All posts filed under: recent

Tyranny’s Mouthpiece

On September 8, 2019, Syria’s state news agency published an article about the beginning of the Third International Trade Union Forum in Damascus, which hosted “dozens of intellectuals, journalists, (and) political and social activists from Arab and foreign countries.” Among the attendees were the American journalists Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek. If you want to know why Blumenthal and Khalek were welcome at an event organized “under the auspices of Bashar al-Assad”—aside from the fact that they’re frequent contributors to the Russian propaganda outlets Sputnik and Russia Today—the rest of the article should give you an idea. It condemns the “aggressive terrorist war” launched against Syria, along with the “economic war that constitutes terror in and of itself” (a reference to U.S. sanctions). It calls for a media campaign to galvanize world public opinion in support of the Syrian government and “reveal the truth about the U.S. policy of besieging independent and free countries.” It points out that the “real goal of the war on Syria is to stop it from being a force that …

Mediocrity for All!

It strikes me as ironic that in a realm like education, the lesson America’s scholastic visionaries never seem to learn is also the most simple lesson of all—that education should be about educating. Theorists persist in reinventing the wheel, sometimes with good intentions and sometimes in the service of agendas that are rather less defensible and/or wholesome than those publicly stated. Such is the case with the hottest currency to emerge from the pointy-headed precincts of pedagogical theory: social-emotional learning, or SEL. SEL assumes as its mandate “the education of the whole child,” a lodestar concept among today’s educational brain trust. Though the approach has been gaining traction for about a decade, SEL is now poised for what is sure to be its flagship implementation. As New York mayor and erstwhile presidential candidate Bill de Blasio vowed in a recent article for Fortune, SEL is to be rolled out “in every classroom,” serving the 1.1 million school kids of the sprawling New York City system. The mayor goes on to describe a prototype for the …

What Comes After Capitalism?

A review of Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World, by Branko Milanovic, Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press (September 24, 2019), 304 pages “The domination of capitalism as the best, or rather the only, way to organize production and distribution seems absolute,” writes Branko Milanovic in his new book, Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World. With feudal systems demolished, and the ideological battles between fascism and communism resolved, a clear winner has emerged. Capitalism is unrivaled in its ability to produce material abundance and coordinate the use of scarce resources. But above and beyond that functional success, capitalist societies also inculcate a set of commercial values that reinforce its supremacy and reward its expansion into new spheres of life. If capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction, as Marx thought, such forces are overwhelmed by its propensity to spread and self-replicate—at least so far. As a leading scholar on income inequality at the City University of New York, Milanovic is sensitive to …

Experiments in Nurturing Classroom Curiosity

Last semester, I was asked to teach a class about “socially engaged art” for the University of Colorado Denver, where I am an adjunct professor for the studio arts program. I was both surprised—did they know I gave a lecture at the University of New Orleans titled “Against Political Art” in 2017?—and delighted, because it was my first opportunity to teach an upper level discussion course, instead of introductory drawing and painting classes that focus on technical skills. The structure of the course was two-part, with half our time spent in class discussions and the other half as studio hours for students to create their own socially engaged art. Because my goal was to prepare the students intellectually to create such work, their opinions about sociopolitical issues were central to the course. And because university campuses have developed a reputation for intellectual intolerance, I suspected that this class would become either an echo chamber or a powder keg. After the students shared their interests, I placed my bets on the powder keg: their views ranged …

Are Canadians Becoming More Racist? This Week’s Election Proved the Opposite

“Citizens ‘don’t feel safe’ as hate fills Edmonton’s streets,” proclaimed the Toronto Star on April 20, in reference to a gathering of Albertan white supremacists—one of at least two that occurred that month. In the lead paragraph, Star reporter Omar Mosleh grimly noted the ironic nature of a venue, Edmonton’s Churchill Square, “a place named after a world leader instrumental in defeating the Nazis.” The article was widely shared on progressive social media, where tales of Canada’s supposed slide into neo-Nazi extremism are now common currency. But for anyone who looked past the headline, a mere glance at the accompanying photo showed the underwhelming totality of Edmonton’s allegedly epic hate-fest: about a dozen random locals, surrounded by a larger number of counter-protestors and curious onlookers, plus a sizeable detachment of police officers keeping order. Even if one accepts the Star’s generous tally of right-wing protestors at the pictured event—“about 15 people”—the conceit that “hate fills Edmonton’s streets” is ludicrous. There aren’t enough haters here to fill a parking spot. The fact that such an article …

