This week's Nation intern roundup takes on a range of myths and moral tales. What's wrong with MOOCs and VAWA, and can they be saved from the systems that implement them? What does Nicholas Kristof (and many a self-identified feminist) get wrong about sex workers? How cold is Canada?
Alleen Brown focuses on education.
“'Bill of Rights' Seeks to Protect Students' Interests as Online Learning Rapidly Expands,” by Steve Kolowich. The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 23, 2013.
As the roster of colleges offering credit for MOOCs, or massive open online courses, grows, twelve educators drafted a framework meant to protect the interests of students taking digital classes. The document says students deserve privacy and access to education materials, as well as to financial information about the companies providing instruction. The involvement of Sebastian Thrun, founder of the MOOC Udacity, calls into question whether the "bill" will do a better job of protecting students or protecting the public image of providers like Udacity.
James Cersonky focuses on labor and education.
“Aid Groups Fight Anti-Prostitution ‘Oath’ on Free Speech Grounds,” by Michelle Chen. In These Times, January 18, 2013.
The US government apparently doesn't think sex workers, a legally and socially vulnerable class in the Global North and South alike, deserve HIV/AIDS relief. Michelle Chen breaks down the facts and future of PERFAR, the treatment and prevention program that coerces foreign aid groups from helping—even communicating with—sex workers.
Catherine Defontaine focuses on war and security, African and French politics, peacekeeping and the link between conflicts and natural resources.
“Strategy over Security,” by Tarak Barkawi. Al Jazeera, January 23, 2013.
What is “security”? What does it mean? According to Tarak Barkawi, “security” often means protection and safety, the reassurance of the known. However, “security” can also be a powerful and yet pernicious idea. In the name of security we undermine our political values. We launch a war with the hope that we might end all wars. Just look at Mali. Is the French decision to intervene in Mali really securing Europe from terrorist strongholds in the Sahel? Or on the contrary has the French government unleashed an endless cycle of violence, thus leading to more “insecurity”? We should think critically and politically about the use of force. Security cannot be achieved with drone strikes or military interventions. As the author of this article argues, “what values do we want to serve with our use of force? What kind of future do we want to make with our wars?”
Andrew Epstein focuses on social history, colonialism and indigenous rights.
“The War on Sex Workers,” by Melissa Gira Grant. Reason, February 2013.
Reason is not the first place I look for social commentary, but this piece is provocative in the best way. Melissa Gira Grant, a former sex worker herself, exposes the "unholy alliance" between "carceral feminists," police and conservatives who criminalize rather than empower sex workers. The article has its flaws—very little is said in the way of sex work's predominantly exploitative conditions—but it's a needed warning to those who would wield the state against, rather than alongside, the marginalized.
Luis Feliz focuses on ideas and debates within the left, social movements and culture.
“The Radicalization of Martin Luther King,” by Paul Jay. Truthout, January 21, 2013.
Occupy Wall Street’s greatest living legacy was defying multiparty electoral democracy in order to expand freedom beyond the narrow confines of political liberalism, as Slavoj Žižek and others have observed. Rather than moralistically inveigh against a few bad apples, students mounted a trenchant critique of capitalism as a system incompatible with the human quest for freedom and emancipation. In addition to the rejection of capitalism, the vision Occupy offered, if one may cull one from the democratic messiness that characterized Zuccotti Park, was a mutual recognition of person to person. What President Barack Obama merely gestured towards in his mention of Stonewall during his inauguration address, Occupied enacted in the human relations it fostered among participants. Why should we settle for the appearance of mutual recognition rather than demand its realization for all?
Elana Leopold focuses on the Middle East, its relations with the US and Islam.
“Yemen’s human rights minister criticizes U.S. drone strikes,” by Natasha Lennard. Salon, January 23, 2013.
