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Archive for the 'Book of the Week' Category

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

The Best Business Writing 2014 on The NFL’s Questionable Business Practices

The Best Business Writing 2014

As a business the National Football League continues to make a lot of money. However, as revealed in The Best Business Writing 2014, edited by Dean Starkman, Martha Hamilton, and Ryan Chittum how the NFL does business is deeply troubling. This year’s anthology includes two stories about some of football’s recent travails and its more deceptive practices.

The first is a transcript from a Frontline story “League of Denial” that examines how the NFL reacted or did not react to the football concussion crisis. The excerpt and clip tell the tragic story of Mike Webster, a former all-pro center for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The second, “How the NFL Fleeces Taypayers”, by Gregg Easterbrook from The Atlantic examines how the league, which has been able to receive non-profit status, has built its multi-billion-dollar empire on the largesse of politicians and taxpayers (see excerpt following the transcript).

A clip from “League of Denial”:

Narrator: Nearly broke, homeless, and losing his mind, Web­ster decided football had hurt him, and the NFL was going to pay for it. In 1997, he went to see a lawyer.

Bob Fitzsimmons, Webster’s attorney: The thing that struck me the most was how intelligent Mike was, and the problem was that he just couldn’t continue those thought patterns for longer than a thirty-second period, or a minute or two minutes. He would just go off on the tangents at that point. It was pretty obvious, actually, the first interview that he had some type of cognitive impairment.

Narrator: Attorney Bob Fitzsimmons drew up a disability claim against the NFL.

Steve Fainaru: He began to assemble a case with Webster to basically say that Webster had suffered brain damage as a re­sult of his seventeen-year career in the NFL.

Narrator: Fitzsimmons pulled together Webster’s complicated medical history.

Bob Fitzsimmons: So I took the binder of records and got four doctors together, four separate doctors, all asking them, “Does he have a permanent disability that’s cognitive? And is it related to football?”

Narrator: Webster’s final application for disability contained over one hundred pages and the definitive diagnosis of his doctor—football had caused Webster’s dementia. His claim for disability was filed with the National Football League’s re­tirement board.

Steve Fainaru: The Disability Committee is part of the NFL. The head of the Disability Committee is the commissioner himself, so it’s very much a creature of the NFL.

Narrator: From the beginning, the league’s board was skepti­cal, reluctant to give Webster money.

Colin Webster: They were fighting it from the beginning, against just the common sense of, you know, here’s this guy, look at him, you know? He played for nearly twenty years in a brutal and punishing sport, and you know, this is what’s going on with him. Why would you fight that? What possible motive?

Narrator: The league had its own doctor review Webster’s case.

Bob Fitzsimmons: The NFL had not only hired an investigator to look into this, they also hired their own doctor and said, “Hey, we want to evaluate Mike Webster.”

Narrator: Dr. Edward Westbrook examined him.

Mark Fainaru-Wada: Dr. Westbrook concurs with everything that the four other doctors have found and agrees that abso­lutely, there’s no question that Mike Webster’s injuries are football-related and that he appears to be have significant cognitive issues, brain damage, as a result of having played football.

Narrator: The NFL retirement board had no choice. They granted Webster monthly disability payments.

Document: —“has determined that Mr. Webster is currently to­tally and permanently disabled.”

Narrator: And buried in the documents, a stunning admission by the league’s board—football can cause brain disease.

Document: —“indicate that his disability is the result of head injuries he suffered as a football player.”

Bob Fitzsimmons: The NFL acknowledges that repetitive trauma to the head in football, football can cause a permanent dis­abling injury to the brain.

Narrator: The admission would not be made public until years later, when it was discovered by the Fainaru brothers.

Mark Fainaru-Wada: And that was a dramatic admission back in 2000. And in fact, when you talk about that later with Fitzsimmons, he describes that as the sort of proverbial smoking gun.

Narrator: It was now in writing. The NFL’s own retirement board linked playing football and dementia. At the time, it was something the league would not admit publicly. And Webster felt he’d never received the acknowledgment that his years in the NFL had caused his problems.

Pam Webster: Mike would call this his greatest battle. He’d say it was like David and Goliath, over and over, because it was. He was taking on something that was bigger than him. He took on this battle for the right reasons. He was the right per­son to do it. Unfortunately, it cost us everything.

