Chickens Coming Home to Roost

One thing Mr. Trump has been consistently doing the last few months is not challenge this country’s sensibilities, ideals or democratic convictions. Mr. Trump stands defiantly upright, proud and stubbornly in the middle of the room, seemingly uninvited, like a thorn under the foot -infected- being a crystal clear, non-distorting mirror.
And looking at ourselves in that mirror after a 300-year orgy with street hookers, expired pills and moonshine, hangover, blackout and all, seems like encountering an intruder. Pants down.

And without a gun.

[George Erasmus, an aboriginal leader from Canada said, “Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.”]

The Problem the Republican Party, and now the Nation, has with Donald Trump


Food as Authenticity in Bourdain’s Planned Market, and the Little Room for the Democratization of Cuisine he Promises



Bourdain Market, set to open in about two years on Pier 57 in Manhattan’s Meat Packing district, purports to deliver exclusivity and democracy at the same time by putting remarkable food vendors all under one roof, thus consolidating all the hard work of curation and discovery and saving consumers from having to do any of it…. Like the World’s Fairs of the 19th and 20th centuries, the market will invert this business model by bringing people from around the world to a large food court so that they may “do” culture. It will provide what Bourdain calls a “democratic space open to and used by all,” a place where “wealthy and working class alike” can congregate in what promises to be the largest food hall in the city….

AUTHENTICITY, from the Greek authentikós, meaning original or first hand, is also related to authént, which ostensibly means DIY. When referring to something like an artwork or first-edition book, authentic is a relatively straightforward signifier: This artwork was definitely made by this specific person. Authentication, the process by which professionals discern whether a given artifact comes from a specific source, is not categorically different from the way we might seek out authenticity in our food or even our conversations. We seek, in our present experiences, some sort of connection to a past or an elsewhere. “The quest for authenticity,” writes Baudrillard in The System of Objects is also “a quest for an alibi.” The elsewhere or else-when, like an alibi, is only as credible as the teller and one’s own ability to cross-reference and confirm. Bourdain acts as our authenticity detective, ferreting out the provenance of food and dragging the perpetrators onto his show and, now, into his market….

Just as adherence to objectivity is a necessary prerequisite for scientific “truth,” authenticity can seem to anchor taste judgments in some pure transcendent realm beyond the influence of social strategy or economic expediency. Though the aura of authenticity may seem like a matter of the aggressively unique thing in its “real” place, as when Bourdain boasts of tasting exotic foods that “you can’t find anywhere else in the world,” it is actually created in the space between the consumer and the consumed. For Walter Benjamin, aura is born of our desire to bring things closer, to experience the original outside the bounds of technological reproducibility. This desired closeness is two-fold: spatial and emotional, measured in distance and human connection.

Authenticity-as-commodity is difficult to pin down for just this reason. It bridges the gulf between self and other, known and unknown, and fills a nebulous in-between space in ways both strange and satisfying. In Ethnicity Inc. anthropologists John and Jean Comaroff observe that “to the extent that the commodification of culture is refiguring identity, it is doing so less as a matter of brute loss, or of abstraction, than of intensified fusions of intimacy and distance, production and consumption, subject and object.” Such culture commodities blur the boundaries of belonging and are thus engineered not for efficiency or usefulness but for optimal alterity. The perfectly stirred cocktail or the well-balanced soup broth is not the end product of scientific trial and error in some food lab meant to impress you. Rather, the authentic culture commodities invite you to believe you have found something that is indifferent to your existence—the food culture of some far away community—and in that moment when you successfully purchase them, you feel as though you have been invited into a cherished tradition. In other words, authentic goods are produced through the manipulation of social context, rather than some purification process….

But authenticity, which requires an arbiter of authority, runs counter to openness and democracy. Bourdain’s strategy for resolving this tension is to foreclose the moments of openness, restricting democracy to picking from among what he has already painstakingly curated. This sounds less democratic than dictatorial, but Bourdain is interested in “democracy” conceived as a matter of broad access, not decision-making: He wants the market to be a public meeting place for working and wealthy alike, but he can only accomplish this by taking most opportunities for decision-making off the table. Bourdain’s name and reputation assures the quality his fans have come to expect….

By intentionally keeping their rhetoric of transparency, openness and democracy as vague as possible, the creators of Bourdain Market let us fill the discursive void with our own desires to be the authenticators. Thus we can quickly conflate individualism and consumerism with openness and democratic ideals….

By making it physically possible to access foods from around the world, Bourdain Market will let you choose the scenarios for your own food-centered reality TV show. And just like a reality TV show, Bourdain Market will run roughshod over particulars in its restaging of the real. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the New York Times article that announced the project, a short writeup that required three corrections, including one for the artist’s rendering of the future market that contained fake Chinese characters.

As Benjamin and Baudrillard warn, it is impossible to consciously create an authentic experience. The friction between Chelsea Market, the High Line, the conceit of Bourdain’s own shows, and his new market reveals the hypocrisy of the entire project: Bourdain Market is as authentic, transparent, democratic, and open as basic cable TV.

In Case You Were Wondering about Julian Assange

[The persecution of Julian Assange is about to flare again as it enters a dangerous stage. From August 20, three quarters of the Swedish prosecutor’s case against Assange regarding sexual misconduct in 2010 will disappear as the statute of limitations expires. At the same time Washington’s obsession with Assange and WikiLeaks has intensified. Indeed, it is vindictive American power that offers the greatest threat – as Chelsea Manning and those still held in Guantanamo can attest.

