Category Archives: What I’ve Been Reading

Sunday Links

Teju Cole wrote a story for Twitter. A Piece of the Wall explores the desert spaces between Mexico and the United States and the ugly discourse around immigration; the direct and concise nature of the medium makes it all the more powerful. Cole talks about the piece here (H/T for both links to Tom from A View from the Cave).

***

I’ve been exploring Chris Blattman’s excellent advice for development students: Ten Things I Tell Undergraduates is a good place to start, but check out the sidebar for a wealth of helpful information.

***

Bill Easterly wrote The New Tyranny for Foreign Policy, based on his latest book, The Tyranny of Experts. I’m three chapters in, and so far its been a stimulating look at the history of ideas about development, and the conditions that make a paternalistic, rights-negating approach to development possible.

***

This is an old one but required reading: How To Write About Africa, by Binyavanga Wainaina.

***

On the state of economics: Michael Sandel calls for more explicit engagement with political philosophy in Market Reasoning as Moral Reasoning. I think his argument is compelling. Dani Rodrik’s What is Wrong (And Right) in Economics is a reminder that many economists are already engaging in these kinds of questions.

***

On Venezuela, A Historic Low for El Nacional seems like a fairly innocuous story but is, I think, tremendously significant. Fans of liberal democracy find it easy to sympathise with the Venezuelan opposition. This is a timely reminder that elements of the opposition are as sensationalist, populist and closed off to genuine dialogue as the chavistas. 

LatAm Political Economy, Australian Democracy: What I’ve Been Reading

I’m about to start Honours-level Economics so everything I read is being torturously parsed for possible thesis topics. Lots of thought-provoking stuff here. Also lots of Latin America. Scroll down, non-latinophiles. There’s a depressing one for you at the bottom.

***

Jeffery R. Webber writes a sprawling but fascinating analysis of Bolivia’s economic policies and contesting ideologies for Jacobin magazine. Western commentators tend to ignore the fact that president Evo Morales’ team have pursued fairly orthodox policy despite the country’s close alignment with Venezuela and much of the government’s socialist rhetoric. Webber draws on a number of interviews and a great deal of theory to craft a really interesting analysis of the prevailing tensions. I’ll be reading it again.

***

Eugenio Diaz-Bonilla demolishes the myth of a century of Argentine decline, at least in terms of quantitative economic indicators. There’s probably an argument to be made for a century of political decline, and I’m not sure the causation is as cut-and-dried as he seems to suggest, but it’s a myth I’d kind of reflexively accepted as fairly compelling. I like being made to sit up and rethink things.

***

Four (at least tangentially) on Venezuela this week. Political Violence at a Glance link to some potentially interesting data on the outsourcing of government repression; Francisco Toro looks at the long-term development impacts of hurling petrodollars at the poor; Hector Schamis criticises Latin America’s forgetful left [sp], who ignore Venezuelan repression when many of them lived through state repression and human rights abuses themselves. Greg Weeks’ 15 Annoying Things About the Venezuelan Crisis is short, sweet, and pretty damn accurate.

***

If you care about Australian democracy Chloe Hooper’s Lives of the Magnates will make you very, very sad.

What I’ve Been Reading

Aid on the Edge of Chaos take a look at Philip Tetlock’s research on expert judgement and draws some compelling lessons for the development field.

***

Anthony Faramelli examines the Duggan inquest in the UK and what it tells us about the politics of fear and security in the post-9/11 world:

the pre-​emptive doc­trine util­ized by state sponsored man­hunts works be­cause the non-​existence of what has not ac­tu­ally happened, but might one day happen be­comes more real than reality due to the af­fective nature of fear. The felt reality of threat le­git­im­ates pree­mptive ac­tion, once and for all.

It’s an interesting dissection of the construction of sovereignty and nationhood:

na­tional iden­tity is neg­at­ively con­struc­ted in terms of what it isn’t, or rather what it must be pro­tec­ted from. However this Other does not ne­ces­sarily have to reside out­side the na­tional bound­aries … The Manhunt Doctrine as elab­or­ated by Grégoire Chamayou ex­pli­citly ap­plies to all 21st cen­tury wars that are fought by gov­ern­ments against ex­ist­en­tial threats that do not have a na­tional al­le­gi­ance and, as such, may be loc­ated any­where and every­where around the world, in­cluding (and es­pe­cially) within the na­tional ter­ritory (the wars on drugs, crime, ter­rorism, etc.).