Narrator: Just two years later, in 2002, Mike Webster died.

(more…)

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

The Best American Magazine Writing and the Future of Magazines

The Best American Magazine Writing 2014

The Best American Magazine 2014 includes some of the best writing of the past year. As evident from the book’s contents, while the writing in magazines is perhaps as strong as ever, the magazine industry, as has been well documented, and the concept of what constitutes a magazine is in doubt.

The fate of the magazine as both a business model and a form was the topic of a recent story on Marketplace, which included an interview with Sid Holt, the editor of The Best American Magazine Writing 2014 and the chief executive of the American Society of Magazine Editors:

As the story reported, 2014 saw the launch of 800 new magazines. These new magazines represent a new niche-driven trend in the industry where publications such as Bacon, Eye-lash, or Skinny News are aimed at very specific audiences.

Sid Holt says it is a challenging time for magazines. While magazine audiences are growing online and on other digital platforms, the loss of advertising dollars that were once a mainstay of print has been hard to make up.

“Those digital dimes haven’t replaced those print dollars yet,” he says. But at the same time, he notes, magazines are adapting. In order for a magazine now to be successful it has to carry its shared passion between reader and publisher — be it guinea pigs or eyelashes — across platforms.

“We no longer think of a magazine as this print thing; this print artifact. Although, obviously the print artifact is central,” he says.

The fate of the magazine and what makes magazine writing so distinctive was also the subject of Mark Jannot’s introduction to The Best American Magazine Writing 2014. In the introduction, he considers how particular magazines develop pieces that are not only compelling in their own right but fit the style and ambitions of their publication:

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Best Business Writing 2014 — Taking on Google, Facebook, and the Ethos of Silicon Valley

The Best Business Writing 2014

The Best Business Writing 2014, edited by Dean Starkman, Martha Hamilton, and Ryan Chittum includes a series of sharp essays on the culture, practice, ethos, and ideology of Silicon Valley. In different ways, Evgeny Morozov, Rebecca Solnit, and Susan Faludi puncture the bubble that surrounds much of our celebration of technology’s impact on society.

In Why We Are Allowed to Hate Silicon Valley, published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Morozov takes a closer look at the intrusive role technology companies such as Google have in our life:

But consider just how weird our current arrangement is. Imagine I told you that the post office could run on a different, innovation-friendly business model. Forget stamps. They cost money—and why pay money when there’s a way to send letters for free? Just think about the world-changing potential: the poor kids in Africa can finally reach you with their pleas for more laptops! So, instead of stamps, we would switch to an advertis­ing-backed system: we’d open every letter that you send, scan its contents, insert a relevant ad, seal it, and then forward it to the recipient.

Sounds crazy? It does. But this is how we have chosen to run our e-mail. In the wake of the NSA scandal and the debacle that is Healthcare.gov, trust in public institutions runs so low that any alternative arrangement—especially the one that would give pub­lic institutions a greater role—seems unthinkable. But this is only part of the problem. What would happen when some of our long cherished and privately run digital infrastructure begins to crum­ble as companies evolve and change their business models?….

Now that our communication networks are in the hands of the private sector, we should avoid making the same mistake with privacy. We shouldn’t reduce this complex problem to market-based solutions. Alas, thanks to Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial zeal, privatization is already creeping in. Privacy is becoming a commodity. How does one get privacy these days? Just ask any hacker: only by studying how the right tools work. Privacy is no longer something to be taken for granted or enjoyed for free: you have to expend some resources to master the tools. Those re­sources could be money, patience, attention—you might even hire a consultant to do all this for you—but the point is that privacy is becoming expensive.

(more…)

Monday, December 15th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Best Business Writing 2014 and Best American Magazine Writing 2014

With the end of the year upon us, we wanted to highlight our two “best of” annuals: The Best Business Writing 2014, edited by Dean Starkman, Martha M. Hamilton, and Ryan Chittum and The Best American Magazine Writing 2014, edited by Sid Holt for the American Society of Magazine Editors.

In addition to featuring these books we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Best Business Writing 2014 and Best American Magazine Writing 2014 to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, December 19 at 1:00 pm.

