Every August, the traditional vacation month for Spaniards, those Barcelonans who can afford to flee the city and its hordes for the green hills and pretty beaches of the nearby Costa Brava. The legendary boulevard of Las Ramblas, in Barcelona, snaking from the city’s downtown along the ancient Gothic quarter to the Mediterranean Sea, is a must-do for all foreign visitors, and it is thronged with people at the best of times. Earlier today, Las Ramblas became the latest soft target for terrorists, when a man, evidently swearing allegiance to the Islamic State, drove a rented white van for hundreds of feet, hitting dozens of people who were walking along the tree-lined avenue. Zigzagging back and forth in an apparent effort to maximize the death toll, the driver killed at least thirteen people and injured a hundred.The earliest images to emerge from the scene, a few hours ago, had a ghoulishly reminiscent quality: one of them was an iPhone video clip, without any narrative or commentary—nor needing any—evidently shot in the first shocked aftermath of the attack. It showed several people, most of them in summer shorts and T-shirts, lying dead or unconscious and badly wounded, bleeding, on a sidewalk, as stunned survivors stumbled past.
Let me try to get this straight: from the moment the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 until recently just about every politician and mainstream pundit in America assured us that we were the planet’s indispensable nation, the only truly exceptional one on this small orb of ours.
We were the sole superpower, Earth’s hyperpower, its designated global sheriff, the architect of our planetary future. After five centuries of great power rivalries, in the wake of a two-superpower world that, amid the threat of nuclear annihilation, seemed to last forever and a day (even if it didn’t quite make it 50 years), the United States was the ultimate survivor, the victor of victors, the last of the last. It stood triumphantly at the end of history. In a lottery that had lasted since Europe’s wooden ships first broke out of a periphery of Eurasia and began to colonize much of the planet, the United States was the chosen one, the country that would leave every imperial world-maker from the Romans to the British in its shadow.
Who could doubt that this was now our world in a coming American century beyond compare?
Alain Badiou: “Ultimately it is revolutionaries alone who offer a true balance sheet of revolutions”
On 16 January, a long and emotional gathering took place at the Théâtre de la Commune in Aubervilliers (Seine-Saint-Denis). Here, the philosopher Alain Badiou wanted to mark both his 80th birthday and the 50-year running of his famous seminar, offering the faithful a last session of public reflection.Launched in 1966, this seminar has moved between the Collège universitaire de Reims, the Université Paris-VIII, the Collège international de philosophie, the l’Ecole normale supérieure and, finally, here at the Théâtre de la Commune.All of this seminar work since 1983 is going to be published by Fayard, which has already published nine such volumes. The most recent one covers the years 2010-2012 and is entitled Que signifie “changer le monde”? Here, between two pieces commenting on current affairs, Alain Badiou works his way through Western texts from Plato’s dialectic to Lacanian psychoanalysis, via Rousseau’s novels and the theatre of Brecht. He does this in order to examine the future of “the old watchword of revolution.”
San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run – but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world….There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. — Hunter S. ThompsonEffective altruism is the movement devoted to finding the highest-impact ways to help other people and the world. Philosopher William MacAskill described it as “doing for the pursuit of good what the Scientific Revolution did for the pursuit of truth”. They have an annual global conference to touch base and discuss strategy. This year it was in the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, and I got a chance to check it out.
Last month Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. For his supporters, it provided evidence, at last, that the president is a man of his word. He may not have kept many campaign promises, but he kept this one. For his numerous critics it is just another sign of how little Trump cares about evidence of any kind. His decision to junk the Paris accord confirms Trump as the poster politician for the “post-truth” age.But this is not just about Trump. The motley array of candidates who ran for the Republican presidential nomination was divided on many things, but not on climate change. None of them was willing to take the issue seriously. In a bitterly contentious election, it was a rare instance of unanimity. The consensus that climate is a non-subject was shared by all the candidates who appeared in the first major Republican debate in August 2015 – Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee and Trump. Republican voters were offered 10 shades of denialism.
Perhaps the best way to overcome the fear of North Korea’s military threats is to live where the beast is the closest – South Korea. I live in “the Seoul region”, the area including and surrounding the capital, where about half the country’s 51 million people are concentrated.I also live less than 200km from Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital city, and less than 300km from Yongbyon, where a major nuclear facility is located. In other words, Seoul is well within reach of North Korea’s nukes and missiles, many of which have been decorating the headlines with increasing frequency in recent years.Yet when North Korea fired another long-range ballistic missile on 28 July – its 12th test in 2017 alone – most South Koreans hardly batted an eyelid. Friday night continued on the streets of Seoul with no visible sense of urgency (unless you were a journalist, in which case your night would have been ruined by having to exasperatedly call the defence ministry).
While the Trump administration’s policy on North Korea is gyrating in all directions—mostly bad—someone in Washington is keeping hope alive. Namely, despite escalating tensions which appear to be approaching a violent breaking point, there might be a peaceful way out of what some pundits are calling a “slow-motion Cuban missile crisis.”Reports emerged last week that American and North Korean diplomats were holding secret meetings in New York City. In fact, the “New York” channel between the United States and North Korea has existed since the early 1990s. For decades after the Korean War, there were no official contacts between the two countries as Washington pursued a policy of isolating Pyongyang. The Reagan administration shifted gears in the late 1980s and began a policy of limited engagement with North Korea because of concerns about its nascent nuclear weapons program and a desire to support South Korea’s policy of reaching out to Pyongyang. American and North Korean diplomats in Beijing held occasional meetings to discuss important issues. But as the crisis over Pyongyang’s nuclear program mounted at the beginning of the Clinton administration, the U.S. decided that it was more convenient for executive branch officials to hop on an airplane shuttle for the short ride from Washington to New York to meet North Korean diplomats at the United Nations than to endure the grueling 14-hour trek to Beijing. Those New York sessions often took place in isolated, dingy basement rooms at UN headquarters beyond the prying eyes of reporters.
The confidential report that European Union diplomats sent to Brussels following their visit to a refugee camp in Libya didn’t mince words. “The conditions … conform to expectations,” the diplomats wrote, “poor sanitation, space and overall hygiene: unfit to host over 1,000 migrants in detention.” The report, labeled “EU restricted,” went on to note that the living conditions were “squalid” and “the small medical dispensary (was) a miserable sight.”
In a normal world, every politician in Washington would be alarmed if the U.S. president threatened to use nuclear weapons to destroy another nation, as President Donald Trump did on Tuesday. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” he said during a photo op at his Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” To someone who had just awoken from a years-long coma, his remarks would have suggested that the world was on the brink of nuclear war. Indeed, historians in search of a rhetorical precedent had to go all the way back to President Harry Truman’s 1945 announcement of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.
HBO’s prospective series Confederate will offer an alternative history of post-Civil War America. It will ask the question, according to co-creator David Benioff, “What would the world have looked like … if the South had won?” A swirl of virtual protests and op-eds have greeted this proposed premise. In response, HBO has expressed “great respect” for its critics but also said it hopes that they will “reserve judgment until there is something to see.”This request sounds sensible at first pass. Should one not “reserve judgment” of a thing until after it has been seen? But HBO does not actually want the public to reserve judgment so much as it wants the public to make a positive judgment. A major entertainment company does not announce a big new show in hopes of garnering dispassionate nods of acknowledgement. HBO executives themselves judged Confederate before they’d seen it—they had to, as no television script actually exists. HBO hoped to communicate that approval to its audience through the announcement. And had that communication been successful, had Confederate been greeted with rapturous anticipation, it is hard to imagine the network asking its audience to tamp down and wait.