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Regular dispatches from our contributors.

There is No Alternativelessness

There is No Alternativelessness

What's been hiding Germany's hidden crisis?

Now, when a politician or a public intellectual or a newspaper goes on a Rumspringa in the rightmost reaches of the political spectrum, or if the fine citizens of some small town decide to set fire to a house, there is less of a script by which they would be welcomed back into respectability. Certain ethnic Germans used to take it as their seigneurial right to shower cruelty on the vulnerable and return to the mainstream after a cooling-off period to be listened to and shaken hands with. They are beginning to feel deprived of that right.

The Elections in Israel

The Elections in Israel

More than Netanyahu’s election to a fifth term as prime minister, the collapse of the Zionist left was the night’s historic result.

At least since Netanyahu’s election in 2009, Labor has repeatedly tried to defeat Likud by tacking right. Labor voters elected Avi Gabbay, a millionaire telecom executive and former minister in Netanyahu’s government, to head the party in 2017, in the hopes that he could reach voters beyond the party’s base. Gabbay, the son of Moroccan immigrants and raised in a poor Jerusalem neighborhood, was meant to take the party of the kibbutzim in a new direction. And in a sense, he did. He joined the right-wing attacks on the legitimacy of Arab political participation; when asked if he would form a governing coalition that included the Arab-led parties, he responded, “We have nothing in common with them.” He pledged not to evacuate Jewish settlements from the occupied West Bank. When, two weeks before the election, a rocket fired from Gaza hit a house in central Israel, Gabbay accused Netanyahu of being weak for not authorizing a more forceful military response. But voters who truly want ethnonationalism will always choose the real, bloody thing. Triangulation only moves the center of political gravity rightward, and when the center moves right, the left loses.

Meeting Needs

Meeting Needs

If movements’ labor produces change in society, who then produces the movement?

Political meetings rely upon social reproductive labor: washing dishes, caring for children, feeding participants. But the meeting itself also presents a reproductive challenge: how do participants sit, in what sequence do they speak, how do they address one another? The stakes of these questions are high, and can ultimately sustain or destroy us. These sorts of high stakes are why Silvia Federici lifts up movements that “place at the center of their political project the restructuring of reproduction as the crucial terrain for the transformation of social relations.” The work of reproducing movements is not only that of sharing the invisible labor that makes a meeting possible; it is also about attending to the ritual practices of meetings themselves, like speaking and listening, that foster and maintain relations of activism. This is the work of meeting needs.

Welcome to Violence

Welcome to Violence

When the characters end up in Sicily, a supertitle reads “Sicily, Italy,” so we know we are not in Sicily, Illinois.

Clint Eastwood is a Giacometti sculpture with a skull stuck on top. What skin he has left on his face is paper-thin, ready to be scraped and scratched. He looks dermabraded even before drug runners in The Mule push his face against a wall. Eastwood walks across motel parking lots in his latest movie with the careful certainty of a man who has always stayed on the hard line, a rule of life from a movie of his, Blood Work, he made seventeen years ago, when he already seemed old but was only 72.

Geopolitics for the Left

Geopolitics for the Left

Getting out from under the “liberal international order”

China’s ascent to great power status mirror’s the US’s in many ways. Like the US in the Gilded Age, the basis for China’s entrance into the first rank of global powers is its staggering economic growth. Averaging just shy of 10 percent of GDP growth annually for forty years, in a country of 1.4 billion people, it is the most spectacular economic feat in the history of capitalism. And like the US in the Gilded Age, China has benefited from a favorable international environment. In the late 19th century the British empire smiled upon the consanguine rising power, enabling the US to attract enormous amounts of foreign capital to its project of continental capitalist development. In the case of China, the US’s strategy of “convergence” has meant openly supporting and facilitating the country’s integration into the circuits of international capitalism, especially through endorsing China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 1999. Finally, the US’s willingness to import hundreds of billions of dollars a year of Chinese goods while exporting only a fraction of that to China, and to permit US firms to enter into joint ventures with potential Chinese competitors, have contributed hugely to China’s economic growth.