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Coney Island in Winter — Louis Parascandola

Coney Island in Winter

The following post is by Louis Parascandola, the co-editor of A Coney Island Reader: Through Dizzy Gates of Illusion.

The Acknowledgments to A Coney Island Reader: Through Dizzy Gates of Illusion point out that the book that I edited with my brother John was created out of a great sorrow in our lives. We had lost both of our parents in the few years preceding the book, and both of our sisters were enduring life-threatening illnesses. While we were writing the book, one sister, Maryann, died of lung cancer. Now, just as the book has been published, we have lost our other sister, Judy, to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Thus the book, which was meant to serve as a celebration of our family, now serves more as a memorial. Life, much like Coney Island, seldom conforms to what we expect, let alone want, it to be. Still, Coney is able to provide comfort even at dark moments in life and even during its off season.

Most people do not imagine visiting Coney during the winter months, something I have had the opportunity to do several times. There is a somber chill in the air. One wonders, as in Sara Teasdale’s poem “Coney Island,” why we are here, out where “The winter winds blow” with “no shelter near.” However, there is comfort here. As one walks along the boardwalk, one can see activity going on. There are people walking; there are joggers; there are the dog walkers; there may even be a few intrepid bathers. There are also people working all year round fixing the rides and preparing for the spring. Along Surf Avenue, there is also activity. Though many of the stores are closed, a few remain open for the die-hards. It is still possible to get a hot dog at Nathan’s, pizza at Grimaldi’s, and candy from a couple of vendors. One realizes that though Coney may slow down, it never completely closes. Life here never really ends.

The appeal of the off-season is apparent in several of the works in our anthology, including the above-mentioned poem by Teasdale as well as Stephen Crane’s story “Coney Island’s Failing Days,” Federico Garcia Lorca’s poem “Landscape of a Vomiting Multitude (Dusk at Coney Island”), and Bernard Malamud’s story “My Son the Murderer.” Perhaps the piece that best captures the feeling, however, is by Pulitzer Prize winner, Josephine W. Johnson, “Coney Island in November.” In this poignant story, a woman recalls her somewhat distant relationship with her now deceased father as she walks along the desolate beach at Coney. At this time of year, Coney returns to what it once was and will always remain, a seaside, natural resort. Its endless beach and eternal tide allow for contemplation that one cannot achieve on a crowded summer day. It is while walking along this beach that the woman is able to come to terms with her sorrow and gain a sense of closure with her father. This sense of serenity is an aspect not always connected with Coney, with its hurly burly. Coney is forever linked with summer fun, but the pleasure and knowledge that can be gained in its off-season is not something to be overlooked.

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Coney Island in Song

A Coney Island Reader: Through Dizzy Gates of Illusion edited by Louis and John Parascandola includes some of the best work of fiction and poetry on Coney Island from Walt Whitman and Federico García Lorca to Djuna Barnes and Colson Whitehead.

Of course, Coney Island has also been the subject of many songs. A Coney Island Reader includes a very helpful appendix of Coney Island-related songs by artists and song writers, including John Philip Sousa, Cole Porter, and Woody Guthrie.

Here are some other more recent songs that mention Coney Island or are about the neighborhood:

“Coney Island Baby,” Lou Reed (1975)

“Oh Oh I Lover Her So,” The Ramones (1977). Punk-rock love at Coney Island.

“I Remember Coney Island,” The Lounge Lizards (1981)

“Coney Island,” Death Cab for Cutie (2001)

“Coney Island Baby,” Tom Waits (2002)

“Coney Island Winter,” Garland Jeffreys (2011)

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

A Coney Island Reader — The Warriors

A Coney Island Reader: Through Dizzy Gates of Illusion, edited by Louis and John Parascandola, includes numerous portraits of the area that celebrate its beach, sense of fun, and as a respite from the hectic city. The flip side, of course, is that Coney Island as a “Sodom by the Sea,” where garishness and menace run amuck.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the decay of Coney Island mirrored the decay of New York City. This sense of Coney Island is perhaps most famously captured in Sol Yurnick’s The Warriors (1965) which was made into a 1979 film by Walter Roy Hill.

