The first set of pieces chosen by this spring's class of Nation interns runs the gamut of what's been in the media, but a few topics cropped up repeatedly. Educational issues were under the microscope, with articles questioning the presence of armed security in schools, the job description of NCAA athletes and the efficacy of corporate partnerships and standardized testing.
Alleen Brown focuses on education.
“Standardized test backlash: Some Seattle teachers just say 'no,’” by Dean Paton. The Christian Science Monitor, January 11, 2013.
Teachers at Seattle's Garfield High "fired the first salvo of open defiance against high-stakes standardized testing in America's public schools," Christian Science Monitor reported, by announcing that they would not administer the district-mandated MAP test. It's the latest manifestation of backlash against standardized tests that is "percolating" across the country, in states like New York, Maryland and Texas.
James Cersonsky focuses on labor and education.
“NCAA Withdraws Financial Support for Its Scholarly Colloquium,” by Brad Wolverton. The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 15, 2013.
Are college athletes students, athletes or both? If the former, why would the NCAA put an end to its "scholarly colloquium," which encourages critical inquiry on college sports by the players themselves? If the latter, why don't athletes get paid? For a rent-seeking corporation that goes by the euphemism, "National Collegiate Athletic Association," these questions go hand-in-hand.
Catherine Defontaine focuses on war, security, African and French politics and the link between conflicts and natural resources.
“The bombing of Mali highlights all the lessons of western intervention,” by Glenn Greenwald. The Guardian, January 14, 2012.
Mali has become the new battleground for the war on terror as the French government has launched a military intervention in the country, aimed at restoring Malian state authority and fighting terrorism in the region. The French campaign in Mali is yet another example of western intervention, from which we can draw five lessons. First, the instability in Mali has been caused by NATO’s intervention in Libya as western interventions inevitably lead to further interventions in an endless cycle of violence. Second, the US has trained and armed Malian soldiers who defected, which shows that western powers are at war with those they trained and financed. Third, the intervention in Mali is going to fuel anti-western sentiments in the Muslim world. Islamists have already threatened France to carry out revenge attacks on French soil. Fourth, western “democracies” wage these wars in a complete anti-democratic way, without any transparency and accountability. Finally, the propaganda used to justify these wars—the fight against terrorists—has become so effective that many western citizens support unquestioningly the actions of their governments and the over-simplified rhetoric of good versus evil.
Andrew Epstein focuses on social history, colonialism and indigenous rights.
“Settler Colonialism: Then and Now (Video).” Jadaliyya, January 10, 2013.
I like to listen to lectures when I'm cooking or doing the dishes. This one is particularly salient. Columbia University professor and acclaimed author Mahmood Madmani compares the development of settler colonialism in North America and Palestine. As Palestinians forge links with indigenous activists in Canada's “Idle No More” movement, Mamdani provides essential historical context.
Luis Feliz focuses on ideas and debates within the left, social movements and culture.
“Invisibility in Django Unchained: Broomhilda in Chains,” by Eisa Nefertari Ulen. Truthout, January 13, 2013.
Identity politics, as construed by the thoughtless and sentimental, turns the otherwise complex and rich lives of people of color into nothing more than pat moralist tales of victimhood deprived of the humor and irony, wit and paradox, hardiness and agency that has long imbued the life-affirming struggles of African Americans—especially black women—for dignity and freedom in this country. Eisa Nefertari Ulen counterposes the trenchancy of these qualities against the one-dimensional portrayal of Bromilda, an enslaved black woman sold into sexual bondage in Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Django Unchained. As Ulen aptly observes, “What Broomhilda lacks, even when she appears in real time, is agency over her destiny—a destiny where she will be free. This lack of agency, this powerlessness, is an insult to real slave women like [Harriet] Jacobs, who crafted complicated strategies to liberate themselves.” Against “the images…of Black female degradation,” Ulen notes, “I would have liked to see her do more than just smile and fold her hands and pass out and splash in the hot springs of male fantasy and sit on a horse…I would have liked to see her kick ass, too.”
Elana Leopold focuses on the Middle East, its relations with the US and Islam.
“How Torture Misled the US into an Illegal War: What Zero Dark Thirty Really Leaves Out,” by Juan Cole. Informed Comment, January 15, 2013.