Following President Obama's inauguration declaration that "enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war," highlighting the increasingly terminal US drone strikes in the Middle East—largely in Pakistan and Yemen—is particularly apt. Historically, as the article mentions, the Yemeni government has been tolerant of our drone policy; it is refreshing to hear a high-level official join Yemeni public protests of the strikes (angry citizens have gathered at least twice this month, according to Democracy Now!).
Alec Luhn focuses on East European and Eurasian affairs, issues of good governance, human rights and activism.
“A Cold Shoulder for Russian Dissidents,” by Oleg Kashin. The New York Times, January 23, 2013.
I don't agree with everything in this article, but it raises a good question: In an increasingly globalized world, how much culpability must Western countries bear for the suffering of people fighting for civil and political rights in other countries? Say what you will about Kashin, but I respect his opinion as someone who lost his health, months of his life and a pinky finger for speaking his mind. Here Kashin argues that the blood of Russian protestor Alexander Dolmatov is on the hands of the West, since Dolmatov committed suicide after being denied asylum in the Netherlands. Certainly some emigres from the former Soviet Union have dishonestly received political asylum status in the past, but Western countries nonetheless should err on the side of letting asylum-seekers in—the stakes are much higher for them.
Brendan O’Connor focuses on media criticism and pop culture.
“Come On, Feel the Buzz,” by Alex Pareene. The Baffler, Issue No. 21.
Alex Pareene offers a scathing critique of political reporting in the Web 2.0 era: Politico, Drudge, BuzzFeed and Facebook are all put to the sword. The essay is highly polemical and not without its fair share of snark and sneer—the guy is a Gawker alum, after all—but by and large it remains measured in its assessments. As someone who is both excited and ambivalent about places like Politico and BuzzFeed, this piece helped me put my own isolated impressions into a broader context.
Anna Simonton focuses on issues of systemic oppression perpetuated by the military and prison industrial complexes.
“When anti-violence backfires,” by Lucy McKeon. Salon, June 2, 2012.
House Democrats have announced that they are re-introducing the Violence Against Women Act. Originally passed in 1994, this bill was reinstated every five years until last spring when a new VAWA bill, passed with bipartisan support in the Senate, was struck down in the house. The ostensible reasoning behind Republican opposition to the bill hinged on a technicality—the real issue being that the revamped VAWA included provisions that would create specific protections for Native women, immigrants and LGBTQ and trans people. Now that VAWA is back on the table, I have found this interview with feminist scholar Beth E. Richie to be immensely instructive in piecing out the ways in which this type of legislation empowers survivors of domestic violence, versus the ways in which it perpetuates what Richie terms “America's Prison Nation,” by relying on incarceration to deal with perpetrators.
Cos Tollerson focuses on Latin American politics and society, and United States imperialism.
“The Missing President,” by Alberto Barrera Tyszka and Cristina Marcano. The New York Times, January 23, 2013.
Like countless New York Times articles about Hugo Chavez from the past decade, this op-ed distorts Chavez and Venezuela. Calling Chavez “a child of the telenovela,” an “authoritarian” and a “military caudillo,” it relies on hyperbolic generalizations and belittles the deep political and economic transformations that have occurred in Venezuelan society during Chavez’s long presidential tenure. To be certain, Chavez’s highly personal governing style is problematic. However, one-dimensional coverage like this isolates critical discussion about Venezuela to the fringes of public discourse. (For commentary on press coverage of Venezuela and a different perspective on Chavez's legacy, read this.)
Sarah Woolf focuses on what’s happening north of the US border.
“Why do Canadians talk so much about the weather?” by Jon Hembrey. CBC News, January 23, 2013.
Breaking news: Canada is cold. No, but really: when wind chill temperatures drop to –40 °C/°F (that is, the temperature at which Celsius and Fahrenheit measurements intersect) and even Al Jazeera is reminding Canadians to avoid exposing skin outdoors (in this weather, skin freezes within 5-10 minutes!), you know it's "news." But, according to this article, it doesn't take record-breaking temperatures to get Canadians talking about the weather.