Big Money Rules

Two recent books—Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America and Gordon Lafer’s The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time—seek to explain several puzzling aspects of American politics today. Why do people of modest means who depend on government-funded health care and Social Security or other supplements to their income continue to vote for candidates who promise to privatize or get rid of those very programs? Why do people who are poor vote for politicians who promise to cut corporate taxes?

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Sylvia Plath’s Different Shades

Brunette Sylvia was certainly the way Plath felt a serious woman writer should present herself. In any case, a representation of Plath is still a blank slate on which readers, curators, observers, and fans project their views of her and their assumptions about the proper portrait of the young female artist. Plath anticipated that she would become famous for her sexuality and her suffering, as well as for her poetry. In “Lady Lazarus,” she speaks in the voice of a terrifying alter ego, a suicide survivor and femme fatale who rises from the ashes with her red hair and eats men like air. Lady Lazarus angrily warns the voyeuristic spectators that they must pay to see her.

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Michael Flynn and the Turkish Connection

Flynn faces possible fraud and money-laundering charges for failing to disclose a payment of $530,000 from the Turkish government. Flynn could also face conspiracy and kidnapping charges for allegedly negotiating a payment of $15 million to deliver to Turkey Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic cleric and political foe of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If indicted on these charges, Flynn could end up in jail for a long time. But knowing there is a potential presidential pardon in the works could dissuade Flynn from telling the truth as a cooperating witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

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It’s the Kultur, Stupid

In a poll shown on German television on election night, 95 percent of Alternative für Deutschland voters said they were very worried that “we are experiencing a loss of German culture and language,” 94 percent that “our life in Germany will change too much,” and 92 percent that “the influence of Islam in Germany will become too strong.” Feeding this politics of cultural despair is a milieu of writers, media, and books whose arguments and vocabulary connect back to themes of an earlier German right-wing culture in the first half of the twentieth century. This is a new German right with distinct echoes of the old.

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Lewd and Ludic: the Stampography of Vincent Sardon

The Stampographer, a new catalogue of Vincent Sardon’s work, is exuberantly bizarre, often foul-mouthed, sometimes boring, sometimes tender. There are jolly naked cowboys, and blue-and-red biff-boff cartoon fights (Republicans and Democrats?), obscene photos and deliberately blasphemous images—not that anyone would disagree with Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa as an illustration for “the orgasm over time.”

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Puerto Rico’s DIY Disaster Relief

Two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit, aid remained a bureaucratic quagmire, mismanaged by FEMA, the FBI, the US military, the laughably corrupt local government. The island looked like it was stuck somewhere between the nineteenth century and the apocalypse. But leftists, nationalists, socialists—the anarchist and feminist Louisa Capetillo’s sons and daughters—were stepping up to rebuild their communities. Natural disasters have a way of clarifying things. They sweep away once-sturdy delusions, to reveal old treasures and scars. 

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What’s in a T-Shirt?

MoMA’s “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” refers less to a period of time than to a way of relating to time itself—of dealing with and mingling the past, present, and future. The show features items that have been invented anew, used for present needs, or re-appropriated self-consciously to signal one’s identity, for political purposes, for nostalgic reasons, or simply as irony. Together, the exhibition and catalog present what could be considered a fashion “canon” for contemporary life.  

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Norwegian Woods

Edvard Munch was never simply a Norwegian artist. His appeal, like his own life, has always been both local and cosmopolitan at the same time. He may be best known internationally for his anguished paintings of the 1890s, especially for the group of works he created between 1893 and 1910 and called, in German, Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature). In Norway, on the other hand, he is at least as well known, and deservedly so, for his monumental paintings in the Festival Hall, dedicated to the sun and its pale, oblique Nordic light. Two recent exhibitions, one just closed in Oslo, one just opening in New York, suggest the broad range of this complicated but consistently capable artist.

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Russia’s Gay Demons

Early in Vladimir Putin’s first presidency I spoke to a Moscow banker, with reason to care on this point, who said he detected no trace of anti-Semitism in Putin personally, but that Putin would encourage popular anti-Semitism in a second if he thought that doing so would serve his interests. So far, Putin has not felt the need to demonize Russia’s Jews. He has instead identified the enemy within as Russia’s homosexuals, whose persecution is one of the main themes of The Future Is History, Masha Gessen’s remarkable group portrait of seven Soviet-born Russians whose changing lives embody the changing fortunes and character of their country as it passed from the end of Communist dictatorship under Mikhail Gorbachev to improvised liberalism under Boris Yeltsin and then back to what Gessen sees as renewed totalitarianism under Putin.

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