Other People’s Blood

Other People’s Blood

On Paul Volcker

Those who praise Volcker like to say he “broke the back” of inflation. Nancy Teeters, the lone dissenter on the Fed Board of Governors, had a different metaphor: “I told them, ‘You are pulling the financial fabric of this country so tight that it’s going to rip. You should understand that once you tear a piece of fabric, it’s very difficult, almost impossible, to put it back together again.” (Teeters, also the first woman on the Fed board, told journalist William Greider that “None of these guys has ever sewn anything in his life.”) Fabric or backbone: both images convey violence. In any case, a price index doesn’t have a spine or a seam; the broken bodies and rent garments of the early 1980s belonged to people. Reagan economic adviser Michael Mussa was nearer the truth when he said that “to establish its credibility, the Federal Reserve had to demonstrate its willingness to spill blood, lots of blood, other people’s blood.”

The Shallow Now

The Shallow Now

Oscars 2019

The worst advice anyone ever got in a movie is in Casablanca. An underage, newly married Bulgarian girl wants to leave Casablanca and go to America with her husband, but without having to sleep with the local corrupt cop to get them both visas. She asks café-proprietor Humphrey Bogart what she should do. “You want my advice?” he says. “Go back to Bulgaria.” Cold War is the story of that girl if she had gone back to Bulgaria.

On Tinder

On Tinder

The strength of my desire, previously unknown to me, feels overpowering. It also feels necessary, which means that it is dangerous.

As soon as I hang up, every movement feels curiously weighty. Things somehow mean more than they used to. I sit for a while, feeling the rug under my legs, then slowly wash my face and feel the water bead on my skin. I stare at the bones of my face in the mirror, and I look shadowed and unrecognizable. A liquid warmth spreads through my body. I complete the assignment.

The Prison House of Language

The Prison House of Language

On Rachel Kushner and Sergio De La Pava

The women in the novel are subjected to sexual violence so regularly that it is treated as if it is just another part of their punitive program. For many of them, this sexual violence is not unique to their time in jail. Kushner wisely demonstrates throughout the novel that patriarchy and its parallel oppressive structures are not phenomena specific to incarceration; they groom these characters from birth to feel comfortable in the rigidly authoritative structures of prisons. “I had been a waitress at IHOP right after I graduated high school,” Romy says. “I was waitress 43, and the cooks would call, Forty-three! Your order is up! Which, as I only saw later, had been preparing me for here.” With wrenching flashbacks to Romy’s youth that bare the bruises of innocence forcibly taken, Kushner shows us Romy navigating and bucking authority throughout her life, in her predatory friendships, in her work as a stripper, and in her experiences with men. By the time she ends up in prison, like the rest of the women around her, she hardly has the capacity to question or resist authority.

Travels with Joni Mitchell

Travels with Joni Mitchell

An oeuvre inaugurated by disavowal

Around 2014, I began to talk to friends about Joni and was disappointed—surprised—by how little they knew. These were people who listened to music. I had a conversation about her with a highly accomplished ex-student in New York, a writer who had musical training, who thought I was talking about Janis Joplin. This was related to a problem: the plethora of Js among women musicians of the time, which led to their conflation into a genre. Janis Joplin, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell: the last three especially were seen as interchangeable. Even if I put down my ex-student’s confusion to uncharacteristic generational ignorance, I found that, on mentioning Joni to a contemporary I had to work hard to distinguish her from Joan Baez. My friend had dismissed—not in the sense of “rejected,” but “taxonomized”—Joni as being part of a miscellany of singers with long, straight hair, high, clear voices, and a sincerity that shone brightly in the mass protests of the late ’60s. Visually, in her early acoustic performances with guitar, and even in her singing, she appropriated the folk singer’s persona to the point of parody, while the songwriting was absolutely unexpected. To prove this to my friend, I played her “Rainy Night House” and “Chinese Café / Unchained Melody.” It became clear in twenty seconds that Mitchell was not Joan Baez.