When Government Breaks the Fourth Wall

You’re at the theater. You’re sitting in your seat, paying attention to what’s going on in front of you. If the play is any good, you’ve completely forgotten that you’re sitting in a theater. You are absorbed in the new world unfolding in front of you. The theater has cast a spell over you. Then, suddenly, the actor on stage turns to the audience and begins speaking...
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Disrupting Hillary

In one of the most enduring images from the lead-up to the 2008 Democratic primaries, frontrunner Hillary Clinton appeared in a rogue political ad as Big Brother. It was a take-off on the infamous 1984 Super Bowl commercial that pitted upstart Apple against Big Blue (IBM) and urged consumers to “Think Different.” In the campaign makeover two decades later, Clinton is intoning political...
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Piketty in Elysium

At the beginning of last summer’s blockbuster film Elysium, three rogue shuttles from Earth approach a space station that houses a super-rich enclave. It’s the ultimate offshore gated community, where the inhabitants possess magical machines that rid them of disease so that they can practically live forever. The shuttles, meanwhile, contain the poor, the sick, “the wretched refuse of your...
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The Surveillance Blitz

Some years ago when I was fielding complaints from authors through the National Writers Union — about not getting paid, about their work being spiked — I received a phone call from an irate woman. She told me that her best ideas were being stolen. She’d be watching television and a favorite drama would suddenly follow a plot line that she’d devised. Or she would go out to see a movie and...
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The Jellification of Politics

The world will not end with bang or a whimper. It will end with the silent slither of jellyfish. Literally. And figuratively. On the literal level, jellyfish are indeed taking over. As a result of global warming, overfishing, and fertilizer runoff, these surprisingly hardy creatures are spreading into new territory. Certain jellyfish can kill you. If stung by a box jellyfish, which inhabits the...
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The Disease of Short-Termism

It was famously described as the “end of history.” The collapse of Communism and the victory of liberalism near the end of the 20th century seemed to suggest that the great ideological conflicts of the previous eras had come to an end. A new and powerful consensus formed around the notion that market capitalism was the only way to organize the economy and democracy was the only way to...
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