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"Platform cooperativism: an alternative to uberisation": OURS TO HACK AND TO OWN in Makery

December 7, 2016
How does one relocate the governance of the digital economy? Trebor Scholz, Nathan Schneider and a crowd of engaged authors are listing alternatives in a publication on “platform cooperativism”. Makery selected the good papers for you. Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider met at the Ouisharefest in Paris in 2014. They noticed they shared views on platform cooperativism as an alternative to uberization, or more precisely “platform capitalism” as the political specialist Nick Srnicek defined it. The project of a book emerged from this meeting, as a means to disseminate the scattered ideas of an international movement. Its website Platformcoop has since been relaying its initiatives. The book will be released this month to also support a reflection group, the PCC (Platform Cooperativism Consortium), officially launched on November 11 in the New School of New York (where Trebor Scholz teaches). Read the full article here.

"In a quietly seething letter, he wrote that he felt like a cuckold.": FINKS in The Baffler

December 7, 2016
The final chapters were still being written when requests came for advance excerpts. One such request came from a Uruguayan critic named Emir Rodríguez Monegal, who was editing a new literary magazine, Mundo Nuevo. But it wasn’t just any literary magazine. Gringo spy money buttressed it, went the rumors. Like much of the Latin American literary world, Rodríguez Monegal heard about the novel nearly a year before it appeared. Latin American intellectuals were still bitterly at odds over the Cuban Revolution, which Mundo Nuevo’s paymasters opposed. However willing García Márquez was to contribute to a magazine that openly sought to publish work from both sides, as this one claimed, he was not interested in doing covert cultural propaganda for the gringos. And yet . . . as One Hundred Years of Solitude was being published to immediate and universal acclaim—the literary equivalent of Beatlemania, as one critic has written—and as the book’s author had a new empire to manage, between the foreign rights, translations, sales numbers, requests from fans, interviews, film options, and what he would write next, something like a barnacle clung to his newfound success. Newspapers were reporting that much of the cultural world had been ensnared in a CIA scheme to marshal culture for Cold War gain against the Soviets. It must have been an “oh shit” moment equal and opposite to his Acapulco epiphany: Mundo Nuevo was one of those magazines, and he had been stupid enough to say yes. He wrote his editor-friend to protest his evident ensnarement in the scheme. What did it feel like? In a quietly seething letter, he wrote that he felt like a cuckold. Read the full article here.

"It could have been any of us in the boat that day. Any one of us.": OPTICIAN OF LAMPEDUSA in The Mirror

December 5, 2016
‘Birds,” he says in his flat voice. “Just birds. It had to be birds. We were in open sea after all. It couldn’t be anything else.” As the screaming became more piercing and persistent, the optician and his friends raised anchor and made their way with their little boat to the source of the terrible noise. At first they saw what they thought were large fish in the water but as they got closer they began to distinguish that those fish had arms and legs and faces. Read the full article here.

"An accomplished intellectual, Whitney writes with authority.": FINKS in Spinwatch

December 5, 2016
"Whitney’s book is an original, substantive, in-depth study of the CIA’s involvement in promoting US cultural hegemony to and through cultural elites in Europe, Latin and Central America and in the far east." Read the full article here.

"An account in riveting detail of Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to power which reads more like a thriller than a chronicle": THE CANDIDATE in Philosophy Football

December 5, 2016
"After that little lot the season of not enough goodwill and too little peace may require a bit of cheer-me-up. The Candidate by Alex Nunns should do precisely that for the convinced Corbynite with an account in riveting detail of Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to power which reads more like a thriller than a chronicle, and that’s a compliment by the way!" Read the full article here.

