Blog Archives

Christena Nippert-Eng on secrets

October 27, 2010
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Christena Nippert-Eng on secrets

For a dizzying number of reasons, privacy is a highly contested issue right now. In one high-profile case, last month a student at Rutgers University committed suicide after having his privacy publicly violated by his roommate. That incident led to a great deal of discussion on a range of issues from hate crimes and bullying to the question of whether a generation that has grown up with the Internet and social media will have a radically different approach to privacy than their elders. Of course, that remains to be seen, but in the meantime Christena Nippert-Eng is here to explain to us how privacy works in the here and now. Packed with stories that are funny and sad, familiar and strange, Islands of Privacy tours the myriad arenas where privacy battles are fought, lost, and won. Nippert-Eng stopped by WBEZ’s Eight Forty-Eight yesterday to talk about these issues, to respond to some brave Chicagoans willing to spill their secrets, and to take questions on everything from cyberstalking to the relief of confession. Head to WBEZ’s newly redesigned site to listen. . . .

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Anna Politkovskaya wins translation prize

October 26, 2010
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Anna Politkovskaya wins translation prize

Earlier today, over at the New Yorker‘s Book Bench blog, Jenny Hendrix alerted us to the news that the late journalist Anna Politkovskaya has been awarded PEN English’s first-ever award for literature in translation for her book, Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy. According to Hendrix, the book “is the story of a democracy in collapse, in which soldiers are slaves, judges are corrupt, and provincial oligarchs rule,” and it paints a particularly brutal portrait of Vladimir Putin. It was Russia’s war in Chechnya that ignited Politkovskaya’s fury with Putin, and her experiences there are documented in A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya. Centered on stories of those caught in the crossfire of the Chechen conflict, A Small Corner of Hell recounts the horrors of living in the midst of the war, examines how the war has affected Russian society, and takes a hard look at how people on both sides are profiting from it, from the guards who accept bribes from Chechens out after curfew to the United Nations. (You can read an excerpt from the book here.) The conclusion of Hendrix’s post is a moving testament to the legacy of this courageous journalist, who was . . .

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College by the numbers

October 18, 2010
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College by the numbers

Earlier this month the State University of New York at Albany announced “that the university was ending all admissions to programs in French, Italian, Russian, and classics, leaving only Spanish left in the language department once current students graduate. The theater department is also being eliminated.” Over the weekend the New York Times asked a panel of scholars to respond to this news, wondering how necessary the study of French really is. Among their respondents was Gaye Tuchman, author of Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University, who argues that “ending programs in the arts and humanities because they are not making money transforms universities into trade schools. This corporatization of colleges and universities has already squelched the notion that higher education is a public good.” The process of corporatization is one Tuchman has studied extensively, as seen in Wannabe U, which tracks the dispiriting consequences of trading in traditional educational values for loyalty to the market. In a recent essay for the Chronicle Review, Tuchman examined the effects of one particular trend that universities have borrowed from corporations: an obsession with measuring success numerically. After detailing the various ways faculty and administrators have collaborated in developing an “audit culture,” Tuchman . . .

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“Sir Isaac the Alchemist”

October 12, 2010
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“Sir Isaac the Alchemist”

Isaac Newton’s influence on modern science is immeasurable. But Newton was also profoundly invested in the study of alchemy, a notorious pseudoscience that has been often dismissed as either a delusion or a scam. However, this view of alchemy has been under revision in recent years, a process driven by the work of scholar William R. Newman, who has led the investigation into the links between alchemy and the scientific revolution. In a New York Times article exploring Isaac Newton’s interest in and experiences with alchemy, Natalie Angier draws heavily on Newman’s insights into the history of what should be more properly understood as a kind of protochemistry. While the famous quest to turn lead into gold didn’t pan out, Angier notes that the alchemists’ “work yielded a bounty of valuable spinoffs, including new drugs, brighter paints, stronger soaps and better booze. ‘Alchemy was synonymous with chemistry,’ said Dr. Newman, ‘and chemistry was much bigger than transmutation.'” Far from the puzzling pursuit of an otherwise brilliant scientist, alchemy proves to have played an important part in Newton’s legacy as a physicist: Dr. Newman argues that Sir Isaac’s alchemical investigations helped yield one of his fundamental breakthroughs in physics: his discovery . . .

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Ending suicide terrorism

October 7, 2010
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Ending suicide terrorism

Despite a popular belief that suicide terrorism is the result of religious fanaticism, such attacks are really a calculated response to occupations by outsiders, according to Robert A. Pape and James K. Feldman in Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It. The book draws on exhaustively researched data on suicide attacks since 1980 in the Middle East, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, and around the world. The resulting picture is grim; as Pape recently noted, “Each month there are more suicide terrorists trying to kill Americans and their military allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other Muslim countries than in all the years before 2001 combined.” Nonetheless, based on this data, Pape claims, “we now have strong evidence that the narrative—that suicide terrorism is prompted by Islamic fundamentalism—is not true.” The real problem is the way American military force is deployed overseas. Steve Clemons, writing for the Huffington Post, agrees, “Can it be that American military bases abroad, usually thought of as ‘stabilizers’ in tough neighborhoods, are really the primary cause of radical terrorism against the US and its allies? That is what Robert Pape and James K. Feldman compellingly argue in their new book.” Noting . . .

