—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration, literature and film.
“The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail: The White People Meeting,” by Barrett Brown. D Magazine, February 17, 2014.
Since January 14, imprisoned journalist and activist Barrett Brown has been contributing a bi-monthly column for D Magazine’s FrontBurner blog focused on (in his words) “the literary life of North Texas jail inmates.” The columns, delivered in a relentlessly sardonic tone, teeter on a cringe-inducing edge between blasé political incorrectness (here, he pokes fun at a Latino gang called “Tango Blast”) and genuine sympathy for his fellow inmates. Readers seeking revolutionary polemic will be disappointed to find mostly historical esoterica and cartoony accounts of prison life in these pages. (Brown is forbidden, by court mandate, from discussing his case.) But the passing reference in this piece to Antonio Gramsci, who wrote a highly influential Marxist treatise while in prison, may give them some hope.
—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.
“Los negocios en el Ejército.” by Semana, February 16, 2014.
Weekly magazine Semana has been at the center of attention in Colombia after publishing two reports this month exposing massive military scandals. The first, titled "Did Someone Spy on the Havana Negotiators?," revealed that Colombian military intelligence illegally spied on leftists, NGOs and Colombian politicians involved in peace talks with FARC rebels. The second report, "Business in the Army," is Semana's newest divulgement: a report alleging, among other things, that military leaders stole money from defense contracts. In some cases, they gave this money to soldiers jailed in the "false positives" scandal, in which poor civilians, lured to war zones by promises of jobs, were killed and dressed in rebel uniforms to boost military body counts (and thus claims of success). The stolen money allegedly went to the soldiers' families in exchange for their silence about high-ranking officer involvement in the scandal. These allegations reveal the kind of corruption, brutality and secrecy at the heart of the American-trained, funded and equipped Colombian military. For almost fifteen years, Colombia has been America's largest recipient of military aid in the western hemisphere. Maybe it's finally time to consider scaling back.
—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.
“The Public Voice of Women,” by Mary Beard. London Review of Books, February 14, 2014.
Mary Beard discusses the ways in which women are (still) systematically excluded from "public" discourse. Not only do men have disproportionate access to and control of public fora, she emphasizes: the public speech women do air is consistently dismissed as inappropriate in style. Beard's use of the metaphor of "pollution" (women being accused of "polluting" the male public sphere) recalls Suey Park and David J. Leonard's recent "In Defense of Twitter Feminism," which uses the same metaphor to remind us that not just women but people of color of all genders, as well as other marginalized groups, routinely have their speech undermined by the claim that they are not using the style of speech appropriate for public discourse, a rhetorical move that can do more to delegitimize it than any criticism of its content. The key point of Beard's essay comes at the end: that we should "try to bring to the surface the kinds of question we tend to shelve about how we speak in public, why and whose voice fits."
—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.
“Doctors Train to Spot Signs of A.D.H.D. in Children,” by Alan Schwarz. The New York Times, February 19, 2014.
Bouncing idly at his school desk and cartooning around his math homework, your typical scatterbrained 10-year-old's short attention span has become something of great concern to helicopter parents. Almost 20 percent of all boys are diagnosed with ADHD by the time they're 18—the same children who, just a few years ago, would have been considered "energetic" or "dreamy." In this article, Schwarz highlights both parents' and, worse, doctors' ignorance on the matter of ADHD, which can lead to a dependence on stimulants like Adderall or Concerta. Educating pediatricians and bringing more child psychologists to the table will result in fewer false positives and allow experts to understand more subtle reasons behind a child's nervous energy, such as unaddressed trauma or lack of parental attention.
—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.
“Shock in Detroit: Workers Lose in Bankruptcy Court,” by Lou Dubose. The Washington Spectator, February 1, 2014.
That Detroit’s city council has been dissolved has not received the continuous media attention I would expect. See some of The Nation’s coverage here. In his Klein-inspired piece, Dubose does well in exposing the “vice-regal powers” enjoyed by Detroit’s emergency manager, the racial similarities of the Michigan cities being run by emergency managers, the ramifications of converting retirees into creditors, the financial predation of Detroit and the questionable associations among state-appointed managers and the Jones Day law firm. What is missing from the piece is some mention of US legal doctrines, like Dillon’s Rule, which legalize the removal of municipal power.