"The editors have produced a book that has the charm and some of the truculence of the man himself.": ROSSET in The New Yorker

December 5, 2016
A new memoir, “Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship” (OR Books), is the work of several hands. Rosset had planned an autobiography, and he enlisted many helpers, but he was never satisfied, and, when he died, in 2012, the book was unfinished. The editors have managed to pull together a memoir using material in Rosset’s papers, and have produced a book that has the charm and some of the truculence of the man himself. Rosset’s first great accomplishment after acquiring Grove was to become Beckett’s American publisher. Beckett was an elusive and problematic prize. He lived in Paris; he wrote in French; and he was fanatical about the integrity of his art. There are differing accounts of how Rosset heard about Beckett, but it’s undisputed that when they met, in Paris, they hit it off. Maybe it was the Irish ancestry. But it was sound business sense. Rosset recognized Beckett’s potential at a time when he was barely a coterie author. He must also have realized that he had a melodramatically self-abnegating prima donna on his hands, and he patiently walked Beckett through the steps necessary for his books to be published in the United States, starting with persuading him to translate them into English himself, which Beckett did only after making a tremendous fuss. Read the full article here.

"A political thriller": THE CANDIDATE in Leamington Letters

December 5, 2016
The telling of the tale as much as the tale itself is also the key to The Candidate by Alex Nunns, the story of the improbably election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party – the first time. ​It is a political thriller which has, unsurprisingly, received little attention from the mainstream media, which emerges with about as much credit as the majority of Labour MPs and the party administration. To read this book is to become intimately acquainted not solely with the factionalism on right and left which has plagued the party, but also with the larger picture: what is the Labour Party? What's the point of it in a post-Brexit world? Read the full article here.

"A clear-sighted and enjoyable exploration": THE CANDIDATE in Morning Star

December 5, 2016
HOW did Jeremy Corbyn win, that Saturday 15 months ago? On the back of a remarkable campaign and the collapse of Labour’s right, yes, but how? And why? An answer is needed, not only for the Labour left and those who see it as the best bet but also for those otherwise uninterested in the party’s fortunes and eyeing up an alternative route to socialism. It is important because a good answer will hold up a mirror to the left and to the social forces that have landed us in this situation and light up the paths we can take from here. The Candidate provides such a thoughtful response. Alex Nunns isn’t the first to have a go — Richard Seymour’s Corbyn book springs to mind — but he shuns prophecy for a study of the moving parts. That’s not to knock Seymour, whose book is worth reading, but his analysis exists in the service of a particular argument. The Candidate is altogether different. Nunns looks in detail at the factors that combined to create the conditions for, and propel us toward, Corbyn’s victory and lays out the evidence for study. A good example is the Collins review of Labour’s internal elections. Nunns does an eye-opening job of digging into what the review meant practically — changes that perhaps seemed marginal at the time but with careful analysis and a bit of hindsight now appear central. That’s the depth but Nunns doesn’t spare the breadth. Collins appears again in a knowledgable chapter on the trade unions, where the starting point is Ed Miliband’s win, traced through the union drive for worker-friendly candidates for the 2015 general election and the fabricated scandal in Falkirk — the “High Noon” of Unite’s showdown with Progress, as Martin Mayer comments. And, as a delicious digestif, there’s a page of “critical praise” for the Collins review from top Blairites. Nunns is not just perceptive but frequently funny. There are more immediately practical lessons too, such as the tactics adopted by the Corbyn campaign, what worked and what failed — not something I’d normally be drawn to but Nunns kept me with him throughout. It’s hard to do The Candidate justice. If you want to know how and why Corbyn won, read this book. There’s no preaching, no fawning, just a clear-sighted and enjoyable exploration of where we are and how we got here. It’s up to us to use this knowledge to decide where we go next. Read the full article here.

"Ghamari has crafted a compelling alternate view of history": REMEMBERING AKBAR in The Times Literary Supplement

December 5, 2016
"In August, newly released tapes of a mass execution shone a spotlight on the chaotic and violent years that followed Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979, and on the schisms that reshaped the country’s politics during the 1980s. The tapes were released by the family of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who can be heard speaking before the execution. Montazeri, once the presumed successor of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, became a thorn in the side of the regime as he advocated for prisoner rights. He is also an unseen force in Behrooz Ghamari’s timely novel, Remembering Akbar, a fictionalized prison memoir that evokes the unsettled early 1980s from the perspective of a political prisoner. ... Laced through with dark humour and moments of humanity … Ghamari has crafted a compelling alternate view of history, imbuing a narrative often framed as inevitable with uncertainty and tension." Read the full article here.

