The Small Roundup Test-Run Edition
Housekeeping: For those new to the newsletter, fresh editions arrive at 6:35 am PT on Mondays. Check out archived versions here.
More Housekeeping: I am playing with different formats, and I am considering making one or two editions a month a small roundup of news items, the way CSPAN has been known to do. “What’re you reading today?” This is a test run. Register objections if you have any.
In this edition: A handful of stories you may have missed: (1). the West Coast fires burn themselves into the record books alarmingly early in the year; (2). Anthropologist David Graeber dies; (3). Bill Ackerman argues for universal basic stock markets; (4). Trump was nominated for the Peace Prize again, even as the Woodward interviews reveal he knowingly lied about the lethality of the virus.
For many of us, consuming and synthesizing the news has become a draining exercise in constant news cycles burdened by increasingly fast-moving narratives. Bits of information can get lost in the avalanche that is the news cycle.
Trusting that you have heard already about the big ticket news items such as the revelations of Bob Woodward’s new book that American President Donald Trump admitted to having knowingly lied about the danger posed by the novel coronavirus as well as the heart-rending plea of Breonna Taylor’s mother, I will select some other items you may not have caught in the last two weeks or so. They’re medium-sized news items, really, except for the fires.
I will not say these are (necessarily) the most important items, nor that they are all the items worthy of your attention, only that I found them worth taking note of.
West Coast fires: USA Today’s figures, to pull out an estimate, put the figure at 100 fires across twelve states, with thirty dead and a landmass the size of New Jersey burning like a torch. One of the Senators from Oregon described the resultant smoke as apocalyptic. We received some relief, ironically, from the oppressively hot weather this week, even as the fires continue to rage. At one point, the sun was blotted out and the air was thick and heavy with acrid ash. The temperature, which had pushed 120 degrees where I am, has temporarily reduced. The heat, record-breaking by all accounts, had triggered a state of emergency. The California fires have already dealt a lot of damage. Paradise, CA, one of the cities so pitilessly devastated by previous year’s fires, has had to watch the nightmare replay. Rome burned in a couple of days. Paradise has burned for a couple of years. President Trump is expected to give a briefing in the golden state on Monday, and I’m sure he will offer all the reassurance of a damp cloth. This is not a morality tale about natural disasters (not just, anyway). It is a warning shot. Existential means, we ought to remind ourselves, “relating to existence”.
David Graeber’s death: David Graeber died suddenly (he was 59 years old). Graeber wrote the indispensable book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, which illuminated the history of debt and the moral snares which impact our thinking about debt. He also argued for a period of debt forgiveness or “jubilee”. I will miss his voice immensely. Graeber was a noted anarchist and activist, having gained an international reputation during the Occupy Movement, during which he was involved with coining the “We are the 99%” slogan( He was often called the “anarchist anthropologist”, which he apparently did not like). In addition to seemingly ceaseless campaigning against inequality, he published the notable book Bullshit Jobs in recent years, cataloguing the extent of people in developed westernized economies believe that their job is utterly without meaning.
Bill Ackerman wants a bigger, better, more equitable stock-market: Free-market capitalism, as it is commonly understood, has taken a savage beating from the structural issues impacting our society, in particular from inequality. Although the solution to get the most airtime on this in the states is to have a more socialist-friendly structure, or a more social-democratic one with stronger social safety nets, another solution has been proposed. The Pershing Square Capital Management Chair Bill Ackerman recommended a thoroughly capitalist means of maintaining society by handing every American child upon birth $6,750 in a government-funded basket of index funds for retirement. Is participation in the stock market a human right, asked one reader of this newsletter? Universal basic stock markets doesn’t quite have the right ring, does it? Also, this fails an initial sniff test. But it is worth noting.
Trump was nominated (again) for the Nobel Peace Prize (for the record there have been something like 318 nominations for the 2020 prize), prompting Graeme Wood to call for the end of the Nobel Peace Prize in the Atlantic. The Trump campaign also put out a fundraiser that misspelled the name of the prize. Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama have actually won the prize.