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Hayek and the “Tea Party canon”

October 5, 2010
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Hayek and the “Tea Party canon”

This summer’s unlikeliest hit book, F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, continues to attract notice. Glenn Beck, the Fox News host whose endorsement of the book in June catapulted it up the best-seller list, recently used the book’s success as evidence that his “audience is devouring books like never before.” Over the weekend, the New York Times concurred with Beck and included Road in an article on the emerging “Tea Party canon.” Taking stock of Hayek’s pervasive influence on the current political landscape, the Times reported: Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, alluded to The Road to Serfdom in introducing his economic “Roadmap for America’s Future,” which many other Republicans have embraced. Ron Johnson, who entered politics through a Tea Party meeting and is now the Republican nominee for Senate in Wisconsin, asserted that the $20 billion escrow fund that the Obama administration forced BP to set up to pay damages from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill circumvented “the rule of law,” Hayek’s term for the unwritten code that prohibits the government from interfering with the pursuit of “personal ends and desires.” Justin Amash, the 30-year-old Republican state legislator running for the House seat once held by . . .

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Pablo Boczkowski on pack journalism

September 29, 2010
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Pablo Boczkowski on pack journalism

Yesterday, Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab ran a piece discussing Pablo J. Boczkowski’s new book News at Work: Imitation in an Age of Information Abundance. Boczkowski, a pioneer in the field of exploring the effects of technology on the media, takes a look at how the Internet has changed the way the news is both consumed and produced. In particular he examines the phenomenon of how the limitless space and interconnectivity of the Internet has led to a surprising homogenization of news stories. To a degree, the reasons this has happened are fairly simple. Right now it’s likely that while reading this you’re also keeping an eye on the current headlines, whether you’ve got CNN’s website open in another tab, RSS feeds filling up your Google Reader, or Twitter feeding you a constant drip of headlines and links. And if consumers of the news are closely monitoring breaking news, you can bet editors and reporters are even more concerned with what the competition is up to. Boczkowski studied the current state of online news by looking at two papers in Argentina, and there he discovered a new species of newsroom worker, “the cable guy.” Megan Garber at Nieman describes this new . . .

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Mapping race in the city

September 21, 2010
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Mapping race in the city

If you want to get our attention here at the Chicago Blog, all you need to do is combine two of our favorite things—maps and urban sociology. Our love for maps is strong, and our interest in the social dynamics of cities, especially those of our hometown, is deep. So it’s no surprise that today’s infographic of the day from Fast Company caught our eye. That post presents Eric Fischer’s finely detailed and rather beautiful maps depicting racial integration (or its lack) in many major American cities. Fischer was inspired by Bill Rankin’s map of Chicago’s racial makeup, which reveals that while the city continues to be highly segregated, some traditional ethnic enclaves are transforming. One such Chicago neighborhood—Andersonville and the area around the Argyle stop on the red line—is analyzed in detail in Japonica Brown-Saracino’s A Neighborhood that Never Changes: Gentrification, Social Preservation, and the Search for Authenticity. As Rankin notes, his map overturns the usual way of delineating areas of cities, where “neighborhoods are almost always drawn as perfectly bounded areas.” That traditional approach can undermine our understanding of what’s really happening in cities. The power of maps to change our perception of reality has been at the . . .

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Understanding World Hunger

September 14, 2010
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Understanding World Hunger

The BBC reports today that the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has released their annual report on global hunger. There is some good news in that the number of undernourished people fell between 2009 and 2010, but, at 925 million, that number is still “unacceptably high.” In 2001 the UN designated a 50% reduction in the number of hungry people by 2015 as one of its Millennium Development Goals, but achieving this goal has proven extremely difficult and many aspects of the crisis have worsened. What makes this problem so frustrating is that the world doesn’t lack for food—we have more than enough to feed every living person on the planet. But nearly a billion people continue to suffer from food shortages, unsafe water, and malnutrition. To understand why, turn to Thomas J. Bassett and Alex Winter-Nelson’s Atlas of World Hunger. The Atlas makes unique use of maps to provide both a comprehensive overview of global hunger—its multiple causes and long-lasting effects—and to search for solutions to it. You can take a look at a PDF excerpt from the book here. . . .

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Filibusted?

September 7, 2010
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Filibusted?

As their summer vacations end and the midterm elections approach, reporters and commentators have begun to ramp up their political coverage. With strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress as well as control of the White House, these elections are, not surprisingly, being viewed as a referendum on the majority party. The efficacy and success of the 111th Congress can be judged in a variety of ways, but in these discussions one issue always comes into play: the filibuster. This summer George Packer’s widely cited article on the Senate (from the August 9 issue of the New Yorker) brought the topic to the forefront. Packer painted a dismal picture of a governing body hamstrung by the need for a sixty-vote majority to pass any legislation, prompting the question, how did we get here? The answer can be found in Gregory Koger’s history of the filibuster, Filibustering, the definitive study of this method of obstruction. At the recent annual American Political Science Association meeting, Koger convened a panel on the topic, featuring speakers such as Ezra Klein of the Washington Post and Brian Darling of the Heritage Foundation. You can watch a video of that panel over on C-SPAN’s site . . .

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