This week, Nation interns tackle media bias. What is "sharia" law? What's missing in common debates about "labor"? How do white male tech writers feed the Silicon Valley myth of meritocracy? Read on for these and other reflections. 


— Alleen Brown

Alleen focuses on education.

Venture Capital's Massive, Terrible Idea For The Future Of College,” by Maria Bustillos. The Awl, January 31, 2013.

Maria Bustillos uses the voices of two ideologically opposed academics to freshen up the debate over what MOOCs mean. Are Massive Open Online Courses an opening of educational access to those traditionally shut out? Or a cynical substitute for better-funded college courses?


— James Cersonsky

James focuses on labor and education.

Grin and Abhor It: The Truth Behind ‘Service with a Smile,’” by Sarah Jaffe. In These Times, February 4, 2013.

Why does Nicholas Kristof feel the need to rescue sex workers from abusive working conditions—but not restaurant workers? In this powerful narrative, Sarah Jaffe discusses the "emotional labor" often explicitly demanded of service sector workers, especially women. If only more so-called labor reporting used this analytic lens, or, for that matter, shouted out to Selma James and Angela Davis. Sigh.


— Catherine Defontaine

Catherine focuses on war, security and peace-related issues, African and French politics, peacekeeping and the link between conflicts and natural resources.

Marching Through the Monarchies,” by Emma Sky. Foreign Policy, February 1, 2013.

Two years after the Arab Spring, Emma Sky went to Saudi Arabia, Oman and Jordan to see whether governments in the region have successfully implemented changes in response to protests in the Middle East and North Africa. This article highlights what the people living in these three monarchies think of their leaders and how they view the Arab Spring. At the end of her journey, Sky realizes that “the Arab Spring was not viewed as a movement toward greater freedom and democracy, but rather as the breakdown of society into violence and chaos.” People in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Jordan never speak of political freedoms, though they reject corruption and ask for job opportunities, better incomes and more transparent governments. According to Sky, they would certainly agree with Ibn Taymiyya, a medieval Islamic scholar, who famously said: "Better 60 years of tyranny than one night of anarchy."


— Andrew Epstein

Andrew focuses on social history, colonialism and indigenous rights.

South Dakota Tribes Accuse State Of Violating Indian Welfare Act,” by Laura Sullivan and Amy Walters. NPR, February 6, 2013.

In this installment of their award-winning series "Lost Children, Shattered Families," NPR reports on the efforts of the Crow Creek Sioux Nation to end South Dakota's three decade-long violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act. A turning point in federal Indian policy toward greater self-determination, the ICWA requires the state to place Native children who are removed from their families with relatives, tribal members or other Indigenous people. Yet since 1978, 87 percent of Native children in South Dakota's foster system end up in white homes. This week, the Crow Creek Sioux presented Congress with an extensive report documenting these crimes and their long-standing emotional, psychological, social and material impacts.


— Luis Feliz

Luis focuses on ideas and debates within the left, social movements and culture.

Do Black Intellectuals Need to Talk About Race?The New York Times, February 4, 2013.

Since no intellectual is an island, it is important to ask where people stand politically. This week’s article explores different takes on what it means to be an intellectual—organic or otherwise—in the black tradition. Putting aside the inanity of how The New York Times originally posed the question to its contributors, the best answers reflected the following set of preoccupations: What obligations do black thinkers owe to their communities? And what is their role in the public sphere in matters dealing with race?


— Elana Leopold

Elana focuses on the Middle East, its relations with the US and Islam.

Timbuktu Endured Terror Under Harsh Shariah Law,” by Lydia Polgreen. The New York Times, February 1, 2013.

Reading the lead headline on the cover of last Friday's Times, I was prepared to be at least mildly incensed: the term "sharia," generally used to talk about Islamic jurisprudence (and in Western coverage, implicitly compared to Western codified law) is a misnomer, and contributes, I believe, to a misguided representation of so-called Islamic law. Fiqh, and not sharia (which is actually the much broader concept of following the path of being an upstanding Muslim) is the Islamic tradition—rooted in human scholarship and interpretation of Quranic principles, not considered prophetic revelation like the book itself—most similar to what we would typically think about as law. That said, the Times article, while problematically utilizing the term "sharia," actually presents a commendably balanced portrayal of Islamic "law" and principle in juxtaposing the Islam touted by fundamentalists in Timbuktu with the equally informed and devout Islam of Tandina, a local Islamic preacher.


