ice skat

An American Marriage, Revisited

Niela Orr   April 24, 2015
Tony Sullivan and Richard Adams / Limited Partnership

Limited Partnership, a new documentary about one of the nation’s first gay couples to be lawfully married, begins with a scene you might find in a legal thriller: an establishing shot of gray-slate courthouse columns gives way to a scrum of reporters positioned nearby. Then, this eighties archival footage reveals the film’s two stars, Richard Adams, an American, and Tony Sullivan, an Australian national: they’re both surrounded—swamped, almost—by the media circus as their attorney relays the details of their case to the reporters. “There’s never been a case involving whether or not gay men or women have the right to marry each other brought to federal court. This is the first one,” explains lawyer David M. Brown.

It’s a fittingly frenzied opening scene, since the protagonists, their legal team, and the American media culture were all, in different degrees, making up the narrative for the Adams and Sullivan case as they went along. The two gay men at the center of all this tentative action would go on to spend forty years fighting in court fighting to win legal recognition for their 1975 marriage. Before the Defense of Marriage Act, California’s Proposition 8, and Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Sullivan and Adams were on the front lines, mounting a tireless campaign against the Immigration and Naturalization Service and its policy of separating binational same-sex couples.

The documentary, which has been making the rounds on the festival circuit since last year, and is set to air on June 15 as part of PBS’s Independent Lens series, sharply exposes the ways in which the American judicial system and the INS (which has since been absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security as Immigration and Customs Enforcement) have worked in tandem to undermine the legal union of Adams and Sullivan, and to separate the two by deporting Sullivan back to Australia.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   April 24, 2015
Captain's log, 2015: Drought relief through total insanity. / Gregory Engels

• We’ve covered the problems with governor Jerry Brown’s measures for California drought relief. Luckily, William Shatner is here with a plan to save the day, and you’ll soon be able to back it on Kickstarter. The actor has started a website, Shatner’s Water, to crowdsource ideas, and has proposed a $30 billion pipeline to bring water in from Seattle.

• The Pentagon is planning to open a Silicon Valley office to provide venture capital to commercial tech firms developing weapons and intelligence tools. Just this once, we think you should stick with Kickstarter.

• MakerBot, a pioneer of the budding 3-D printing industry, has closed its three stores and laid off 20 percent of its staff after failing to meet its growth projections. Turns out there’s less of a market than previously thought for really cool geometric bracelets.

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The Mall of American Progress

Scott Beauchamp   April 23, 2015
America's long love affair with malls reaches new heights. / Shane Gorski

Malls may not be an American monopoly, but America’s not really thinkable without them. They’re where we come together, octogenarian mall walkers and teen Goths alike, as we aim for that perfect, elusive balance between over- and under-stimulation. They’re our own controlled-climate variation on the outdoor European arcade; only in the multipurposed American mallspace, you don’t simply exchange money for goods: you exercise, see movies, attend concerts, go to school, and worship God. They’re our culture’s vapid response to the depletion of the commons. And their increasingly empty and abandoned carapaces mottle the American landscape like munition-citadels in the war between consumerism and community.

If the war metaphor seems too dramatic, consider the name of latest big American mall project to announce itself: The Grand Canyon Escalade Project. An “escalade” is a form of military attack that uses ladders to scale a wall.  (Though civilian American consumers probably know the word as a synonym for “gargantuan Cadillac SUV.”) And the Grand Canyon is, well, the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon Escalade Project is a proposal to build a mall on the eastern rim of the world’s largest canyon. It’s also a handy metaphor for everything debauched, short-sighted, and self-infatuated about our consumer culture: a belligerent outpost of gaudy merchandise, perched on the very cusp of the void. It doesn’t make much economic sense, it doesn’t make much environmental sense, and it’s an exercise in rapaciousness that represents the worst of American attitudes about unbridled growth.

The Escalade Project has been in the works for some time. The moneymen behind the project call themselves the Confluence Group, LLC, after the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, where the mall will be built. According to James Joiner’s dispatch on the development in the Daily Beast, the mall will occupy 420 acres “of remote land” and offer a wide array of “retail shops, restaurants, and hotels on the upper rim.” The lowest level of the project would continue to tickle the shopping and appetites of mall visitors, while also offering “stadium seating to take in the views, a museum, visitors center, and elevated river walk.” An IMAX theater will wow moviegoers for whom the splendors of erosion across the millennia may not sufficiently diverting. Meanwhile, the stubborn holdouts who still want to experience the canyon floor beneath their feet will at least be able to do so in the comfort of a people-moving tram. Hiking and donkey-packs are, like nature itself, just a series of needless trials for the single-minded shopper.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   April 23, 2015
A fight for the soul of Record Store Day. / Man Alive!