Coming off of Jessica Chastain’s best actress win for Zero Dark Thirty at the Golden Globes, Juan Cole adds his perspective to the already substantial conversation surrounding the film and its portrayal of the role of CIA torture in the assassination of Osama bin Laden. While many reviewers—including a number Cole cites—have been critical of the factually disputed torture the film depicts, this article offers a fresh critique by reminding us that false information gained through torture resulted in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and, in Cole's eyes, distracted from pursing actual al-Qaeda operatives. Perhaps it goes without saying, but in light of its widespread popularity and awards nominations, a critical, informed conversation about Zero Dark Thirty is salient and needed.
Alec Luhn focuses on East European and Eurasian affairs, especially issues of good governance, human rights and activism.
“China or Russia Could Be Behind This Global Online Espionage Operation,” by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai. Mashable, January 16, 2013.
It's estimated that over half the world's malware comes out of Russia, and here is a case where some of that is being used for much less benign purposes than phishing your e-mail. From Iran to Estonia, cyberespionage is the next frontier in the struggle for civil and political rights, yet only techie sites seem to really be covering the topic so far. This Mashable piece on the Red October cyberespionage operation is critical coverage, although it fails to raise questions about the relationship between Kaspersky Labs and the Russian government that Noah Shachtman covered in his compelling, controversial profile of Yevgeny Kaspersky in Wired magazine.
Leticia Miranda focuses on race, gender, criminal justice and media reform.
“Inequality in American Education Will Not Be Solved Online,” by Ian Bogost. The Atlantic, January 16, 2013.
This week, Ian Bogost offered an important critique of a new partnership between San Jose State University and Udacity, a Silicon Valley tech start up. The company is slated to announce a deal with San Jose State University to offer their students remedial and introductory classes for a lower cost. Initially, it seems like a moment to celebrate, but a closer look at what this partnership might mean for future education exposes how corporate tech companies might be the new front of players who wield short-sighted technology solutions for deep inequality, all while fattening their bottom line.
Brendan O’Connor focuses on media criticism and pop culture.
“Facebook’s Bold, Compelling and Scary Engine of Discovery: The Inside Story of Graph Search,” by Steven Levy. Wired, January 15, 2012.
Wired senior writer Steven Levy gives a wonderful, behind-the-scenes account of the conception, development and implications of "Graph Search," Facebook's most recent major product and one "important enough to bump the word Facebook from Facebook."
Anna Simonton focuses on issues of systemic oppression perpetuated by the military and prison industrial complexes.
“Juvenile Court Judges Latest to Express Concern over Armed Security in Schools,” by Susan Ferriss. Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, January 16, 2013.
I've been following news coverage of the school-to-prison-pipeline for a while, and have more recently been disturbed to read about how more and more schools are allowing police officers to handle disciplinary issues historically within the purview of school officials. It is increasingly common, especially in low-income school districts and communities of color, for students to receive citations for typical school-kid misbehavior like using profanity, fighting or disrupting class. Students who receive citations must appear in court where they face fines, community service and sometimes incarceration. Needless to say, this kind of punishment is disruptive to a young person's life, and in many cases, locks them into a cycle of events that lands them repeatedly in jail. I chose to share this article because, until I read it, I hadn't considered how the Newtown shootings and the resulting dialogue around guns in schools might affect the problem of police ticketing students. Now that school security is a hot issue, I think it's important to raise awareness about how some forms of "security" are ruining kids' lives.
Cos Tollerson focuses on Latin American politics and society, and United States imperialism.
“Quinoa brings riches to the Andes,” by Dan Collyns. The Guardian, January 14, 2013.
This article examines some of the benefits and challenges that quinoa’s rise in popularity creates for Bolivia and Peru. For centuries in Latin America, crops including sugar, coffee and soy have fueled export-led boom and bust cycles that fail to significantly ameliorate the living standards of the region's rural farmers. As quinoa’s meteoric rise on international markets helps drive the economies of Peru and Bolivia—countries whose leftist presidents claim rural laborers as key constituents—it will be interesting to see if either government can use quinoa’s increased production and the profits from its sale to combat malnutrition, improve living standards and regulate the crop’s expansion in a way that prevents agribusiness from unlawfully seizing communally held indigenous lands as it so often has in the past.
Sarah Woolf focuses on what’s happening north of the US border.
“Idle No More protesters block rail traffic, slow border crossing.” CBC News, January 16, 2013.
January 16 marked a day of action across Canada by indigenous communities and supporters as part of the Idle No More movement. Of particular note was the "economic slowdown" on the bridge and tunnel connection between Detroit and Windsor, ON—one of the busiest international crossings in the world. Though there has been much debate on the question of tactics amongst indigenous band council chiefs and grassroots activists, the widespread opposition to the Conservative government and the sweeping measures of Bill C-45 remains.