"Read this unforgettable book": OPTICIAN OF LAMPEDUSA in Counterpunch

December 2, 2016
In spite of its horror, Emma Jane Kirby’s The Optician of Lampedusa is a magical book, but also dangerous, so riveting in its telling of the rescue that you may find yourself gripping the pages as you turn them. Appropriately, the book comes unannounced with no hype; yet what the book asks is the worrisome question we seem unwilling to ask about so many events in the world today. When is enough enough? Have we lost our humanity completely? Read this unforgettable book. Rush out and get a copy. Read the full article here.

"I was fascinated by Joel Whitney’s ingeniously researched book": FINKS in The Guardian Best Books in 2016

December 2, 2016
"This has turned out to be one of those years when old assumptions, moral as well as political and economic, collapse, and we are ushered into a new epoch. It will take time to even understand the implications of this transformation, which reach deep into the literary and cultural realms, let alone figure out where we are headed. In the meantime, we must look for writing that illuminates the era that has just ended. David Kennedy’s A World of Struggle: How Power, Law and Expertise Shape Global Political Economy (Princeton) can hardly be bettered as a description of how the world has been run and why it is so difficult to change its dysfunctional ideologies and institutions. Timothy Nunan’s Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan (Cambridge) is a groundbreaking study of a little understood experience of modernity in what used to be called the third world. Finally available in an English translation, Jean Guéhenno’s Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: Collaboration, Resistance, and Daily Life in Occupied Paris (trans David Ball, Oxford) is eerily resonant with the dilemmas of writers in many neofascist countries today. In Blood and Sand: Suez, Hungary and the Crisis That Shook the World, Alex von Tunzelmann shows why she is one of our most skilful and resourceful young historians. I was also fascinated by Joel Whitney’s ingeniously researched Finks: How the C.I.A. Tricked the World’s Best Writers." -- Pankaj Mishra Read the full article here.

"It turns out that even the savviest reader gets duped into reading advertising as news content": BLACK OPS ADVERTISING in The New York Times Books Roundup

December 2, 2016
BLACK OPS ADVERTISING: Native Ads, Content Marketing, and the Covert World of the Digital Sell, by Mara Einstein. (OR Books, paper, $18.) It turns out that even the savviest reader often gets duped into reading advertising as news content. This book offers a prediction of a world where “everything . . . is some form of sales pitch.” Read the full article here.

"Ever creative, the counter-culture finds workarounds'": SPLINTERNET in Times Literary Supplement

December 1, 2016
"Yet, ever creative, the counter-culture finds workarounds. Hackers and the privacy-minded “jailbreak” their devices, removing software restrictions imposed by manufacturers, or use VPNs (virtual private networks), which enable users to bypass official, commercial channels and share data more securely. For Irene S. Wu, a senior analyst at the US Federal Communications Commission, commerce has been an enabler, not a handicap, for the internet and the connective technologies that preceded it, at least as far back as the telegraph in the nineteenth century." Read the full article here.

"Against utopia, for 'untopia'": WALTER MOSLEY in The Nation

December 1, 2016
"Walter Mosley, author of the Easy Rawlins mysteries, proposes a “shotgun marriage” between capitalism and socialism." Read the full article here.

"We are being sold stuff all the time": BLACK OPS ADVERTISING in The Drift

December 1, 2016
The basic premise of “Black Ops” is that content marketing – as practiced online – represents a fairly evil and cynical blurring of the line between content and advertising – the old “Church and State” argument dusted off for a new generation. According to Einstein, we are being sold stuff all the time…even when we think we’re just being entertained or informed. Read the full article here.

