“As the homelessness crisis and the coronavirus crisis converge, what can we learn from one city’s struggles?”
Existentialists with agita, rejoice. We now have an anthropologist’s new book confirming that what we do means nothing. David Greaber’s Bullshit Jobs examines the current work economy and how we attribute meaning to our lives with possibly (probably?) meaningless tasks.
To encourage business and save money, this small Baltic nation streamlined itself into a society where all bureaucratic processes, from banking to voting, can be conducted online on one platform, and citizens only need to enter their personal information once, be they physical citizens or e-residents. It sounds like an Orwellian nightmare, but e-Estonia believes it’s the US who has it all wrong.
“The power to control one’s working life would return, grassroots style, to the people,” writes Nathan Heller about the neoliberal dream of a work environment in which capitalism is democratized. But the gig economy has always been about the illusion of control, and that illusion is enough to keep people outwardly satisfied, but inwardly anxious. What does it all mean, this endless, piecemeal work? If the gig economy is working us to death, it’s also doing so without the satisfaction of a job well done.
Two college lovers, and a murder in 1985.
How Cesar Chavez disserved his dream:
The history of California is a history of will grafted onto the landscape. First came missionaries, building churches out of clay and meting out God’s kingdom to the native peoples. Then came gold and silver, the pursuit of which levelled hills, remade cliffs, and built cities along the Pacific Coast. Water was diverted. Sprawling fields soon followed. By the time Cesar Chavez organized a grape workers’ strike, in 1965, the agriculture business was the largest in the state. People say Chavez fought for justice, which is broadly true. And yet that strike, like many of his efforts, rose more from scrappy pragmatism than from any abstract ideal. “No one in any battle has ever won anything by being on the defensive,” he liked to tell his picketers. High intent was a fine thing, but change would come the way it always came in California: by force of will.
On understanding the lives of twentysomethings:
“Allowing for a selective, basically narrow frame of reference, then, it’s worth noting that much of what we know about the twentysomething years comes down to selective, basically narrow frames of reference. Able-bodied middle-class Americans in their twenties—the real subject of these books—are impressionable; they’re fickle, too. Confusion triumphs. Is it smart to spend this crucial period building up a stable life: a promising job, a reliable partner, and an admirable assortment of kitchenware? Or is the time best spent sowing one’s wild oats? Can people even have wild oats while carrying smartphones? One morning, you open the newspaper and read that today’s young people are an assiduous, Web-savvy master race trying to steal your job and drive up the price of your housing stock. The next day, they’re reported to be living in your basement, eating all your shredded wheat, and failing to be marginally employed, even at Wendy’s. For young people with the luxury of time and choice, these ambiguities give rise to a particular style of panic.”
A New York media legend, exposed:
“At 58, Kaplan is the editorial director of Fairchild Fashion Media, a Condé Nast family that includes Women’s Wear Daily and Footwear News. He has an aging movie star’s smooth, youthful face and, like a star, the capacity to fill a room with outsized gawky charm. When he’s feeling gregarious, which he often is, he dons a barroom grin and says such things as There ya go! and Have a ball! (The latter is the subject of much speculation among Kaplan’s past associates, some of whom experience it as a kind of hex; ‘”Have a ball!” half the time meant “Go fuck yourself,”‘ former Observer staffer Choire Sicha explains.) His verbal style includes a lot of thoughtful pauses, during which he lingers on conjunctions like somebody leaning on a walkup buzzer (aaaaaaaaaaaaaand). And when there’s irony to be detected—there always is around New York—he has a way of registering it mostly in his right eyebrow, which lifts and swags abruptly like a kite in wind. Sometimes, though, extroversion fails him and a warier, more fretful Kaplan shows through. At those moments, the blue eyes go distant, the brow knits, and the mouth droops to an enigmatic grimace. It is the face of a guy seeing something ominous from a great distance, and it gives him an aspect of quiet gravity, of deep worry roiling beneath the neat gray hair.”
From the moment Kael began as a film critic at The New Yorker, at the start of 1968, she presided over the movies in the manner of Béla Károlyi watching a gymnast on the balance beam—shouting directives, excoriating every flub, and cheering uncontrollably when a filmmaker stuck his landing. She spent much of her career chastening Hollywood’s excesses while brushing off complaints about immoderation on her own part. She did not regard this as a hypocritical endeavor. Kael wrote quickly and at length, regularly pulling all-nighters into her Tuesday deadlines with the help of cigarettes and bourbon (till she gave up both). Her kinetic passion, her chatty-seatmate prose, and her detail-heckling made her a pop-culture oracle in an era that desperately needed one.
[Essays and Criticism] Today, I am still being jolted, and the jagged terrain behind bears the track marks of my own innumerable small humiliations. In the seventh grade: A substitute asks the class to read out loud, and when I stumble over my first sentence, she inquires of the other students whether I’m “OK” and “always like this,” and while I continue fighting with a “pr” sound, my ears tune in to every judging shudder in the room—the creaking chairs, the restless exhalations, the uncomfortable shifting, in the desk beside me, of a girl with many colored pens who seems to me in some way very beautiful. In high school: A medical assistant taking down my charts asks whether I just have a problem with my speech or whether there is mental retardation, too.