Below is a clip from the film in which The Warriors return to their Coney Island home after a night of fighting and running from other gangs. Below that is an excerpt from the book in which the same scene treated somewhat differently.

July 5th, 5:20–6:00 a.m.

Before going home, Hinton led The Junior and Dewey down the street to­ward the beach. They followed him; he had become the Father. The morn­ing wind was coming at them from the sea. It was still hot, but every step took them into cooler and cooler areas. It was lighter above the housetops, but still dark below.

They walked toward the boardwalk. When they came to the last block, Hinton halted them before crossing the street. He stood, hand raised, look­ing up and down. Nothing there but a garbage truck, grinding refuse, yel­lower than the murky light coming down from the overcast sunrise. The street lights were paling; they had blue, fluorescent edges. Hinton waved his hand the way patrol leaders did; they crossed the street, walking cool, alert for surprises. Far up the street a Headbuster patrolled, his back to­ward them. They were on their territory now; everything had a tremendous and comforting familiarity. They knew it to its confines, six short blocks by four long blocks. They could cover it in a short time—each brick was com­pletely known, each stain, each sign, each gunmark on the concrete side­walks, each hiding place. It was like knowing an endless and soul-freeing space where there could be no real threat. There wasn’t as much space in the rest of the whole city. They drank it all in, everything from the cracked asphalt to the strutty rise of the roller coaster over the houses. It was there. There. Comforting after their night. They began to walk along the last block before coming to the boardwalk.

(more…)

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of “A Coney Island Reader”

This week our featured book is A Coney Island Reader: Through Dizzy Gates of Illusion edited by Louis J. Parascandola and John Parascandola

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of A Coney Island Reader to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, December 12 at 1:00 pm.

“A timely, important addition to anthologies of New York writing. A Coney Island Reader will be welcomed by urban historians and a general public that continues to be fascinated by Coney Island’s ramshackle roller coaster of a history” — Bryan Waterman, New York University

Read Kevin Baker’s foreword to A Coney Island Reader

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Mathilde Roussel’s drawings for The Philosopher’s Plant, by Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, for the feature’s final post, we would like to share a Pinterest board displaying Mathilde Roussel’s elegant drawings that accompany each chapter in The Philosopher’s Plant, along with a brief quote from the book explaining how each respective drawing refers to a philosopher that Marder discusses.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Follow Columbia University Press’s board Mathilde Roussel's drawings for The Philosopher's Plant, by Michael Marder on Pinterest.

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Affective Habitus, Seeds: Michael Marder on “The Sense of Seeds”

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, the final day of the feature, we are happy to share video of a lecture in which Marder “approaches the spatial and temporal meaning of seeds as the vehicles for preserving and augmenting life.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Affective Habitus, Seeds: Michael Marder on “The Sense of Seeds” from History of Emotions on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Michael Marder talks to BOMB Magazine

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from an interview BOMB Magazine conducted with Michael Marder and artist Heidi Norton. We were only able to excerpt sections from Marder’s responses here, but be sure to head over to the BOMB Magazine website to read the interview in its entirety!

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Monica Westin: I’d like to ask more about plants as a formal problem in each of your work. Michael, is there a way in which using an alternative hybrid form of writing about plants and philosophy is a deliberate choice to rethink plants as subjects, as living beings? Could there exist, whether or not you’re doing it here, a sort of “new writing” that can speak about plants better than those that we have? (I’m thinking about Irigaray’s famous work on women’s writing.) And Heidi, in describing that moment when you knew that plants were going to be central materials for you, you listed their formal properties: their adaptability, their strength, their simplicity. Can you say more about how they have posed formal issues to in your practice?

Michael Marder: Indeed, plant-thinking had to free itself from a purely theoretical approach to plants in order to explore the intersecting trajectories of living, growing beings, both human and vegetal. Some of these changes happened as I was working on The Philosopher’s Plant, where I re-narrate the history of Western philosophy through plants. In that book, each of the twelve thinkers I discuss, from Greek antiquity to the twenty-first century, is represented by a tree, flower, cereal, and so on, which was in one way or another featured in her or his thought. Each chapter begins with a biographical anecdote that puts plants on the center-stage and continues in a more theoretical key, explaining the key concepts and notions of that philosopher through vegetal processes, images, and metaphors. The idea is that plants play a much more important role in the formation of our thinking, “personality,” and life story than we realize. (more…)

