—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration and literature.
"Net Neutrality." Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, June 1, 2014.
For my other job, I spend a lot of time trying to figure how to make Internet users care about something called "net-neutrality," a notoriously difficult-to-explain (and horribly dull-sounding) regulatory principle, the preservation of which is absolutely essential to the future of the Internet, democracy, videos of your kittens and other generally good things. Put "simply," net-neutrality is the idea that Internet service providers should treat all data equally, neither privileging nor impeding the flow of any particular information on their networks. Thanks to net neutrality, your kitten blog takes no longer to load than ebay, TheNation.com than NBC—this despite the fact that NBC is owned by Comcast, one of the nation's largest broadband providers. In a world without net neutrality, ISPs like Comcast could theoretically privilege the content of their subsidiaries over competitors, and sell access to an Internet "fast lane" for extremely wealthy clients—leaving the rest of us to fight over what remained of the slow, shitty corners of the web.
On a recent episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver explains precisely why it's so difficult to get people fired up about net neutrality: "The cable companies have figured out the great truth of America: if you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring." (Andrew Jacobs' 6000 word piece on the topic for n+1 is uniquely comprehensive, erudite, elegantly written and basically impossible to read in its entirety. I took two kitten-vid breaks and still had to skip to the end.) Oliver goes on: "Apple could put the entire text of Mein Kampf inside the iTunes user agreement and you'd just go, 'agree, agree, agree.'" This is the nefarious banality of the digital age. The Internet—with its endless supply of immediately gratifying GIFs, lists, tweets etc.—has made us all allergic to the dense, esoteric language in which its future is being written.
—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.
"Drugs trafficking in the Caribbean: Full Circle." The Economist, May 24, 2014.
The American agencies tasked with stemming the flow of drugs into the United States like to picture themselves as the proverbial little Dutch boy, valiantly plugging the hole in the dike with his finger. In reality, they are more like inept doctors putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage. As soon as one hole in the border is plugged, several more open up. Researchers have a name for this phenomenon: "the 'balloon effect,' the idea that increased pressure on one drug route produces a bulge elsewhere." Several pieces have recently highlighted the futility of the plug-the-dike strategy, as the trafficking of drugs and migrants has shifted away from Central America and to routes traveling through the Caribbean. The ultimate irony in all of this is that these are the very same routes that were popular in the 1980s for drug kingpins like Pablo Escobar. The drug trade has come full circle, although this time around it's even more violent and lucrative. While officials continue to deliver their standard "it will get worse before it gets better" platitudes, the drug trade rolls on. It's time that we start thinking of new policies, and put an end to the ineffective drug war.