag—and, of course, layoffs. The announcements comes after the company recently came under more fire for its treatment of women, spurred largely by an essay published on Matter by former staff writer Danya Evans on how the company had failed its female employees. “There are no women in Denton’s vision of an ideal,” she wrote. It’s unclear whether that’s an issue that extends beyond Denton, since “when no stories by women were held out for praise in an introductory memo from now-official executive editor John Cook, many felt like they were absent from his vision of an ideal Gawker Media as well.” 

• It’s like Uber, but for “disrupting the world of camels and cabs.” No, seriously, just ban Tom Friedman already. Barring that, you can create your own Tom Friedman-esque column with this “disruptive” generator. 


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   November 17, 2015
A detail from Michelangelo's Morning Routine video. / freeparking

• Last month Caitlin Dewey gave Washington Post readers the skinny on #femtube, an online agglomeration of women (especially young girls) with exorbitant YouTube followings. Today The Baffler’s Lucy Ellmann notes the boring religiosity with which these “entrepreneurs” apply their daily slap in the Morning Routines they document, as they languish, Miss Havisham-like in their bedrooms: “With such pigments and priorities, these adolescents could be painting the Sistine Chapel!” 

• Why do we call terrorists “masterminds” only when they strike cities like Paris? “Perhaps it’s because readers and editors have normalized suicide bombings that take place the Middle East,” writes Jack Shafer in Politico, “seeing them as part of a long-running war and not as anything remarkable or unique.”

• Enjoy all the classic perks of communal living—West Elm furniture, catered dinners, utter harmony—for only $1,800 a month! Goodbye chore wheel, hello weekly cleaning service. It’s the coop coopted!


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   November 16, 2015
Oxford Blatavnik School of Government lures rich international donors with architecture that screams anonymity and cash. / Martin Cooper

• University architecture has always laundered the reputations of “slave traders, ennobled gangsters, monk-robbers and tyrants’ stooges.” That time-honored tradition is carrying on into the twenty-first century, and not just at Harvard. Oxford’s new Blavatnik School of Government, sponsored by an associate of Putin’s, reads as:

something both confident in itself and from another world . . . It resembles a ministry in an architecturally astute petro-state . . . Come here, it seems to say to future administrators and rulers of this and other countries, and prepare yourself for life in an agreeable, culturally sophisticated bubble, an inward-looking society protected by a hard septum from the rest of the world. 

• Today in billionaires cuddling up to their Bond toys: Elon Musk owns the car that turns into a submarine in The Spy Who Loved Me (just wait until he hears about Duck Tours!), even though it doesn’t really work. And here is another rich person talking about his yachts, laboriously named after each flick from the franchise: “The name is exciting. Watching a ‘James Bond’ movie, you never know what’s going to happen next. And our boats always do the same.” Well there you go! So very surprising.

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