Archive for the ‘NYRB’ tag
A really interesting and worthy book review of the awkward tension that exists — and is highlighted in William Easterly’s new book — about how the huge western economic development industry seems to have a big soft spot for freedom-hating autocrats.
In 2013, Melinda Gates, on the eve of a trip to Ethiopia, described it as one of her favorite countries. “I always enjoy visiting Ethiopia,” she declared, “because I see inspirational stories and concrete leadership from the government and community health workers reaching the hardest to reach and making change.” Easterly quotes a 2013 report by Tony Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative praising the Ethiopian government’s “strong, accountable leadership in implementing the plan.”
Strong, certainly; accountable, certainly not. According to Human Rights Watch’s 2014 country report, “Ethiopia’s ambitious development schemes, funded from domestic revenue sources and foreign assistance, sometimes displace indigenous communities without appropriate consultation or any compensation.” And after describing in detail the government’s imprisonment of nonviolent opposition leaders and journalists, and denial of the right to assembly, among many other violations of human rights, the report notes that while Ethiopia receives donor assistance of almost $4 billion a year.
I’ve said it a number of times that I love when literary review send a reporter to conflict areas and let them be verbose and thorough in their impressions. Ukraine’s recent history and near-term reality is explained clearly and vividly by Tim Judah for the NYRB. His conclusion, though I encourage you to read it if you have the time:
But while it will be hard to agree on a date, it is already easy to say what is happening in people’s heads. Six months ago everyone here just went about their normal business. They were worried about the things that everyone worries about, and here especially: low salaries, scraping by, collecting money for all the bribes one has to pay, and so on. And then something snapped. The rotting ship of the Ukrainian state sprung a leak and everything began to go down. In people’s heads a new reality has gradually begun to take shape and, in this way, everyone is being prepared for war.
Since the start of the current economic downturn all those years ago, this question comes up pretty regularly, and never really gets a satisfying answer. I don’t know that I’d call Jed S. Rakoff’s explanations “satisfying”, but it’s both less political and more plausible than any other explanation I’ve seen:
In recent decades, however, prosecutors have been increasingly attracted to prosecuting companies, often even without indicting a single person. This shift has often been rationalized as part of an attempt to transform “corporate cultures,” so as to prevent future such crimes; and as a result, government policy has taken the form of “deferred prosecution agreements” or even “nonprosecution agreements,” in which the company, under threat of criminal prosecution, agrees to take various prophylactic measures to prevent future wrongdoing. Such agreements have become, in the words of Lanny Breuer, the former head of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, “a mainstay of white-collar criminal law enforcement,” with the department entering into 233 such agreements over the last decade.
I worry about the cliche of calling a writer on his home-country “poetic”, but I can’t think of a better way to explain why I enjoyed this essay from Pico Iyer about his visit to Hyberbad, India’s growing technology hub:
The beauty of India, I thought, lies in how little it ever changes, deep down; it clings to the ways of a thousand years ago, and to the multifarious customs it has adopted in the centuries since, with an intimacy that many a neighbor might envy. No one in search of the old in India ever comes away disappointed.
When I came across this in the NYRB — an august politics and culture institution — I though, jellyfish!? And then I greedily thought, “This far outside the norm means this will be fantastic.” And it is. By turns amazing and terrifying, you’re almost guaranteed to learn something:
On the night of December 10, 1999, 40 million Filipinos suffered a sudden power blackout. President Joseph Estrada was unpopular, and many assumed that a coup was underway. Indeed, news reports around the world carried stories of Estrada’s fall. It was twenty-four hours before the real enemy was recognized: jellyfish. Fifty truckloads of the creatures had been sucked into the cooling system of a major coal-fired power plant, forcing an abrupt shutdown.
Like most, I expect, I know very little of Central Asia. It’s hard not to know Pakistan and Afghanistan, but Ahmed Rashid gives a pretty good summary of what’s transpired in the other -stans since the USSR collapse. The short answer: not much.
This tidbit’s casual certainty terrified me more than a little:
Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan and Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan have each been in power for twenty-three years. According to human rights groups, Karimov has kept some ten thousand political prisoners in jail over the years, and torture by such methods as boiling people alive is well known.
Suketu Mehta piece about the favelas — for so long dominant symbols of both Brazil and lawlessness — and the results that government “pacification” in the wake of the coming World Cup and Olympics are having is well worth a read.
Until 2008, when the pacification program started, the traficantes controlled roughly half of the favelas, and the militias the other half. Both still hold power in most favelas. The ultimate aim of the state government of Rio’s plan, called the Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP), or Police Pacification Unit, is to drive both of these groups out and replace them by the state.
James Bamford’s piece about the NSA, its history, and it’s likely cache of legally-questionable data about US citizens is a valuable nugget of sanity among all the hubbub that’s followed the Edward Snowden’s data release. I liked this slice of history:
On July 1, 1920, a slim balding man in his early thirties moved into a four-story townhouse at 141 East 37th Street in Manhattan. This was the birth of the Black Chamber, the NSA’s earliest predecessor, and it would be hidden in the nondescript brownstone. But its chief, Herbert O. Yardley, had a problem. To gather intelligence for Woodrow Wilson’s government, he needed access to the telegrams entering, leaving, and passing through the country, but because of an early version of the Radio Communications Act, such access was illegal. With the shake of a hand, however, Yardley convinced Newcomb Carlton, the president of Western Union, to grant the Black Chamber secret access on a daily basis to the private messages passing over his wires—the Internet of the day.
I’d heard these names a few times, but couldn’t have really told you what they meant. Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern do a good job explaining what they did, but I’ll go ahead and take their concluding paragraph to tell you why you should care:
One truth we can affirm: Hitler had no greater, more courageous, and more admirable enemies than Hans von Dohnanyi and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Both men and those closest to them deserve to be remembered and honored. Dohnanyi summed up their work and spirit with apt simplicity when he said that they were “on the path that a decent person inevitably takes.” So few traveled that path—anywhere.
Prison rape is so common in America that most confronted with the reality either go for the joke or greet it with a “well they shouldn’t have gone to prison, then” attitude rather than face the catastrophe that it is. It’s good to know that the Obama administration has created a program that, though late, has some reasonable hope of bringing the problem under control.