Higher Education’s Medievalist Moral Panic

On September 19, the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS), a 36-year-old organization of academics specializing in the history, culture, and literature of England before the Norman Conquest, hastily voted to change its name. Indeed, the vote was so hasty that the organization had no idea what its new name ought to be (it is soliciting suggestions from members). Nonetheless, the majority of its 600-odd members were certain of one thing: they no longer wanted to be associated with the words “Anglo-Saxon.” In the view of many of those members, that term had become tainted, appropriated by an assortment of white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis that calls itself the “alt-right.” During the Charlottesville, Virginia melée of August 11–12, 2017, which included a supremacist’s murder of a woman by car attack, the white nationalists who marched had carried banners and standards incorporating iconography that, if not always precisely Anglo-Saxon in inspiration, was certainly medieval: Templar crosses, the double eagle of the Holy Roman Empire, and in one case, a Germanic rune beloved of neo-Nazis that was …

The New York Post Whitewashes the Plight of Egypt’s Copts

With Holy Week starting in nine days, Copts across Egypt were preparing for the most important week in their faith. Unlike in the West, Easter—and, more precisely, the week that precedes it—and not Christmas is the center of the Coptic calendar. Church interiors are covered in black cloth, hymns are sung in a funereal tone, and services are conducted day and night. No other event takes place, not even funerals for those unlucky enough to die during that week. But in the village of Nag Khalaf Allah, in Egypt’s south, Copts’ preparations for Holy week were interrupted by a mob. At 4 pm on April 12, 2019, as children were in their Sunday school classes, the attack began on the Saint Karas church. The church, like thousands across the country, did not have official registration papers since obtaining them from the regime is a nearly impossible task. But Copts had been praying in it for years, and Saint Karas church had submitted its request for registration in 2017, as required by a 2016 law. The …

Rich Like Me: How Assortative Mating Is Driving Income Inequality

It may be useful to open this topic with an anecdote. Some ten years ago, I found myself in an after-dinner conversation, lubricated by wine, with an American who had been educated at an Ivy League college and was then teaching in Europe. As our conversation drifted toward matters of life, marriage and children, I was initially surprised by his statement that whoever he had married, the outcome in terms of where they lived, what type of house they owned, what kind of holidays and entertainment they would enjoy, and even what colleges their children would attend would be practically the same. His reasoning was as follows: “When I went to [Ivy League institution], I knew that I would marry a woman I met there. Women also knew the same thing. We all knew that our pool of desirable marriage candidates would never be as vast again. And then whomever I married would be a specimen of the same genre: They were all well-educated, smart women who came from the same social class, read the …

Ramallah For Beginners

It’s Saturday evening, and we’ve crossed over to the Palestinian side of the Green Line. I’d always thought that entering the West Bank would be difficult, but it’s not. There are no security officers to ask you questions, no passports to show, no gates to be lifted; just an unobstructed road. Upon leaving Israel, the navigation app Waze displays a red box containing the words “high-risk area” at the top of the screen. (Of course, crossing back the other way is much more difficult.) As we go deeper into the West Bank, I grow tense, though there aren’t any apparent threats. After twenty minutes, we drive past a settlement where the entrance is guarded by Israeli soldiers peering out of concrete bunkers. One of them is a young woman. The barrel of her rifle rests on a pile of sandbags. She seems be looking through her scope at every passing car. I’m told that these guards don’t discriminate between Israeli and Palestinian license plates, because some attackers have used Israeli cars. The actual geography of …

Against Research Ethics Committees

Author Note: This article is based on a presentation at the Economic Society of Australia Annual Conference, and draws on an earlier discussion of an incident with an Australian university ethics committee “Why Ethics Committees Are Unethical” Agenda 10/2 2002.  The views expressed here are personal, and should not be attributed to the organisations with which I am affiliated.  Ethics committees have been part of the life of medical researchers for some decades, based on guidelines which flow from the World Medical Association’s 1964 “Declaration of Helsinki.”  This declaration was aimed at physicians and draws heavily on the Nuremberg Code developed during the trials of Nazi doctors after WWII. It has been joined by more recent guidelines such as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) “International Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects” and many others. In Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) issued its first Statement on Human Experimentation in 1966, and the current set of NHMRC guidelines, now issued jointly with the Australian Research Council (ARC) is the National Statement …