***

Seth Kaplan’s op-ed in the New York Times, What Makes Lagos a Model City, is another addition to the growing grey literature on successful cities – Bogotá is a frequently cited example – and argues for continued devolution to local government. As globalisation continues to erode accountability at a national level there’s something to be said for new experiments in devolved governance.

***

Spain’s judges have been very active in the prosecution of egregious violations of international human rights law, but it looks like their leash is going to be considerably shortened: David Bosco for Foreign Policy places the blame squarely on Chinese pressure. Kate at Wronging Rights puts it best:

With the latest change, the courts will now be limited to hearing cases in which both perpetrator and victim are Spanish nationals or residents. Which is pretty much what the Spanish courts would be doing anyway.

***

I’ve been tweeting a lot of Venezuela but haven’t read much commentary in English. A pair of interesting Spanish links:

A Few Quick Links: What I’ve Been Reading

At work inside our detention centres: a guard’s story. Read it.

The End of American Exceptionalism takes a look at three trends contributing to the decline of Americans’ belief in their country’s exceptionalism: anticlericalism, non-interventionism brought on by war fatigue, and the rise of class consciousness in tandem with rising inequality.  Peter Beinhart places the blame firmly in the laps of hyper-conservatives. A tremendously interesting read.

For aid tragics, Robin Davies takes a close look at the Australian aid budget after the cuts, and Tom Paulson warns of the dangers of over-reliance on data.

Just a quick one today folks as I have two imminent deadlines.

Human rights, patriotic press, and the wage explosion: What I’ve Been Reading

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit in Havana garnered a lot of attention in the Spanish-speaking twitter-verse this week and Andrés Oppenheimer [sp] forcefully presents the view I subscribe to: it beggars belief that a dictatorship should preside over a regional grouping which has as one of its objectives the promotion of democracy. Oppenheimer writes (translation mine):

… to attend a CELAC summit in Cuba without meeting with a single representative of the opposition is to give offer huge propagandistic support to a totalitarian regime, and turn their backs on the peaceful opposition of the island. Many of us, who opposed the military governments of Latin America in the 1970s, remember the way in which these visits of foreign dignitaries contributed to the legitimation of the dictatorships.

As it turns out, a small group of Costa Rican diplomats met with members of a Cuban human rights group [sp] – Costa Rica is assuming the CELAC presidency this year, but too much should not be made of a low-level meeting – and Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera met with members of the Damas de Blanco [sp]. Nevertheless, centre-left President-Elect Michelle Bachelet, also present in Cuba, did not attend the meeting.

***

Speaking of human rights and their relegation to second fiddle (or no fiddle) in favour of broader political aims, Foreign Policy has an interesting recount of the ongoing effort to bring Hissène Habré, the US’ “Man in Africa” to justice in Senegal for torture and other egregious violations of human rights throughout his dictatorial rule.

***

Meanwhile, Alex Oliver defends ABC’s coverage of Australian policy, broadcast abroad under the auspices of the Australia Network and criticised by PM Tony Abbott as insufficiently patriotic. She reminds us of the vital credibility-establishing role of critical reporting by national broadcasters in a public diplomacy role.

***

Another fun part of this week’s Australian political “debate” was Senator Abetz’ warning of an imminent wages “explosion”. Fellow Liberal Senator (and Assistant Treasurer) Arthur Sinodinos AO obviously didn’t get the memo, stating fairly unequivocally that wage growth was low and likely to remain subdued.

On a related note, Sarah Kendzior was devastating as always on wages and workers’ rights:

The second claim is that low-wage workers are easily replaceable and offer no benefit to society. This is the argument aimed at service workers, who are on strike because they make so little they cannot afford food or rent.

Putting aside that anyone working full-time should be able to survive on their income, and that service workers deserve the same respect as any employee, this argument falls flat because educated professionals whose work offers tremendous benefit to society are also poorly paid.

