If Heaven Ain’t a Lot Like Disney

J. Hoberman

Bria Vinaite as Halley and Brooklynn Prince as Moonee in Sean Baker's The Florida Project, 2017

The Florida Project is a snapshot of chaos, focused on a heedlessly dissolute young mother and her rambunctious six-year-old daughter. Each wonderfully inventive in her way, the two are living week to week during summer vacation in a shabby $38-a-night motel on a strip just beyond the perimeter of Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The film is not hallucinatory but, for almost its entirety, Disney World can only be sensed as something that has irradiated the local landscape.

Myanmar: Marketing a Massacre

Francis Wade

Propaganda depicting the alleged abuses of Buddhists by Muslims, displayed near the monastery of Ashin Wirathu, an anti-Muslim monk, Mandalay, Myanmar, May 31, 2017

All Rohingya were seen to be acting as one, the individual always in the service of the group. That inability to disaggregate one from the other has provided a lethal rationale for mass violence the world over, and it has formed a central pillar of the propaganda directed at the Rohingya since the late August insurgent attacks. Cartoons of machete-wielding Rohingya babies have circulated on social media, signalling a belief in an inborn malevolence that has had the effect of obliterating any distinction between young and old, violent and nonviolent.

Is Democracy in Europe Doomed?

Sasha Polakow-Suransky

Marine Le Pen, French National Front party leader,  Frejus, France, September 18, 2016

Too many people on the European left scoff at nationalism, mistaking their own distaste for evidence that the phenomenon no longer exists or is somehow illegitimate. If 2016 and 2017 have proven anything, it is that this sort of visceral nationalism, or loyalty to one’s in-group, still exists and is not going away. Those who dismiss this sort of national sentiment as backward and immature do so at their own peril. To dismiss the populist impulse as something completely alien is to miss the point and to preemptively lose the political debate.

Brexit: ‘Take Back Control’?

Simon Head

It now seems unlikely that the UK government will secure a transitional agreement with the EU in time for businesses to postpone their plans to start leaving the UK or cutting their investments there. If so, the percentage of British voters who come to realize that Brexit represents a real threat to their jobs and incomes can only grow. If the last year and a half has revealed anything about British politics, it is the instability of public opinion. If the polling numbers start to move strongly against Brexit, the political class will surely take note and start moving toward the only solution that makes sense for Britain: to abandon the whole disastrous project altogether.

Trump’s War on Knowledge

Ariel Dorfman

President Donald Trump looking at the solar eclipse without protective glasses, with his wife Melania and son Barron at the White House, Washington, D.C.,  August 21, 2017

There has always been a disturbing strand of anti-intellectualism in American life, but never has an occupant of the White House exhibited such a toxic mix of ignorance and mendacity, such lack of intellectual curiosity and disregard for rigorous analysis. “The experts are terrible,” Donald Trump said during his campaign. “Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have.” It is hardly surprising, then, that his administration is over-stocked with know-nothing fundamentalists.

Navalny, Anti-Rutabaga Candidate

Amy Knight

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at his appeal after being arrested, Moscow city court, October 6, 2017

In a recent post on his website, referring to Putin’s supposed approval polling, Aleksei Navalny, the charismatic anti-corruption crusader who has declared himself a candidate for the Russian presidency, commented: “The celebrated 86 percent rating [of Putin] exists in a political vacuum. It’s like asking someone who was fed only rutabaga all his life, how would you rate the edibility of rutabaga?” He was arrested in late September. The Kremlin is tearing its hair out over Navalny because of the prospect that a day will come when the Russian people realize they are sick of rutabaga and demand something else.

Catalonia on the Brink

Miguel-Anxo Murado

An independence supporter outside the Catalan parliament in Barcelona, Spain, October 10, 2017

When thinking about Catalonia seeking independence, we circle back to metaphors. Romantic breakup or severed-limb mutilation, the language of feelings or the language of the body. What they all have in common is that in most cases breakups are irreparable and painful. In that, the other Catalans and Spaniards are right, too. At his point, nobody knows whether Catalonia will finally secede from Spain, but, if it comes to that, it will feel like the loss of a limb. And for many, the hurt will be unbearable.

Iran: Trump’s Gift to the Hard-liners

Trita Parsi

A mural on the wall of the former US embassy, Tehran, 2015

The more aggressive Trump’s posture in the Middle East becomes, the stronger the hard-liners’ argument against Iranian President Rouhani’s administration will be. This is not just about what the Iranian conservatives will win if Trump kills the nuclear deal, but what America will lose. The blow to Iran’s moderate forces will be far more consequential than Bush’s “axis of evil” declaration and the rejection of Iran’s 2003 bargain proposal. It will take years, perhaps decades, before anyone in the Iranian political elite will dare to suggest any accommodation with Washington.

Consciousness: An Object Lesson

Riccardo Manzotti and Tim Parks

Giorgio Morandi: Large metaphysical still life, 1918

Manzotti: Perhaps it’s time to ditch the word “consciousness” and simply talk about experience….Your body is such a thing and when your body is there, an apple is there, too. Not an apple reproduced like a photo in your head. An apple there on the table, in relation with your body.

Parks: So, anything the body experiences as an effect—which is to say, anything it experiences—is an object?

How Uber Stalled in London

James Bloodworth

A London black-cab taxi driver at a protest against Uber, London, February 10, 2016

Until London’s regulatory pushback, Uber had thrived in Britain. The interests of the public, as consumers, were understood to be intrinsically bound together with those of this Silicon Valley disrupter in a struggle against restrictive business practices. Yet the past now appears to be exacting its revenge. Or, to be more precise, the future may not look as laissez faire as Uber’s champions would have us believe.