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Nietzsche’s Jungle

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. In The Philosopher’s Plant, Marder takes a close look at how different forms of plant life played important roles in the work of philosophers throughout history. Today, we are happy to present a blog post crossposted from Marder’s LARB Channel adapted from Marder’s chapter on Nietzsche in The Philosopher’s Plant.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Nietzsche’s Jungle
Michael Marder

Rumor has it that Friedrich Nietzsche’s mental breakdown, from which he never recovered, began on January 3, 1889, when in broad daylight he embraced a horse that was being whipped on a street in Turin, Italy. It is, of course, tempting to see in this “mad” gesture a kind of cross-species identification of a beleaguered philosopher with an abused animal. We will never know with any degree of certainty what Nietzsche felt or thought at that precise moment. But we might surmise from his writings the common foundation of life, shared by humans, animals, and even plants. The name of this foundation is the will to power.

For Nietzsche, an attempt to understand life in all its manifestations could not afford to exclude either animals or plants from the general formula that only philosophy, rather than biology, could get at. Human, animal, and vegetal vitalities had to be viewed as variations on the same theme, namely a striving for existence. That is why roughly one year prior to his collapse in Turin, Nietzsche jotted down a question in his notebook: “For what do the trees in a jungle fight each other? For ‘happiness’?” And immediately responded: “—For power!—”[1]. Plato and his followers deduced the fact of vegetal desire from the wilting of plants that were deprived of water and therefore experienced something like thirst. Nietzsche goes further than that. His implicit conclusion is that, beneath a physical craving in all kinds of living creatures, we find a metaphysical longing for power. Or, to put it differently, for being. (more…)

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Plant Lessons, by Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, we are happy to present an article by Michael Marder and Luce Irigaray, in which they discuss the need for an “environmental pedagogy” and explain some of the lessons that plant life can teach us. The post can also be found on Michael Marder’s Los Angeles Review of Books Channel

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Plant Lessons
Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

One crucial measure of human maturity is the way we treat our environment. A careless and destructive approach toward the world, which is usually conceived as a kind of playground for the enactment of our phantasies, is irresponsible and childish. It shows no respect for other forms of life, a lack of concern with the future, and the inability to think and to grow beyond the demands of sheer physical survival.

Historically, there has been little change in the direction of a more adult behavior toward the environment. Among other living beings, plants have been particularly mistreated as a result of this attitude because they have been thought of as infinitely malleable matter, on which human form could be stamped or imposed, generally to the detriment of their own biological life. Indeed, Aristotle, who was the first to come up with the notion matter in the West, derived it from the common Greek word for “wood.” Like plants, matter was supposed to be a passive receptacle for the form that was, in many cases, alien to vegetal life. Although Aristotle was still attentive to living forms, after him, a tree converted into a table or a bed became the preferred example of formed matter, while the self-formation of the tree itself, amenable to patient cultivation and care, was dismissed.

When it comes to respect for the environment we are still children, or even infants. More than that, we are terrible, unruly children because, for the most part, we are not open to being educated on the subject. Only punishments, in the shape of natural disasters attributable to global warming, have had some effect on human behavior, awakening in us a consciousness of the negative consequences that accompany immature environmental conduct. Still, a genuine change of attitudes is unlikely as a result of threats and punishments alone. What is sorely needed is an environmental pedagogy—not one formulated by our fellow humans, but one imparted by parts of the world we inhabit. (more…)

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Herbarium Philosophicum, by Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. In his prologue, Marder explains his goals in writing The Philosopher’s Plant, and briefly looks at the important role plants have played in the history of philosophical thought.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Book Giveaway! The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

“From the conversation of Socrates and Phaedrus in the shade of the plane tree to Irigaray’s meditation on the water lily, The Philosopher’s Plant takes us outside city walls, across gardens of letters and vegetables, grassy slopes and vineyards, to the dimly lit sources of philosophy’s vitality. With distinctive depth and clarity, Marder reminds us that, far from walled in, the human community communes with nature and is itself inhabited by nature.” — Claudia Baracchi, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Waking, Dreaming, Being. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, November 14th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, November 21st, 2014

George Packer on The New Censorship by Joel Simon

Joel Simon, The New Censorship

In Why the Press is Less Free Today, a recent article in The New Yorker, George Packer discussed some of the key issues and arguments raised in The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, by Joel Simon.

