—Sam Adler-Bell focuses on labor and mass incarceration.
“The Art of Gentrification,” by Madeleine Schwartz. Dissent, Winter 2014
I've started to think of artists as the sorcerer's apprentices of gentrification, unwitting unleashers of destructive forces they neither understand nor control. Here, Madeleine Schwartz examines how gentrification finds its aesthetic articulation in the "post-industrial" style of Donald Judd, who repurposed the functional necessities of the factory—furnaces, aluminum, steel—to serve the aesthetic impulses of his art. (In the late 60s, Judd purchased a loft in SoHo, at the very outset of that neighborhood’s transformation from industry to luxury.) The fact that, in the end, artists themselves usually get swept away by the flood waters of "urban revival"—priced out of their once-affordable studios in Bushwick, to pick up and repeat the cycle in Ridgewood—by no means relieves them of complicity for having breached the levees.
—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.
“The rise of ‘ostentation funkers’ in Brazil,” by Zeynep Zileli Rabanea. Al Jazeera English, February 5, 2014
A recent phenomenon known as "rolezinho" ("strolling around" in Brazilian Portuguese) has ignited political discussions about the classist and racist segregation of public spaces in Brazil. As exclusive shopping malls for the wealthy (mostly white) minority accumulate around the country—imagine stores, supermarkets, post offices and banks all under one roof, guarded by armed private security—thousands of underprivileged youngsters have responded to calls on Facebook to show up to these malls en masse. These invasions by Brazil's marginalized underclass were spurred by the desire to dance to "ostentation funk" and "meet girls." While these reasons are very much apolitical in nature, the movement has sparked long-overdue conversations about the exclusionary politics of the country's patrician class. The rolezinhos conjure images of 1980s hip-hop DJs in the Bronx stealing power from street lamps to throw street parties; this new phenomenon is merely a recent episode in the history of popular culture challenging conceptions of public space.
—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.
“Some of This Actually Happened,” by Tim Barker. The New Inquiry, February 4, 2014
This essay discusses the attempt—or in one case utter failure—of two recent items of popular culture to tackle the third part of my "focus," as described above: the historicization of culture and politics. The essay fills in the gaps in the two films' historical memory. It situates The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle in the social and economic history that they respectively ignore or just begin to do the work of sketching. It reminds us that the period of American history they take place in was a grim one, in which “the standard of living of the average American ha[d] to decline”—and a period that's for that reason important to remember. Most interesting is the essay's conclusion: it discusses not just the consequences of a failure of historical memory but why cultural products like Wolf end up stripped of their historical context, taking a look behind the scenes at who had a hand in making the film and why.
—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.
“Actor’s death shines a light on addiction,” by Jerry Large. The Seattle Times, February 5, 2014
335,000 US citizens used heroin in the United States this past month, including the celebrated and now deceased actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, according to the DEA. A notoriously fatal and addictive drug, heroin is viewed by many experts as a clear-cut death wish—partly because weening somebody off strong opioids is a process so delicate that it often inspires relapse or addiction to the replacement drugs
—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.
“Hawaii's GMO War Headed to Honolulu and Federal Court,” by Mike Ludwig. Truthout, January 28, 2014
Biotech and chemical companies argue a Kauai County, Hawaii law placing local regulations on GMO agriculture and experimental chemical testing violates their constitutional rights as corporations and oversteps the county’s jurisdiction. Hawaii County’s law, which prohibits GMOs (not including papaya), has not received challenges.
An amendment to the State of Hawaii’s “Right-to-Farm” legislation has been introduced to pre-empt counties from passing laws that impact “modern farming and ranching practices.” Similar legislation—though not mentioned by Ludwig—has been passed in other states like Oregon, where last fall localities were told they could not vote on laws governing the use of seed. There, local GMO initiatives elevate communities’ right to govern “heath, safety and welfare” above corporate rights and state pre-emption.
—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups' relationship with technology and development.
"Time to Rethink Tech Sanctions Against Sudan," by Danielle Kehl and Tim Maurer. Slate, January 30, 2014.
Although some say Western news outlets exaggerated the role of social media in the Arab Spring, it's clear that new technology has affected the way opposition movements around the world organize themselves. Kehl and Maurer argue that US tech sanctions against Sudan and other countries haven't kept pace with these developments. "Initially designed to put pressure on the [Sudanese] government, these technology restrictions have become outdated, and some of the provisions inadvertently aid the regime by blocking access to critical personal communications tools—to the detriment of the Sudanese people," they say. Noting past sanctions reform efforts to replace broad bans with more targeted measures like freezing leaders' assets, the authors write that tech sanctions also should become more targeted for a country where, according to a Sudanese activist, the Internet is “the only platform for free civic engagement."
—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.
“The Loneliness of Vladimir Putin,” by Julia Ioffe. The New Republic, February 2, 2014.
To understand the current state of Russian opposition groups, it helps to go back through centuries of Russian history. Cycles of autocracy have impressed themselves upon the Russian psyche. Ioffe does an excellent job of bringing that psychology to bear as she interviews figures and leaders of Russia's political opposition movements. This marathon narrative, which starts and ends with the last days of the trial of Bolotnaya Square protesters, comes with a reminder: As opportunities for wealth accumulation, graft and corruption dry up, Putin comes up against the weight of history. As the head of Transparency International's Russian office is quoted as saying, "There's an inexorable logic of the historical process…of the political process…. There's no Putin in the world who can withstand it."
—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.
“Give the Data to the People,” by Harlan M. Krumholz. The New York Times, February 3, 2014
The nitty gritty of clinical trials may bore most of us, but how research is conducted—and most importantly, who has access to the results—profoundly impacts what medicine hits our shelves, and the price and safety of the drugs we take. Currently drug companies are not required to release the data from their clinical trials, meaning that the public is unaware of potentially worrying information, such as side effects or even deaths that occur during a drug trial, and whether a new drug is better than a competitor or a placebo. Because data remains secret, independent scientists also can't verify results.
The AllTrials campaign has been pushing drug companies to make clinical trial data more widely available. They've achieved some victories: last year, GlaxoSmithKline announced that it would give researchers access to data from all the trials it's conducted since its inception, and last week, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) said it would make its data available to scientists around the world. This New York Times piece, written by Harlan M. Krumholz of the Yale University Open Data Access Project, which will host the J&J data, explains why this move is so important, and why other drug companies should follow suit.
—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.
“Women's rights country by country – interactive.” The Guardian, Febuary 4, 2014.
Can a woman in Iran access abortion to save her life? Does South African law mandate equal pay for work of equal value? Are there laws addressing domestic violence in Brazil? The Guardian’s new interactive guide to women’s rights indices is an excellent tool. Based on data culled from the United Nations and the World Bank, it enables journalists, researchers, development practitioners and rights advocates to quickly view and compare how countries legislate for, among other things, violence towards women, sexual harassment, abortion and gender equality in property and employment rights. Way to go, Guardian!
—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.
“How Taxpayer-Funded Schools Teach Creationism—and Get Away With It,” by Joshua Cowen. The New Republic, January 30, 2014.
Written by a researcher at the University of Michigan, this piece argues that private schools that accept students on vouchers should have to publicly reveal the test scores of those students and the contents of their curriculum. While the news hook in this article may be sensational, it also brings home an important point about the need for accountability for private schools engaged in public work. As he points out in the piece, vouchers blur the line between government and private institutions, raising difficult questions about how they should be regulated.