"The editorial department will always rely, existentially, on advertising.": BLACK OPS ADVERTISING in The Los Angeles Review of Books

December 1, 2016
Church and state can exist completely apart, while in the world of a publication, the editorial department will always rely, existentially, on advertising. We’ve long ago bid adieu to the concept of paying for digital news, and so the lifeblood of any editorial staff will always be the team in the other room with slicker hair and wider smiles. But despite this, the church and state allegory has a deeper ring of truth. To what else can you compare those journalistic ideals of integrity, steadfastness, and a nearly ascetic avoidance of material influence, than to those of religion? Sterling principles — in life, in religion, and in advertising — are merely theoretical; they’re something to aim for, but are rarely attainable in full. To label native advertising as the leading corruptive force in the modern digital newsroom is to ignore the industry’s most pronounced trends. What’s the influence of a sponsored post compared with the fact that a non-sponsored post is often judged solely on how many clicks and shares it garners? How often does an outlet’s success lie in partisan pandering? What modern publication can truly claim to be of the people without succumbing to the lowest common denominator? Read the full article here.

"Dedicated Corbynites might enjoy finding Alex Nunns’s fervently sympathetic The Candidate in their Christmas stockings.": THE CANDIDATE in The Guardian Best Politics Books of 2016

December 1, 2016
about serious redistribution of wealth. If they were, they’d have to give up their very nice houses, private schools for their kids, and so on. If you ask them about racism or gay rights or feminism, they probably would tick all those boxes. The self-righteousness of that group, who are very present at the moment behind Hillary, those who are telling people you’ve got to vote—it feels like a kind of moral injunction from people who have done fine as a result of globalization. Their lives, if anything, have improved. I can understand the working, lower-middle class of America. Globalization has really wrecked their communities and dashed the hopes of their children of owning houses, or getting well-paid, secure jobs, or even having libraries, or community centers, or nice shopping streets. All across America those things are gone. I can understand when they hear someone like Leonardo DiCaprio saying, You’ve got to vote! they’re like, Fuck you, it’s fine for you. Don’t simultaneously take the moral high ground and lead this lifestyle that is extremely comfortable for you but isn’t for us. I can see why that drives people nuts. It’s in large part what Trump’s supporters are angry about: that combination of a rather smug, well-off, professional middle class person preaching about how tolerant we all have to be. Read the full article here.

"It feels like a kind of moral injunction from people who have done fine as a result of globalization.": Colin Robinson in Lithub

December 1, 2016
I’ve been reading Tom Frank’s book Listen, Liberal. He basically says it’s not really the 90%, but probably 15-20% of the American population, who are well-off professionals and quite liberal around social issues. But they aren’t liberal about serious redistribution of wealth. If they were, they’d have to give up their very nice houses, private schools for their kids, and so on. If you ask them about racism or gay rights or feminism, they probably would tick all those boxes. The self-righteousness of that group, who are very present at the moment behind Hillary, those who are telling people you’ve got to vote—it feels like a kind of moral injunction from people who have done fine as a result of globalization. Their lives, if anything, have improved. I can understand the working, lower-middle class of America. Globalization has really wrecked their communities and dashed the hopes of their children of owning houses, or getting well-paid, secure jobs, or even having libraries, or community centers, or nice shopping streets. All across America those things are gone. I can understand when they hear someone like Leonardo DiCaprio saying, You’ve got to vote! they’re like, Fuck you, it’s fine for you. Don’t simultaneously take the moral high ground and lead this lifestyle that is extremely comfortable for you but isn’t for us. I can see why that drives people nuts. It’s in large part what Trump’s supporters are angry about: that combination of a rather smug, well-off, professional middle class person preaching about how tolerant we all have to be. Read the full article here.