The Americans are pursuing Assange because WikiLeaks exposed their epic crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale killing of tens of thousands of civilians, which they covered up, and their contempt for sovereignty and international law, as demonstrated vividly in their leaked diplomatic cables. WikiLeaks continues to expose criminal activity by the US, having just published top secret US intercepts – US spies’ reports detailing private phone calls of the presidents of France and Germany, and other senior officials, relating to internal European political and economic affairs.

None of this is illegal under the US Constitution.]

Read the full article | COUNTERPUNCH


The Huffington Post

Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts

[As a philosopher, I already knew that many college-aged students don’t believe in moral facts. While there are no national surveys quantifying this phenomenon, philosophy professors with whom I have spoken suggest that the overwhelming majority of college freshmen in their classrooms view moral claims as mere opinions that are not true or are true only relative to a culture.

What I didn’t know was where this attitude came from. Given the presence of moral relativism in some academic circles, some people might naturally assume that philosophers themselves are to blame. But they aren’t. There are historical examples of philosophers who endorse a kind of moral relativism, dating back at least to Protagoras who declared that “man is the measure of all things,” and several who deny that there are any moral facts whatsoever. But such creatures are rare. Besides, if students are already showing up to college with this view of morality, it’s very unlikely that it’s the result of what professional philosophers are teaching. So where is the view coming from?

A few weeks ago, I learned that students are exposed to this sort of thinking well before crossing the threshold of higher education. When I went to visit my son’s second grade open house, I found a troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board. They read:

Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.

Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.

Hoping that this set of definitions was a one-off mistake, I went home and Googled “fact vs. opinion.” The definitions I found onlinewere substantially the same as the one in my son’s classroom. As it turns out, the Common Core standards used by a majority of K-12 programs in the country require that students be able to “distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.” And the Common Core institute provides a helpful page full of links to definitions, lesson plans and quizzes to ensure that students can tell the difference between facts and opinions.

So what’s wrong with this distinction and how does it undermine the view that there are objective moral facts?]

Read the full article here | OPINIONATOR | THE NEW YORK TIMES


The Things Nobody is Talking About | Harsh, Painful, Stunningly Accurate Article about Greece, Written by a Non-Greek

Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds | VANITY FAIR

[The Greek state was not just corrupt but also corrupting. Once you saw how it worked you could understand a phenomenon which otherwise made no sense at all: the difficulty Greek people have saying a kind word about one another. Individual Greeks are delightful: funny, warm, smart, and good company. I left two dozen interviews saying to myself, “What great people!” They do not share the sentiment about one another: the hardest thing to do in Greece is to get one Greek to compliment another behind his back. No success of any kind is regarded without suspicion. Everyone is pretty sure everyone is cheating on his taxes, or bribing politicians, or taking bribes, or lying about the value of his real estate. And this total absence of faith in one another is self-reinforcing. The epidemic of lying and cheating and stealing makes any sort of civic life impossible; the collapse of civic life only encourages more lying, cheating, and stealing. Lacking faith in one another, they fall back on themselves and their families….]

447-438 B.C., Athens, Greece --- The Parthenon at Dusk --- Image by © Colin Dixon/Arcaid/Corbis

447-438 B.C., Athens, Greece — The Parthenon at Dusk — Image by © Colin Dixon/Arcaid/Corbis

The American Myth of Immigrants Pulling Themselves by Their Bootstraps


[If your ancestors came to the US in the late 1800s or early 1900s (or if you’ve talked to someone whose ancestors came then), you probably think of them this way: they came to the US with nothing but the clothes on their backs, worked hard in low-paying jobs, learned English, moved up the income ladder, and made sure their children could do just as well in life as anyone else’s children.

But data from UCLA and Stanford researchers — with a big assist from — shows the reality that many immigrants experienced might have been much more complicated, and much less in line with the American dream.

The researchers looked at the occupations immigrants held in 1900, versus the occupations natives had. (Natives were a lot more likely to be farmers, for example; immigrants were more likely to work as laborers, but also as managers.) They then compared the average incomes for each set of occupations. The result: as of 1900, immigrants were actually in higher-paying positions than natives in most states. In some states, immigrants were in occupations that paid as much as 20 percent (or even, in New Mexico, 40 percent) more than the occupations natives held.] Read the full article | VOX


Memory is a Tricky Little Thing | Abhu Graib and Accountability

[… more than a decade on, the images and the calls for accountability have faded.

What remains is a lawsuit against CACI Premier Technology, a private contractor that provided interrogation services at the prison, accusing its employees of torture. The suit, brought by four former prisoners, has withstood challenges in federal courts for nearly seven years and is now reaching another key juncture, as both sides await a ruling from a federal judge in Virginia over whether it can proceed to trial.

“The gap in liability for the post-9/11 counter-terrorism abuses is actually pretty alarming and pretty broad,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at Washington’s American University who has followed the case closely.

Vladeck says judges have been reluctant to let most cases against military contractors proceed, preventing plaintiffs from using the discovery process to gather more evidence that could directly implicate the contractors.

Eleven U.S. soldiers were convicted in military trials of crimes related to the humiliation and abuse of the prisoners. A $5.3-million settlement two years ago with the parent company of L-3 Services Inc., which provided translation services at the prison, is the only known civil penalty imposed on a private firm….]     Read the full article | LA TIMES