—Aaron Cantú focuses on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, social inequality and post-capitalist institutional design.
“The new debtors’ prisons.” The Economist, November 16, 2013.
To be ensnared within the mass incarceration system means to be either in prison, on parole or probation. In most places, the public offices that manage these three services are overburdened and broke, so private ventures have picked up the extra slack for profit. Private probation companies are especially nefarious, extorting payment from probationers to not only cover municipal court costs but also to enrich their own bottom line. They are a debt collection industry. Worst of all is if probationers can’t pay, they often end up in jail—even if their original charge was a non-jailable offense. Ironically, this usually ends up costing the presiding municipality more money, since it is so expensive to imprison somebody.
—Owen Davis focuses on public education, media and the effects of social inequality.
“Detained border crossers may find themselves sent to ‘the freezers,’” by Rachel Bale. The Center for Investigative Reporting, November 18, 2013.
Immigrants arrested by US Border Patrol have heard tell of what awaits them: las hieleras, or "the freezers." These are frigid, fluorescent-lit chambers where detainees are crammed for days without bedding or privacy. Though some immigrants will fight deportation or rightfully claim asylum, such as the Salvadoran family fleeing gang violence profiled in the piece, detainees are kept in a harsh confinement that likely violates international human rights standards. Meanwhile, our brave lawmakers in the Senate have stripped language from immigration legislation requiring "limits on the number of people held in a cell, adequate climate control, potable water, hygiene items and access to medical care" for detained border crossers.
—Omar Ghabra focuses on Syria and Middle Eastern politics.
"Lebanon and the Long Reach of Syria’s Conflict” by Dexter Filkins. The New Yorker, November 20, 2013.
The recent bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut is the latest of many ominous signs that Hezbollah and Iran's decision to intervene in Syria has made this a regional, sectarian conflict. Filkins puts this latest bombing into the context of the events in Syria over the past year, since the Iranians and their proxy militia in Lebanon turned the tide of the Syrian war in Assad's favor.
—Hannah Gold focuses on gender politics, pop culture and art.
“Radical Hospitality,” by Danya Lagos. Hypocrite Reader, November 2013.
Lagos astutely points out in her manifesto that the Radical Hospitality movement (coming to a museum near you), with its emphasis on giving its guests the choicest, most transporting experience possible, has become the moral equivalent of a hipster beer tasting. In these "artist-directed meal installations" that have come to define the movement, the bourgeois fantasy of sourcing the most exotic ingredients possible has merely transitioned to a new focus on ingredients that are so local they are not to be believed. This manifesto suggests a new paradigm for radical hospitality: the art of caring for others, as opposed to the art of impressing others. Radical hospitality could do so much more—it could welcome outsiders and strangers, create communities rather than produce waste, promote gender equality, "transmit emancipatory ideals" and fill bellies.
—Allegra Kirkland focuses on immigration, urban issues and US-Latin American relations.
"Border Patrol International," by Todd Miller. TomDispatch, November 19, 2013.
My college history professor used to say that borders are something that strong states impose on weaker ones. These imaginary lines, drawn on contiguous landmasses, define the spaces in which we live and who belongs inside them. In countries like the United States, however, such physical manifestations of hard power have morphed into a more abstract global project. This fascinating piece documents how interpretations of national defense have evolved since 9/11, with immense sums now spent on establishing, equipping and training border patrols in areas of US interest, from the Dominican Republican to Afghanistan. As Miller writes, "'Homeland security' no longer stays in the homeland: it's mobile, it's rapid, and it's international."
—Abbie Nehring focuses on muck reads, transparency, and investigative reporting.
"Heroes and Crusaders,” by Bill Keller. The New York Times, November 17, 2013.
If you're curious about the genesis of the word "muckraker" as it's used today, I suggest Doris Kearns Goodwin's latest book, Bully Pulpit, or perhaps at least Bill Keller's review in this week's New York Times Book Review. It asserts that, like Team of Rivals, Goodwin's earlier book about how Lincoln built his cabinet, this volume invites surprisingly contemporary comparisons to present day through its portrayal of the relationships between power, profit and the scrutiny of the press. Bully Pulpit masquerades as a dual biography of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, who shared one of the greatest friendships of the century, but the thread that runs throughout is the rise of the muckraking journalists who challenged them at every turn and were allowed to question Roosevelt even "during his midday shave." There's even a great illustration by Paul Rogers that seems to sum up the zeitgeist of the early 20th century as narrated by Goodwin.
—Nicolas Niarchos focuses on international and European relations and national security.
“Last Jew in Afghanistan faces ruin as kebabs fail to sell,” by Jessica Donati and Mirwais Harooni. Reuters, November 12, 2013.
The Jewish community in Afghanistan has dwindled from several thousand strong at the beginning of the 20th Century to one—Zabulon Simintov. And now he’s closing his Kabul kebab shop, which also houses the nation’s only synagogue. Donati and Harooni’s piece artfully mixes Simintov’s story with the on-the-ground realities of life in Afghanistan today: the security situation is so bad there that customers have dwindled and it’s too risky to run a business. Simintov blames his woes on the US-led invasion in 2001. “It is better to see a dog than to see an American,” he said. “If the situation in the country gets worse, I will escape.”
—Andrés Pertierra focuses on Latin America with an emphasis on Cuba.
“A Lesson From Cuba on Race,” by Alejandro De La Fuente. The New York Times, November 17, 2013.
Renowned Cuban intellectual Alejandro de la Fuente debates the relationship between race and economic inequalities, using post-1959 Cuba as case study. Cuba has done more than any other country in the hemisphere, he says, to eradicate racism and economic inequalities that reinforce it, yet the culture of discrimination is still is alive and well today. This culture is just as important as material differences and should serve as a lesson for other countries in the Americas.
—Dylan Tokar focuses on Latin America, politics and literature.
“Inside The One-Man Intelligence Unit That Exposed The Secrets And Atrocities Of Syria's War,” by Bianca Bosker. Huffington Post, November 18, 2013.
The subject of Bosker's profile is Eliot Higgins, better known as the blogger Brown Moses. Higgins began writing about Syria in 2012, and he has since become an expert at identifying the weapons used in the conflict by mining the social media that has been pouring out of the country via the Internet. See also Patrick Radden Keefe's profile in The New Yorker and this multimedia presentation by NGO Tactical Tech.
—Elaine Yu focuses on feminism, health, and East and Southeast Asia.
“Udacity's Sebastian Thrun, Godfather Of Free Online Education, Changes Course,” by Max Chafkin. Fast Company, November 14, 2013.
This may not be an open critique (or a casual Foucauldian one) of MOOCs, but the essay shows why Massive Open Online Courses aren't the revolution its founder envisioned, why tech-innovation-branding giants are contradicting themselves (there's only so much you can corporatize out of education), and why it does little to address the structural problems of uneven access and other inequalities, despite the alluring premises of free or low-cost education, and of celebrity professors being commercially (but not personally) accessible.