"Build democracy and it spreads like a virus": Nathan Schneider in Open Democracy

November 30, 2016
OSB: You seem to be a fan of democracy, as am I, however, I'm not sure I have ever experienced it. What do you think real democracy is? Nathan Schneider Nathan Schneider. Photo: Elizabeth Leitzell, CC BY-SA 4.0 license NS: I guess I feel I have experienced democracy. Never perfect, never complete (as Derrida put it, always "democracy to come"), but real and beautiful. I experienced it as a teenage student, when the teachers empowered us to help govern our school, and then in college living in a housing cooperative. And I've seen it in social movements, in organizations I've been part of, and even fleetingly in the voting booth. I agree that one cannot call the reigning political systems any kind of complete democracy, but they do have some democratic features, and they invite us to the challenge of thickening that democracy radically. Especially in a moment like the present one in the US, when the government is not going to be an ally, it is so, so important to build democracy wherever we can. This is something social movements have been doing for a while now. Movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter have found themselves in societies they view as undemocratic, and they responded by practicing direct democracy in the streets, and calling for cooperatives in the economy. I think this is a valuable lesson. When democracy fails at one level of society, start building it in other levels, in other spheres. It spreads like a virus. Read the full article here.

"A well researched and accomplished book": Mara Einstein in The New York Times

November 28, 2016
I don’t often watch late night television, which may be why I was caught unawares. Jimmy Fallon’s opening monologue began hilariously enough, when abruptly he pivoted to a series of inexplicably weak jokes centered on a forthcoming football game. It slowly dawned on me that I was watching a commercial for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” albeit one baked right into the opening monologue and delivered by Fallon himself. The realization that something you thought to be “real” is actually an advertisement is an increasingly common, if unsettling, sensation. Mara Einstein calls it “content confusion,” and if her book, “Black Ops Advertising,” is right, we’re in for even more such trickery, indeed a possible future where nearly everything becomes hidden commercial propaganda of one form or another. She forecasts the potential of a “world where there is no real content: Everything we experience is some form of sales pitch.” Einstein, a former advertising executive turned media professor (who, among other things, worked campaigns for Uncle Ben’s and Miller Lite), makes it clear that things were not always this way. Once upon a time the line between editorial and advertising, if not exactly a Chinese wall, was somewhat clearer. Einstein’s well-researched and accomplished book is mainly about the effort to tear down that wall. The sledgehammers and pick axes in this case are things like “sponsored content,” “native advertising” and “content marketing” designed to fool you into thinking they are real. Such stealth advertising may entertain or inform, yet it also brands, or more cleverly, facilitates a later branding exercise or sales pitch. The handoff can be smooth enough that you don’t notice you’ve been steered to exit through the gift shop. Continue reading the main story “Black Ops” presents some startling examples of stealth advertising. Remember that guy who in 2012 jumped out of a helium balloon at 128,000 feet for a new world record? Covered widely in the media, it was all, according to Einstein, a disguised Red Bull marketing campaign, but one where Red Bull’s role was so discreet as to be almost invisible. You may also recall the audacious “tagging” of Air Force One by a graffiti artist named Marc Ecko, which has been viewed nearly a million times on YouTube. It was a hoax intended for the branding of a clothing and accessories label. That “ad” fooled so many members of the public and press that it was awarded the top prize for digital media at the annual Cannes Lions advertising festival. The book is slightly guilty of exaggerating the novelty of present-day advertising techniques. Content that doubles as brand advertising is not exactly new. In the 1980s, “The Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” were popular children’s cartoons but also advertisements, and so of course was the much beloved “Mickey Mouse Club” back in the 1960s. The idea of inventing media stories for commercial purpose also has a long pedigree, dating to at least the late 1920s, when Lucky Strike staged a protest (the “torches of liberty”) featuring attractive women demanding the right to smoke outdoors as a part of suffragist liberation (yielding, ultimately, an equal right to lung cancer). Subliminal advertising, perhaps the blackest of all black ops, was popular in the 1950s, until it was banned. The difference, Einstein argues, lies in how much effort is going toward the dark arts. It is, she suggests, for one simple reason: that we, the public, are so good at avoiding or ignoring traditional advertising. We are fickle fish, cynical creatures who have already been hooked so many times that the simpler lures no longer work. Read the full article here.