Packer’s article and Simon’s book come at a time when journalists are increasingly under threat. As Packer writes, between 2002 and 2012, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (C.P.J.), five hundred and six journalists were killed worldwide, as opposed to three hundred and ninety in the previous decade. Packer comments on the seeming contradiction of more journalists being killed at a time when other freedoms seem to be proliferating:

It seems strange to speak of growing censorship in an era when elections are common around the world, private freedoms have expanded even in repressive countries like China, the Internet and social media swamp our brains with indiscriminate information every nanosecond, and anyone with a Twitter account or a Facebook page can be a journalist. But Simon makes a persuasive case that the global trend is toward less, not greater, freedom of the press. “Deluged with data, we are blind to the larger reality,” he writes. “Around the world new systems of control are taking hold. They are stifling the global conversation and impeding the development of policies and solutions based on an informed understanding of the local realities. Repression and violence against journalists is at record levels, and press freedom is in decline.”

(more…)

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Joel Simon Discusses The New Censorship on The Leonard Lopate Show

Yesterday, Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom appeared on The Leonard Lopate Show to talk about the book and the increasing threats to journalists. Simon warns that these threats are leading to a shortage of the news reports we need to make sense of our globalized world and to fight against human rights abuses, manage conflict, and promote accountability.

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

The Seven Things Obama Can Do to confront the New Censorship

Joel Simon, The New CensorshipThe following post is by Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom:

The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media covers events and trends from an international perspective. But some of the questions I’ve gotten from audience members at recent events have to do with the Obama administration and its policies. Below I will look at what Obama has done so far and what still needs to be done.

1. Advocate for the rights of individual journalists. One the simplest and most effective strategies that the Obama administration can implement is to raise the cases of persecuted journalists in bilateral meetings, public statements, and through diplomatic channels. In fact, the administration has a good record of doing this. Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciordone repeatedly spoke out about the imprisonment of Turkish journalists, much to the annoyance of the government in Ankara. U.S. officials have also raised the cases of imprisoned Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai (who was recently released and is now in the United States), the so-called Zone 9 bloggers in Ethiopia, and the Al Jazeera journalists currently imprisoned in Egypt. How’s the administration doing so far in this area? Reasonably well. I would give it a B+.

2. Formulate policies that clearly articulate the balance between U.S. strategic interests and the promotion of human rights. The limitation of advocating on behalf of individual journalists is that the administration has not clearly articulated how far it will push the human rights agenda when it clashes with national security interests. For example, in Turkey, while the embassy and the state department spoke out, President Obama did not, and this was interpreted in Turkey as a signal that U.S. strategic interests would take precedence. The same is true in Ethiopia, which has been a key ally in confronting Islamic militantism in the Horn of Africa; and in Egypt, which despite its unbearable repression is seen as a bulwark against growing regional instability. These countries have effectively resisted U.S. pressure on protecting journalists because they view human rights and press freedom as something that can be negotiated. In other words, the more valuable you are as a strategic ally of the United States the more repression you can get away it. How has Obama done so drawing the line on press freedom violations? I would give him a C.

3. Limit surveillance. The staggering revelations made by Edward Snowden blew the lid on NSA program global surveillance, which we now know operates on scale that is difficult comprehend. Much has been made of the implications of surveillance in a domestic context, and the questions regarding the legality of U.S. spying need to be urgently addressed. But it is important to keep in mind that there are no legal restrictions on surveillance outside the United States, and as a former NSA official recently told me, a non-U.S. journalist speaking to a confidential source would make an ideal target for NSA spying. The scope of the NSA surveillance effort not only has a chilling effect on journalists around the world, it normalizes the efforts of country’s like China and Iran that routinely surveil both domestic critics and their perceived international adversaries (including journalists). When it comes to spying on journalists, the U.S. needs to put in place policies that carefully balance intelligence needs with the negative impact they might have on global freedom of expression. How’s the administration doing far? Poorly. I give it a D.

