American Politics

Rise of the Blur

A specter is haunting photojournalism—an actual, visible specter

Because detective shows and soap operas use this blurry-foreground move so regularly, its sudden ubiquity in the news represents a significant shift in register, or even genre, for journalism. Photojournalism has for decades restricted itself to a stark framing of visual facts, never wishing to compromise its evidentiary role in the narration for a more theatrical one. The best news photos deftly capture the drama with a shutter click, but that is also the abiding rule: it either happens in that click, or it doesn’t make it to print.

The Custom of the Capitol

The Custom of the Capitol

This is what democracy looks like?

The buildings are enormous, the bridges are like Rome’s. I was told that DC was modeled after the gardens at Versailles. But unlike the European cities it emulates, there are no layers of history here—just that horrible orangey beige stone. I went to see a touring band play, and the lead singer said, “I forgot where we are.” To have history, you can’t simply have monuments; you also need a population to prop them up. Here, that natural accumulation is stunted, the city’s grandiosity hollow.

Smorgasbords Don’t Have Bottoms

Publishing in the 2010s

No one wakes up in the morning hoping to be as vapid as possible. But eventually you internalize the squeeze. Everyone down the chain adjusts their individual decisions to the whim of the retailer, or to their best guess at the whim of the retailer. If it’s Barnes & Noble, you may hear that a cover doesn’t work, that the store won’t carry the title unless you change it. If it’s Amazon, you may not hear anything at all. You go back and adjust your list of wildly optimistic comparative titles — it’s The Big Short, but . . . for meteorology!

Professional-Managerial Chasm

Professional-Managerial Chasm

A sociological designation turned into an epithet and hurled like a missile

In the early years of the 20th century, the professions emerged in their modern forms, establishing uniform standards of practice and conduct in all these fields. The new professionals were in general politically progressive, seeing their purpose as the renovation of American democracy and the modernization of conditions of work and life, in keeping with the momentous social and technological changes that had remade the world. Early on, they tended to imagine themselves as the antagonists of capitalists, not workers—or at least as brokers between the two. Social control, the production of rationalized plebeian behavior, was necessary for democracy to function, and might even gradually transform into socialism—the apotheosis of the principle of social rationality.

Predatory Inclusion

Predatory Inclusion

Placing homeownership at the heart of the nation’s low-income housing policies ceded outsize influence and control to the real estate industry over dwellings intended to serve a disproportionately African American market. Real estate’s wealth was largely generated through racial discrimination. Its profitability was contingent on “best practices” that actively encouraged racial segregation, and the public policies that grew from the partnership between property assessors, brokers, bankers, and federal policymakers reflected the logic of the housing market.

On the Mueller Report, Vol. 1

On the Mueller Report, Vol. 1

How they got away with it

An interesting side effect of reading the report is to feel that anyone who claims to have understood its arguments, purposes, and consequences within twenty-four or forty-eight hours of encountering it is likely untrustworthy.

On Design Thinking

On Design Thinking

By embracing “design thinking,” we attribute to design a kind of superior epistemology: a way of knowing, of “solving,” that is better than the old and local and blue-collar and municipal and unionized and customary ways. We bring in “design thinkers” — some of them designers by trade, many of them members of adjacent knowledge fields — to “empathize” with Kaiser hospital nurses, Gainesville city workers, church leaders, young mothers, and guerrilla fighters the world over.

Spectacle of Participation

The permanent permanent campaign

Endless campaigns may be seen as evidence of a candidate’s eventual priorities. Some supporters of Hillary Clinton averred happily that she had been pulled to the left by Bernie Sanders, but the fact remains that anyone can be pulled to the left during a campaign, because campaigns have targeted ends: votes. Once those are achieved, they usually have no lasting effect on what the candidate does in office. There are few promises that cannot be broken, or so hedged and circumscribed that they are effectively broken.