— Alec Luhn

Alec focuses on East European and Eurasian affairs, especially issues of good governance, human rights and activism.

Moscow casino owner denounces prosecutors,” by Charles Clover. The Financial Times, February 4, 2013.

Despite the underwhelming headline, this is probably the most Kafkaesque story to come out of Russia in a while. Former casino owner Ivan Nazarov says he wants to go to jail for bribing prosecutors, but prosecutors won't charge him, never mind admissions of guilt on both sides. At root is a high-level power struggle—played out in the gambling sector—between the Prosecutors' Office and the Investigative Committee, which Dmitry Medvedev separated out from the Prosecutor's Office in 2010 and which has become a kind of Kremlin attack dog with no legal accountability to any branch of government. In this case, the law is yet again being applied selectively for officials' political and financial gain.


— Leticia Miranda

Leticia focuses on race, gender, telecommunications and media reform.

How White Male Tech Writers Feed the Silicon Valley Myth of Meritocracy,” by Rebecca Greenfield. The Atlantic, Feburary 5, 2013.

There are many conversations missing from technology and telecommunications reporting and public interest advocacy, and one of those is the stark absence of writers of color in technology reporting. Rebecca Greenfield's piece captures the backlash against Jamelle Bouie's piece in The Magazine, and current conversations about the racial and gender dynamics in technology and telecommunications. Bouie's piece details the disproportionate number of writers of color in technology, what it means for technology and how technology journalism might fix it. Greenfield's piece shows how white male tech writers themselves resist these critiques and refuse to make any changes. It's an important issue to follow as technology, and tech reporting, become more important to our lives.


— Brendan O’Connor

Brendan focuses on media criticism and pop culture.

Notes on the media on the media,” by Tom McGeveran. Capital, February 5, 2013.

A former editor at the Observer and a co-founder of Capital, Tom McGevern gazes at his navel—and lots of other people's, too.


— Anna Simonton

Anna focuses on issues of systemic oppression perpetuated by the military and prison industrial complexes.

The Drone Makers And Their Friends In Washington,” Jill Replogle. KPBS, July 5, 2012.

Corporate influence in Washington isn't news—it's pretty much a given that every big industry is funneling money to lawmakers in exchange for policies that work in their favor. But there's something about learning that Congress has an actual drone caucus that is newly upsetting. As John Brennan's Senate hearing arrives on the heels of a Department of Justice memo revealing the extent to which legal standards have been missing from Obama's clandestine counter-terrorism program, some members of the Senate are taking a stance against the assassination of American citizens abroad. Others on Capitol Hill, however, have a vested interest in seeing the program, characterized by its use of drones, continue and expand. This article from San Diego's KPBS, though largely uncritical of drone warfare and surveillance, follows the money trail from drone manufacturers to Congressional representatives and into the great blue yonder.


— Cos Tollerson

Cos focuses on Latin American politics and society, and United States imperialism.

Why It's ‘Legal’ When the US Does It,” by Noam Chomsky. TomDispatch, February 3, 2013.

This interview with Noam Chomsky, excerpted from a recent book, critiques the profound sense of entitlement that has helped Washington to legitimize imperialist policies and excuse habitual violations of international law for decades. Looking back to the end of World War II, he places our current foreign policy in historical context and contends that the fear of a transition away from the United States' unilateral approach to international affairs is reactionary paranoia.


— Sarah Woolf

Sarah focuses on what’s happening north of the US border.

Historical Morgentaler decision marks 25th anniversary.” CBC News, January 28, 2013.

January 22 marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade; less than a week later, Canadians marked the 25th anniversary of R. v. Morgentaler, the most important legal victory for abortion in Canada. "The Morgentaler decision" was a Supreme Court ruling that threw out the criminal law in its entirety. Today, pro-choice activists continue to debate the advantages and disadvantages of abortion remaining decriminalized (with no laws governing it)—as opposed to legalized (with positive laws protecting and/or regulating access). This 24-minute podcast gives a brief history of the decision, reminds listeners of the re-criminalization attempts that followed and points to the barriers to access that still remain (for instance, in the northern territories and in the provinces of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island).