—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups' relationship with technology and development.
“‘I Don't Want to Create a Paper Trail’: Inside the Secret Apple-Google Pact,” by Josh Harkinson. Mother Jones, February 19, 2014.
As Harkinson points out, tech employees' antitrust lawsuit over their companies' secret agreements not to recruit from each other may not draw sympathy from most Bay Area residents, who make nowhere near the wages the plaintiffs say these policies suppressed. "And yet," Harkinson writes, the case, with a trial slated for May, actually relates to the problem of growing inequality highlighted by the recent anger over tech buses. It shows that "the widening gap between the rich and poor isn't some accident of free-market capitalism, but the product of a system that puts corporate leaders and their shareholders ahead of everyone else." Given that "Silicon Valley execs love to talk about how a free market breeds innovation," it's significant that the innovators they employ say they've been hurt by not-so-free market agreements.
—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.
“Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine,” by Timothy Snyder. The New York Review of Books, February 19, 2014.
What to make of Ukraine? Opinions seem easier to come by than they should. A choice between two readily conjured, overused symbols becomes almost a requisite—an allegiance to one side or the other, without nuance or real understanding. It's harder to have an opinion when personal connections are involved. The American-born, American-raised part of me wants to side, without reservation, with the opposition groups fighting for democracy, and for their lives. The part of me that is the child of Soviet-Jewish immigrants—immigrants who left Ukraine in part because of anti-semitism—worries about the nationalist factions taking over the message, the protests, and whatever comes after. But Timothy Snyder makes the case that anti-Jewish sentiment isn't the domain of one side only. He perhaps underestimates the strength of ultra-nationalists within the opposition movement, but his point is important to consider, especially if you're not yet prepared to judge.
—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.
“When a University Hospital Backs a Surgical Robot, Controversy Ensues,” by Charles Ornstein. ProPublica, February 14, 2014.
Dozens of members from the surgery team at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System have appeared in an ad for da Vinci, a robot used in surgery. Nothing wrong with that, right? Paul Levy, a former hospital chief executive who now manages the blog Not Running a Hospital, thinks there is: he says it violates the university's own regulations, and potentially state law. Perhaps more importantly, using doctors—especially a whole team of them, and from a reputable hospital—may give a false impression of the medical necessity for the robot, which can cost up to $2.2 million a pop and may not offer significant medical benefits. Levy has since filed a complaint with the university, and you can follow his active pursuit of the matter on his blog, but the issue is bigger than da Vinci and the University of Illinois: how health companies advertise, and particularly their use of medical professionals in doing so, has a long history of deception, with companies regularly utilizing, or in some cases, fabricating, endorsements of medical devices to boost sales. The dogged pursuits from Levy and others concerned with relationships among doctors, academics and medical companies are extremely important.
—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.
“My Year of MOOCs,” by Jonathan Haber. Slate, February 6, 2014.
Earlier this month educational researcher Jonathan Haber completed a one-year experiment to determine whether it was possible “to learn the equivalent of a four-year liberal arts bachelor’s program” in just one year by taking free ‘massive, open, online courses’, or MOOCs. He chose to study philosophy for his Degree of Freedom One Year BA and, in lieu of final exams, attended a meeting of the American Philosophical Association. “My threshold for passing,” writes Haber, “was not feeling like an idiot” amidst students of philosophy who took a more traditional—and costly—path to self-enlightenment. Well, did he pass? I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say this: the implications for the democratization of higher ed are enormous.
—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.
“Faculty on Strike,” by Lennard Davis and Walter Benn Michaels. Jacobin, February 14, 2014.
Two prominent academics at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) describe the reasoning behind the decision of the UIC faculty union to go on strike. While the two-day strike has already ended, their statement provides a look at the changing face of labor. Most interestingly, Davis and Michaels make the case that the distinction between workers and professionals, elaborated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as part of the development of the middle class, has lost meaning under today's economic conditions and that it is necessary to come together as part of a larger struggle.