—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration and literature.
"The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie," by John Jeremiah Sullivan. New York Times Magazine. April 13, 2014.
At the beginning of this piece, the facts known about its putative subjects—two black, female blues musicians who, in 1930, recorded a handful of haunting, virtuosic songs on 78rpm vinyl, now among the most sought-after pre-war blues recordings in the world—could be contained within a single short paragraph. By the end, the verifiable truths uncovered by John Jeremiah Sullivan could fill three, maybe four. Why then, asks the inquisitive but busy reader, should I spend any of my limited time slogging through 13,000 words? For one, there's Sullivan's potent prose, which goes down so easy you won't realize you're drunk until you're on the floor. And two, because the piece is ultimately just as interested in the pursuit of elusive facts as in their capture—and fascinatingly so. Dogged in his determination to fill in the ghostly outlines drawn by the music and myth of Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley, Sullivan winds up confronting some very basic questions about who owns the past (sometimes answering them in journalistically dubious ways), infusing the quest for esoteric historical knowledge with the urgency of a police procedural—and the deep humanity of a very satisfying novel.
—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.
“Canadian mining doing serious environmental harm, the IACHR is told,” by David Hill. The Guardian, May 14, 2014.
A damning report that reveals the human rights abuses committed by Canadian mining companies in Latin America—where up to 70 percent of mining is done by Canadian firms—was recently presented before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The report insists that these companies' profit-seeking policies are "destroying glaciers, contaminating water and rivers, and cutting down forest…as well as forcibly displacing people, dividing and impoverishing communities, making false promises about economic benefits, endangering people’s health, and fraudulently acquiring property. Some who protest such projects have been killed or seriously wounded, it states, and others persecuted, threatened or accused of being terrorists," as is currently the case in Peru. However, the part of the report that seemed most insidious to me was the role that the Canadian state played in promoting these mining companies, weakening processes of law in host countries, shielding firms from legal action and denying the abuses all together. Just further proof (as if we needed any) that under capitalism, the state is beholden not to people or the planet's well-being, but to profit-seeking companies that fund their re-election campaigns. We continue to plod on towards environmental collapse for the financial benefit of the few.