What The Times Magazine Got Wrong About Climate Change

Robin’s Book Report #42
A reading list by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein

Agenda
-New Writing
-Book Report

Can brand-new condos increase racial segregation? I wrote about a recently dismissed lawsuit that wanted the city to analyze how racial minorities are affected by new housing developments. Most articles, about this case, got many of the details wrong, so read my article for a better take.

I also wrote a very short article about a self-taught metal-worker and web-designer who sells grills out of junkyard in Brooklyn. I hope I can do a longer profile of him one day.

Please drop me a line to let me know what you are reading, and what you like in the newsletter!

Book report

Capitalism Killed Our Climate Momentum, Not “Human Nature”” By Naomi Klein (The Intercept)

Consider this a timely follow up of my newsletter about ultra-responsibility. Naomi Klein responds to the conclusion of the New York Times Magazine story about how climate change was almost dealt with in the late 1980s. The Times Magazine article concludes by suggesting it is a fundamental, unchangeable flaw in human nature that fails to deal with big, abstract problems like global warming. Klein finds this to be an inadequate summation. She thinks the failure to halt carbon emissions is not a problem of human nature, but of our screwed up social contract that is now presupposes self-interest and the primacy of corporate profits.

I agree with her. The conclusion of the Times Magazine story represents a failure of imagination. We are captives of the dark, Hobbesian fatalism that is inherent in neo-liberal thought (that each individual is responsible to no one, and thus there’s nothing to be done about Big Problems). But when we change our minds, we change the world. As Nina Simone said in her addendum to “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”:

“One day I thought I could fly

I woke up and thought I could fly

I’d look down at the sea

and I wouldn’t know myself

I’d have new hands

I’d have new feet

I’d have new vision

My eyes would be open a little better

Bible says

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind”

I consider this a tract on the possibility of change and how unknowable the future is. The future is defined less by events and peoples than it is by the ideas that influence them. Surely humans failed to deal with carbon emissions, but was it an inevitable moral flaw? Are we doomed to burn for our sins? What does the future hold? Maybe something else.

How Tech Billionaires Hack Their Taxes With a Philanthropic Loophole (NYT) and Why did Elon Musk stash a quarter-billion dollars of Tesla stock in a non-profit back in 2016? (The Outline)

The founder of GoPro stashed half of his IPO windfall in a charity called “Silicon Valley Community Foundation.” It’s an opaque organization, and it’s not apparent whether the money was ever distributed to charity. In the second article, the author looked into whether Elon Musk had used the charity loophole to stash cash from his Tesla IPO and–surprise!–he did.

How music has responded to a decade of economic inequality” By Scott Timberg (Vox)

Musicians of today (the last ten years) fail to deliver the social critique that other generations of musicians did.

The Price of Shares” by Rob Horning (Even Magazine)

A museum in Indianapolis turned itself into what is essentially a quirky a food hall. They now, as vague and trendy business-types would have it, offer “experiences.” You can taste craft coffee, glug micro-brews, go mini-golfing, and–most importantly–touch the art. The author of this essay, Rob Horning, thinks that this has something to do with social media. But there’s nothing persuasive in this article suggesting that it does, beyond the very tired idea that phone’s get between us and art, mediating our experience. But all kinds of things mediate our experiences, far beyond phones. Untamed thoughts can easily come between you and an art experience. Hormones can also get in the way of “pure” experience. I remember asking my friend Andy in high school, who had just taken a date to see the movie Van Helsing, how the movie was. He was like “I have no idea.”

The real problem is that museums cannot survive as a repository of historical objects if people cannot decipher their meaning. If regular museum-goers are not well-versed in art history, a non-experiential approach (with art plunked on the walls and plopped on the floor) leaves them cold, like a book written in a language you don’t know. Sure, it would be great to read The Odyssey in the original Greek, but maybe English or YouTube will have to do.

Museums are bringing in other activities and it has little to do with Instagram. The Walker Art Center had artist designed mini-golf when I was in high school. I don’t know of another period in history when art was consumed “better” than any other time. Were museums better in the 1950s, the heyday of Abstract Expressionism? Did artist have more consequence in the culture? Or even simply make more money? Art vitality has to do with audiences fluency with it’s lexicon, and the creators of art desire to engage and connect with the audience.

Financial world doomed to repeat bad behaviour (FT)

Since the reign of Napoleon, fraud in finance remains the same:

“In 1814, Charles de Berenger colluded with Sir Thomas Cochrane and six others to accumulate a large position in UK gilts before he appeared in Dover disguised as a Bourbon officer and reported that Napoleon had been killed, sending a letter to the Admiralty in London to that effect and staging a parade across London Bridge to proclaim an allied victory. UK government bonds rose on the news and they then sold their holdings for a profit.

Some 199 years later, the US Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that a fabricated Twitter account was used to spread false and negative news about Audience, a technology company, and Sarepta Therapeutics, a biotech company.”

How the bottom half bolsters U.S. economy (Reuters)

The bottom half of the economy’s debt fuels the economy at large. It’s their mortgage, medical and car debt. Debt is useful, but it’s also spackling tool to smooth over the transition from a nation with savings, to a nation that is completely impoverished.