4. Defend the Internet. The Internet was developed by U.S. computer scientists and even though it is now a global system much of the core infrastructure that makes the Internet function is still based in the United States. For the most part, the U.S. has been a responsible global steward, and the administration has actively promoted the “right to connect” as a form of freedom of association. However, the political environment now requires that the U.S. modulate its role in Internet governance as a means of countering challenges from countries like China that seek to put the global Internet at service of state interests. China’s most compelling argument is that the U.S. is exploiting its privileged position to undermine rival powers by pumping in destabilizing information and carrying out massive surveillance. This is why the best way to ensure that the Internet remains a viable, shared global resource is for the U.S. to further internationalize governance. To its credit, the administration has been seeking to do this in the least few years. How is the administration doing on this critical front? Pretty well. I give the administration an A-.

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Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

An Interview with Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship

“This is the most deadly and dangerous time for journalists in decades”—Joel Simon
Joel Simon, The New CensorshipThe following is an interview with Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom. On November 11 at Book Court in Brooklyn, there was a launch for a book and a discussion with Simon and George Packer of The New Yorker. Packer later wrote about a commentary based on the book on Why the Press is Less Free Today. For more on the book you can also read an excerpt from the chapter News of the Future (and the Future of News).

Question: Why did you write this book?

Joel Simon: As always there were a mix of personal and professional reasons. From a professional perspective, I hope to draw attention to the crisis that we are confronting around global free expression. This is the most deadly and dangerous time for journalists in decades, with record numbers being killed and imprisoned. Around the world, according to all available data, press freedom is in decline and the information we depend on makes sense of our globalized world is not flowing as freely as people believe. I hope the book draws attention to this urgent threat, helps readers understand its origins and consequences, and to points toward strategies that can help mitigate the impact.

From a personal perspective, I have always loved to tell stories. This is in large measure why I became a journalist and since my day job is a running an international nonprofit it is not something I generally able to do. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to take a step back, and consider the big picture, and sit, write, and contemplate.

Q: The book is called The New Censorship. How is this different from the old censorship?

JS: Traditional censorship is based on hierarchies of control. In its most rigid formulation, a country’s political leadership determines what people can know and state directives are executed by actual censors who occupy newsrooms and prevent the publication of prohibited material. In other words, people don’t know what they don’t know. This kind of censorship is anachronism in a globalized, networked world in which even autocratic regimes have to integrate into the international financial and information systems. So unless you want to ban the Internet—something only a handful of countries do these days—you need to find a way to manage information rather than relying on simple repression. In the book, I look at a variety of strategies focusing on new breed of elected autocrats who I dub the “democratators.” I look at the Chinese system for managing the Internet, and also explore the way that terror and criminal groups are using social media to disseminate message of fear and intimidation.

Q: You use this term, global citizen. What do you mean by that?

JS: One of the primary themes I explore in the book is the way that technology has transformed the global information system, including the global media. I use the term global citizen to represent all those who recognize that their interests transcend national boundaries. In order to make informed decisions about matters that affect their lives, global citizens require access to global information. It is true that technology makes it possible to access information from around the world in ways that would have not even been conceivable a few decades ago. But the glut of information blinds us to the huge gaps in our knowledge of global events, gaps produced by pressure from authoritarian governments, murderous violence perpetrated by criminal and terrorist groups, smothering surveillance of our online communication, and clear deficiencies in the media structures. By definition censorship itself transcends national boundaries, since it prevents people from outside the country where the censorship is taking place from accessing information that may be essential for their own lives. One of the primary arguments for press freedom in a national context is that it necessary for good governance and accountability. But there is no effective mechanism to ensure that news and information produces accountability at the global level.

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Monday, November 17th, 2014

Book Giveaway: The New Censorship, by Joel Simon

This week our featured book is The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom by Joel Simon.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The New Censorship to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, November 21 at 1:00 pm.

“No one understands better than Joel Simon the reasons that press freedom is now in decline nearly everywhere in the world. In The New Censorship, he brings us riveting and powerfully moving accounts from the front lines. For anyone who wants to understand the peril that independent media faces around the world today, this is a distressing, essential piece of work” — Jacob Weisberg, Chairman, The Slate Group

Read an excerpt from the chapter, “News of the Future (and the Future of News)”: