Required Reading

Required Reading

  • Why do some museums intentionally exhibit fakes? Clare Thorp looks into a few motivations behind creating, exhibiting, and viewing forged art for BBC:

It might seem brave for a gallery to admit they’ve been duped, but the proliferation of fakes throughout history means most museums have items that aren’t what they first thought. “It creates a kind of patina of humanity,” says Gareth Fletcher, lecturer and seminar tutor in Art Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, who leads a course on Art Crime. “Not only do the people that acquire things get it wrong sometimes, but they’re owning up to it and reflecting on what they’ve learnt in the process. I think we might see more exhibitions opening up the skeletons in the closet.”

  • For the Atlantic, Annie Lowrey delves into the crypto crash and why Black investors, many of whom turned to bitcoin due, in part, to systemic inequity within the financial system, were hit the hardest:

Many Black investors also read headlines promising that crypto was an engine for racial equity, saw constant advertisements for coin offerings and NFTs, watched NBA players and NFL stars start taking their paychecks in bitcoin. (In a Super Bowl ad that aired this year, LeBron James tells a teenage version of himself, “If you want to make history, you gotta call your own shots.”)

None of this might have mattered if not for the vicissitudes of the business cycle and the sudden catastrophe of the coronavirus pandemic. The surge in Black investors piling into bitcoin and the like coincided with a sharp run-up in real wages among Black workers. It also coincided with the distribution of stimulus checks, child-tax-credit disbursements, and expanded unemployment-insurance payments. (The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland found that COVID stimulus checks fueled a bump in the price of bitcoin.) Millions of people who’d never had much to save or invest suddenly had cash on hand, and many chose to push it into crypto.

Maximalism ignores the fact that the value of any tactic  — or the appropriateness of any demand — must be evaluated within a larger strategy grounded in a power analysis. Sometimes tactics and demands help build power and sometimes they don’t. Taken alone, they are not an adequate tool to test for alignment. 

The simple reason is that there are not enough people who are already 100% aligned. Our organizations and movements need to grow. Holding on to tactics and overly idealistic demands that keep us small but pure ignores the basic strategic imperative of building power. We should of course be skeptical of those who demand too little and tell our movements to set their sights too low. But we should not mistake putting forward anything less than our most ambitious aspirations for an act of cowardice. In fact, it might reflect a sober assessment of our own power or advance a longer term strategy. 

Maximalist thinking is particularly pernicious when it is used to justify not doing the basic work of organizing: talking to lots of different kinds of people on the doors, in their homes, and in their workplaces. We need to meet people where they are, build relationships, and move them into action. The work of organizing and base building also disciplines our tactics by grounding them in the needs and demands of our people.

  • For the New York Magazine‘s Intelligencer, Eric Levitz does a deep-dive into why American railroads continue to refuse their workers’ demands for paid sick leave, and the structural problems that continue putting profits above all:

The freight carriers can afford to make concessions on pay. It isn’t that painful to increase wages by a sizable amount when you’ve recently slashed your head count by 30 percent (and hope to continue innovating your way to a smaller payroll in the years to come). But providing rail workers with ordinary time-off benefits would threaten the industry’s core business strategy, an operating procedure that has helped to nearly double its profits over the past decade.

That strategy is predicated on treating rail workers as if they were nearly indistinguishable from the railcars they drive. The typical railcar requires maintenance at predictable intervals and does not require an unanticipated day off to see a doctor about an unexplained pain or to visit a loved one in the hospital. But workers often do.

  • Alec Karakatsanis has another thorough analysis of the New York Times‘s failure to adequately report on policing, this time with regard to coverage of New York City Mayor Eric Adams’s plan to forcibly “remove people with severe, untreated mental illness from the city’s streets and subways”:

The lengthy New York Times article on homelessness and mental illness is astonishing for what is missing: the article does not contain a single mention of the root causes of homelessness. It does not mention affordable housing, poverty, inequality, real estate developers, or government policies that created or that could fix homelessness. It contains not a single mention of extraordinarily effective interventions like cash transfer programs targeting people at risk of homelessness. Nor does the article contain a single mention of universal access to preventative health care, of the massive divestment in our society from mental health care, or of the root causes of mental illness. A person reading this article would leave the article entirely uninformed about either the causes of the problems or the range of effective, simple interventions that politicians who actually care about solving them could employ.

  • Blue Whales, the largest animals on earth, are singing in lower and lower tones and scientists are baffled. Kristen French of Nautilus writes:

Together, they had stumbled onto what would become one of the biggest unsolved riddles of blue whale research for decades to come. Blue whales are not only the world’s largest animals, over 75 feet long and weighing around 300,000 pounds; they are the world’s loudest, whose 180-decibel songs—as loud as a jet plane—can be heard 500 miles away by properly-attuned ears. (If it seems strange that their songs are so loud yet imperceptible to us, consider that our ears barely register 100-decibel dog whistles.) But now their voices have inexplicably shifted from bass to basso profundo, Elvis to Barry White. And that shift is consistent around the world—even though the local anthems are not.

  • Occasionally a “quote” by Thomas Jefferson (“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine”) surfaces online. Snopes looks into the reality of this statement and if Jefferson actually said it:

According to a search of Google Books, the “mob rule” part of the quote may have come from author Michael Cody’s 2004 work titled, “Charles Brockden Brown and the Literary Magazine: Cultural Journalism in the Early American Republic.”

Cody wrote, “To Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton, Joseph Dennie, and Fisher Ames, democracy as it was being practiced in France revealed itself as nothing more than mob rule bent on destroying the institutions of civilization: social distinctions, property (and property rights), religion, and order.”

As previously mentioned, we also found the quote with Jefferson’s name attached to it in documents for a case that was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005.

  • NASA may have encountered signs of previous life on Mars during its first trip in 1976 and they’re only now realizing it. Becky Ferreira of Vice has the story:

This key discovery suggests that Pohl crater, and its surrounding regions, could be important targets in the search for alien life, as they may bear “information on how the ocean’s habitability and possible life evolved,” according to a study published in Scientific Reports on Thursday. The team was also able to reconstruct some of the mind-boggling effects of this ancient impact and the subsequent megatsunami, which may have produced 800-foot-high waves.

“If we were standing here and this impact happened, we would have been tossed up in the air, literally tens or hundreds of meters,” Rodriguez said in a call with Motherboard. “It’s basically like jumping on a trampoline.”

  • Spotify Wrapped has yet again swooped in to expose our emotional baggage, and much like all of us, the memes are unhinged:

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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