Teaching, nursing, social work, childcare and other “pink collar” professions do not pay poorly because, as Slate’s Hanna Rosin argues, women “flock to less prestigious jobs”, but because jobs are considered less prestigious when they are worked by women. The jobs are not worth less – but the people who work them are supposed to be. 

What I’ve Been Reading: Friday 7th September 2012

I’m running just to keep up at the moment so only two links today. A lot of my time is going to the curation of Análisis Latino‘s content, so if you read Spanish head there for a selection of three articles daily covering the Latin American region. We’re also on Twitter and Facebook </end advertisment>.

It’s a little lengthy, but Australia and Indonesia: Beyond stability, towards order, by Dr Scott Burchill of Deakin University, is full of interesting and useful insights on the intersection between international relations and human rights. Despite its focus on the problematic Indonesia-Australia relationship many of Burchill’s arguments are more broadly applicable. His search for basic principles to guide diplomatic relations between liberal and illiberal democracies is enormously relevant.

It cannot be assumed that the Western path to modernity will ultimately command universal consent. Australia needs to accept that Indonesia could follow a different route – one that is seen domestically as more legitimate and appropriate – and should not wait for Jakarta to conform with the expectations of neighbours. The value and advantages of liberal democracy should nevertheless be actively promoted by Australia as an incentive to those within the Indonesian polity striving for higher levels of political development, but it should be done in a way that doesn’t hector or lecture from a position of ethical superiority.

Paktika Province, Afghanistan. Image: The U.S. Army, via flickr

Anna Badkhen’s PTSDland, from the most recent Foreign Policy, is a  heartbreaking look at the mental health effects of decades of violence in Afghanistan.

During World War I, when military physicians described soldiers’ traumatic reactions to war as “shell shock,” about nine out of 10 war casualties were fighters. But after nearly 50 years of the Cold War and more than 10 years of the war on terror, the way we wage war is more personal. Terrorism battlefields recognize no front lines. Vicious sectarian rampages pit neighbor against neighbor. Victims of genocidal campaigns often know their attackers by name. In the most current conflicts, at least nine out of 10 war casualties are believed to be civilians, writes psychologist Stanley Krippner in his book The Psychological Impact of War Trauma on Civilians.

[…]

COMMUNAL PSYCHOLOGICAL WOUNDS — what medical anthropologist Arthur Kleinman has called “social suffering” — permeate the lives of survivors scraping by in unimaginable poverty amid collapsed infrastructure, the common afterbirth of modern combat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 30 and 70 percent of people who have lived in war zones bear the scars of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Violence in Afghanistan has become socialised; domestic violence is increasing, and a new generation is growing up in an environment in which insecurity is rife – even in the home – and problems are solved with fists. Or weapons, which are also rife.

Again, this is not a story about Latin America, but it is a story that (almost) could be. Small arms are freely available throughout most of the region* and many countries are dealing with post-conflict situations (Peru and  Guatemala, among many) while Colombia attempts to bring an end to four decades of guerrilla warfare and Mexico is on the front lines of an apparently unwinnable war on drugs.

Action on Armed Violence reported recently on Latin American States’ Capacities to Address Armed Violence**, drawing attention to the lack of government focus on the normalisation of victims’ lives after episodes of violence. I find it all rather alarming.

* The Global Peace Index contains this and other interesting indicators. I’ve analysed the report here.

** I discussed this report for Análisis Latino, here [sp].

 

Speaking of violence, this one came to my attention after we closed Análisis Latino for the week: Polémica por el “día del militante montonero. Briefly, for non-Spanish speakers: certain ultrakirchnerista groups in Argentine declared today, 7 September, Montoneros Day, the Montoneros being a left-wing Peronist guerrilla group active in the country in the 1960s and 1970. (Today’s Kirchnerism is an off-shoot of Peronism).

The journalist supports free expression providing there is no government involvement in the celebrations, and I’m almost inclined to agree, although I find it abhorrent. In Argentina, there is a very blurry line between the government and its allied social movements, and this complicates the matter. Furthermore, I think the glorification of violent political action to be extraordinarily damaging, whether it comes from the government or not. Gabriel Salvia wrote an equally interesting piece for AL, firmly condemning any initiative of this nature.