• Massachusetts has appointed Katie Stebbins as assistant secretary of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. In an interview, Stebbins tells of her plans to turn the whole state into an innovation district, a la Kendall Square. John Summers saw it coming in Baffler no. 24.. . .

• To get you in the mood for all that innovation, here’s Dan Miller at the Wharton School, announcing his plans to “disrupt” the commercial real estate market through crowdfunding.

It’s been too long since we checked in with SpaceX’s Elon Musk. (A week, in fact. Time flies.) Here’s another look at the rocket crash that hampered the otherwise successful launch of billionaires’ ambitions into space.

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Surge Pricing for Your Entire Life

Jacob Silverman   April 22, 2015
With wearable sensors, our personal data joins the Internet of things. / Runkeeper

Sometimes, the darkest timeline comes quicker than you expect. Last year, Jathan Sadowski noted that insurance companies were fawning over the Internet of Things—smartphones, fitness monitors, wearable computers, and anything else with a sensor and WiFi—with an eye to tapping its behavioral data. The affection, of course, was mutual; the Internet of Things industry, backed by optimistic growth projections from its own analysts, presented itself as a natural partner for insurers.

Last May, O’Reilly Media czar Tim O’Reilly predicted that “insurance is going to be the native business model for the Internet of Things”—a turn of events that should disturb us, Sadowski argued.

For once, the meme hustler O’Reilly was right. The problem is, so was Sadowski. Insurers and devices manufacturers have quickly united over their shared love of data—our data—and insurance customers are starting to see the effects. Real-time pricing, behavioral nudges: these are the new costs of being insured.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   April 22, 2015
Have we awoken from the American dream? / Ian Barbour

• This week in Billionaires: Justine Musk (ex-wife of Elon, the Paypal founder) posted advice on online forum Quora, as is her wont. In the past she has put out such fires as “How can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson?” and “What is the purpose of striving to be elite?” This time, she fielded, “Will I become a billionaire if I am determined to be one and put in all the necessary work required?” (Justine’s answer? “No.”)

•Which begs the question, have we awoken from the American dream?  

•Yahoo’s earnings have tanked. But be brave of heart. Thanks to Chris Lehmann’s salvo in Baffler no. 27, we know the company will soldier on as ever, stalwart in its “aversion to the most basic canons of newsmaking.”

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“Some Other Woman” for President 2016

Sady Doyle   April 21, 2015
The only woman in the race. / Michael Kovac

When Hillary Clinton announced her presidential candidacy, it wasn’t surprising. But I was surprised by my own reaction. For the last week and a half now, I’ve been fighting back an overwhelming sense of dread.

It isn’t dread of Hillary. I may have Bernie Sanders politics, but I have Hillary Clinton sympathies. No, what I dread is what my social life is about to become. The mere mention of Clinton’s name can turn even the gentlest, most artfully bearded anarcho-hipster into Stanley Kowalski, raging and sweating through his undershirt, all the while insisting that he’s doing it for the sake of true progressivism.

I’m certainly not going to tell you to come to Clinton. (Who doesn’t want a piece of the vain, foolish glory that is a “SANDERS 2016” T-shirt? It instantly transforms your torso into a monument to broken dreams.) What I am going to do, in the hope of preventing broken friendships, lost loves, and gatherings full of people who can no longer look each other in the face, is offer up a few tips we can look to when discussing her candidacy. It’s early, and the road ahead is going to be long and tiresome. Adopting these terms of combat now will make it less agonizing—if only a little less—for everyone.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   April 21, 2015
Privacy in Copenhagen

 

 • Over at the LRB blog, Deborah Friedell reminds us that the way to get into hidebound Harvard is to make it, in the words of its director of admissions, “a happier place.” For one senior Sony exec, the road to happiness is paved with donations “at the $1mm level,” or so his leaked emails reveal. On which topic, don’t things get mysterious when we talk large monetary sums? Unless you are steeped in affluence, a “mm” is not obviously a million. (Luckily, Harvard understood, and the Sony exec’s daughter got in. Congratulations.)

• In Dissent, Francesca Mari comments on the assistant economy and the “obliterating personality” of Susan Sontag.  Incidentally, Sontag’s email history is available in its very own digital archive, a confessional step also taken, over the years, by many Danes. Now it’s the turn of French writer Pierre Guyotat to jump in on this “privacy is cultural theft”-flavored trend. 

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