From the article:

“In the past, rising incomes of the upper 40 percent of earners have driven most of the consumption growth, but since 2016 consumer spending has been primarily fueled by a run-down in savings, mainly by the bottom 60 percent of earners, according to Oxford Economics.”a

Adam Curtis Predicts the Future

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Robin’s Book Report #38
A culture and economics reading list by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein

Agenda

-Letters from you
-Book Report

Note:

I received many responses to last week’s letter. I am going to include reader’s thoughts about the last letter (which you can read here) in this issue, and do a separate email next week, with a list of what other readers are reading/watching/seeing. Please reply to this email with what you have been ingesting.

Letters:

Pete, agreeing that NYC is not the only city to be suffering a crisis of affluence:

“A few years ago, the vacancy rate of rental places in Zurich was around *0.3%*, and rents were rising. Case in point: 8 years ago, when H and I left our previous 2-person apartment because the neighborhood was going through a paroxysm of renovation including the impending renovation, of our building, we hosted visiting hours for potential new renters, and had more than 100 visits in 2 hours — people were lined up in the corridor and stairway waiting to get in — many of them families of 4, 5, or 6 persons; several people tried to bribe us to help them rent the place. That’s a sign of sickness in the housing market.”

Peg, who enjoyed Kevin Baker’s Harper’s article (whereas I did not):

“I don’t think Kevin Baker is stupid, but rather nostalgic for a time when New York was more middle class. He bemoans the loss of small businesses and the social fabric that they have been part of, things that make a big city more homey and distinctive.
  Baker’s article was full of information, and in that respect was so interesting to read. The ins and outs of the notion of rent stabilization, how it is supposed to work, and how it’s been manipulated, were fascinating (and awful at the same time). Thanks for linking to it.”
Book report

“Elon Musk’s Fall From Grace”  by Andrew Elrod (Boston Review)

This article is about how Elon Musk is funding his dream on the backs of the American taxpayers. The tax-breaks for electric cars have subsidized his enterprise with multiple billions of dollars. Why do we continue to provide welfare for delusional billionaires, but not regular people? This makes no sense. Great article.

I am beginning to think our culture is enamored with tech companies only because, as capital-seeking hounds, they are the only ones selling an optimistic vision of the future. In recent decades, politicians have failed to present any comparable visions. So into this vacuum has rushed private wealth, and corporate interests. The corporate wealth that Robert Reich warned about at the end of his term as Secretary of Labor in the 1990s has come to pass.

“Why Do We Care So Much About Privacy” by Louis Menand (The New Yorker)

The definition of privacy is fluid and ever changing, so why and how do we care about it?

Eyes Wide Shut directed by Stanley Kubrick

Eyes Wide Shut is a movie based on the 19th century Viennese novel called Dream Story. And it does indeed drag along like a fever. Kubrick died three months before it came out and it is almost too clumsy and rough around the edges for most to considered it a 100% Stanley Kubrick film. While he technically turned in his final cut to the studio, he was notorious for re-cutting up until the release, sometimes after early screenings. Eyes Wide Shut gets extraordinarily boring at times (which people also said about 2001: A Space Odyssey, q.v. this New Yorker article). The heartbeat of the movie often slows down to a dangerously low rhythm. This makes sense in light of his untimely death: maybe Kubrick was enamored with the hermetically sealed stillness in editing, but would have changed his mind after seeing it in application. There is no way to say. What you can say, is that the elements of the movie are brilliant and haunting, and other elements are confusing and clunky. I often found myself wondering if Eyes Wide Shut was the worst movie I had ever seen, or one of the better ones. Once again, hard to say.

Certainly The End of Something or Other, One Would Sort Of Have To Think” by David Foster Wallace (The Observer)

David Foster Wallace’s take on John Updike’s late career novel–Towards The End of Time. He tackles the major issue with Updike: most people can’t stand the guy. What I found interesting, was to think about how Updike was once refreshing, in the era of sexual liberation, and is now tedious. Attitudes can change quickly in a few short decades.

“Been Down So Long It Looks Like Debt to Me” by M.H. Miller (The Baffler)

This is the story of a family in debt. It went semi-viral on the internet last week. I am not diminishing the importance of the tale to say that I am familiar with and exhausted by it. How many times will we have to read this type of story before something changes?

“In Conversation with Adam Curtis, Part 1” interview by Hans Ulrich Obrist (e-flux)

This is Adam Curtis, the British documentary filmmaker, in an interview in 2004:

“I think the mood of the moment has to do with a sense that if you’re going to the woods on your own, it’s scary, and you feel weak. But if you go with your friends, it’s fun. A lot of politics hasn’t understood this. And the trouble with it is that it actually leaves a gap for the return of totalitarian politicians—and I mean in America, more than here in the UK. Someone pointed out the other day that the Republican Party is still captive to the oil industry, while the Democratic Party, even under Obama, is totally captive to Wall Street. So there is this great gap for a politician to come in and start talking about how people are afraid and need to come together and protect themselves.” [my emphasis]

Interesting, thoroughly prescient comment.

Let me know what you’ve been reading!