 

Finally, the Internet as a hyper-democratic medium?

The Internet is a never-ending election. Google is worth hundreds of billions of dollars because it learned that a link to a website was essentially a vote for that site’s content. Today’s Internet is an ever-expanding set of fractal democracies. We vote billions (trillions?) of times daily through tweets, retweets, pins, repins, reblogs, likes, and favorites, ad infinitum. We can parse these votes based on demographics, and—thanks to mobile devices—by location, too.

[…]

Kony 2012 perfectly demonstrates the flaws with the usual system of focusing as much attention as possible onto one abstract idea. It willfully followed the script of a presidential campaign with Kony as its anti-candidate, but it didn’t work outside the context of a national election. The Internet allows for—and seems to demand—a more democratic and nuanced approach.

This is interesting. I worry that the Internet and its anonymity/depersonalisation  tend to amplify the worst in people (hello, trolls) and lead to greater polarization but… this is really interesting. Of course, for now this is really only a conversation for “developed”, wealthy countries where everybody’s online….

What I’ve Been Reading: Friday, 31 August 2012

Dan Hind contributed So who’s winning the war on drugs? to al-Jazeera English. He raises some interesting points about the illicit financial flows generated by the trade, and the fact that the actual people on the ground, the little fish, in both producer and consumer countries, make very little money. A very few people are getting very, very rich (while a lot of people are dying). The article ends up a little breathless for my tastes, however:

The War on Drugs, then, is about more than the dramatic crimes and stratagems of gangsters. It has its origins in the political sphere and can only be understood in political terms … it is an instrument of the reaction, a kind of intoxication that serves the “noble task” of keeping money and the power in the same hands. The War on Drugs in its current form serves the established order.

While this kind of radical argument – shades of instrumental neo-Marxism – certainly has something to offer, I think it needs to be presented with a little more sophistication. Hard to do in an 800 word opinion piece, of course. It came off a little Conspiracy Theory for me, and I don’t think it’s going to convince the people it needs to (i.e. the US taxpayers).

 

The New York Times, on the other hand, published a brilliant piece of long-form reporting, The Throwaways, by Sarah Stillman. It talks about the local victims of the War on Drugs, young people facing harsh penalties for minor drug offenses, offered a way out: turning confidential informant.

Hoffman chose to coöperate. She had never fired a gun or handled a significant stash of hard drugs. Now she was on her way to conduct a major undercover deal for the Tallahassee Police Department, meeting two convicted felons alone in her car to buy two and a half ounces of cocaine, fifteen hundred Ecstasy pills, and a semi-automatic handgun.

There are many tragic stories surrounding the War on Drugs, and the United States gets off easy. Nevertheless, this is a fascinating story, and an unexpected one.

 

This one’s short and sweet but beautifully captures the sheer surreality of Argentine political economy. Argentina: When a raise is not a raise, from the Financial Times’ Beyond BRICS blog:

As the cameras rolled, one Fernández de Kirchner ally, construction union (UOCRA) head Gerardo Martínez, made the mistake of converting the new wage into dollars using a parallel rate instead of the official one, to the President’s obvious irritation.

Under the President’s glare and remonstration, he nervously backtracked.

“I got confused,” he said later in a radio interview.

Oops.

Note: the “official rate” is around 4.3 pesos to the dollar, whilst the black market rate is upwards of 6.

 

Penny Red’s It’s trigger warning week is a brutally and beautifully honest, devastatingly sharp response to recent ludicrousness surrounding definitions of rape. I’m not pulling out any quotes because it’s all amazing and you must click through. I’m furious that we still need to have this conversation, but thankful she was brave enough to make such a wonderful contribution to it.

 

The Economist throughly dissects the Assange/Ecuador affair in An Ecuadorian history of the world. The one thing missing from their analysis is the false distinction being made between freedom of speech and the rights of women: Laurie Penny from the Independent takes care of that in If you really believe in WikiLeaks, you must want Assange to face up to justice.