CRF Blog

Scientists in the Grey Zone in 1930s Italy

by Bill Hayes

In Scientists in the Grey Zone in 1930s Italy for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Massimo Mazzotti, director of the UC Berkeley’s Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society, examines the rise of fascism and its effects on Italian academic life.

ONE OF ITALY’S most consequential creations has nothing to do with the likes of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, or Galileo. It saw the light a century ago, on March 23, 1919, in a quiet square of Milan, when an unlikely politician joined a group of black-shirted unemployed war veterans to forge a paramilitary nationalist organization. By 1922, the group had turned into the National Fascist Party and seized power.

Key to the Fascist Party’s impressive ascent were acts of brutal violence against labor and socialist leaders in what it saw as a continuation of the Great War. Unlike the anonymous mass killing of the war though, fascist violence had highly symbolic targets and was minutely choreographed. It was also cyclical, and in constant need of new types of victims to feed its momentum and amplify its reach. By 1938, this led to laws targeting Jews, even though they constituted only a tiny assimilated percentage of the population, and the “Jewish question” had not thus far been a relevant political issue in Italy.

Jews were first excluded from public life in the domains of science and education. Universities in particular became training sites for implementing antisemitic legislation that was then extended to the rest of society. And yet academia’s complicity in persecuting Jews has long gone unnoticed. Indeed, the blithe postwar consensus was that Italian universities were themselves hapless victims, their collaboration halfhearted and very limited.

Last year, for the first time since 1938, that consensus visibly fractured: several Italian universities were willing to publicly commemorate the hundreds of Jewish professors and students who had been expelled from their ranks, thus acknowledging their role in persecuting them. To be sure, this constitutes a belated acknowledgment, but at least it does launch a public discussion into how and why Italians from all walks of life — including from among the scientific elites — participated in the regime’s violence.

The first question that raises itself is why this acknowledgment took so long. In part, it’s because, unlike their German counterparts, the majority of Italian scientists and technologists did not espouse biological theories of race or myths of racial purity. On the contrary: Many of them were vociferous critics of Nazi racial hygiene. This saved their reputations and careers after the war, alimenting the narrative of Italian science — and, by extension, Italian society — as essentially hostile to the regime’s antisemitic persecution.

And yet the rationale for the belatedness of this acknowledgment is also at the heart of the riddle surrounding their complicity. The 1938 laws were implemented swiftly and frictionlessly within academic ranks. Why? How was it possible for the regime to enforce a full-fledged antisemitic legislation without encountering resistance? How could an academic community that by and large did not subscribe to biological racism dutifully comply with, even speed along, legislation founded on the explicit assumption that Jews belonged to a different “race”? [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see “Mussolini and the Rise of Fascism.” It is available from CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive. It is currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.

Politico’s Cartoons for This Week

by Bill Hayes

See Politico’s selection of this week’s political cartoons from across the country and the political spectrum.

For how to use editorial cartoons in the classroom, see Teaching With Editorial Cartoons.

The Threat From Russia: Can Putin Be Stopped?

by Bill Hayes

Intelligence Squared is a forum for debates, talks, and discussions around the world. One recent discussion is The Threat From Russia: Can Putin Be Stopped? The panelists included Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian; Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian dissident who was imprisoned by Putin; Ivan Krastev, an Academic and European politics expert; and Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia. The panel is chaired by Jonathan Freedland, a Guardian columnist, broadcaster, and author.


For a related free classroom lesson, see “Putin’s Illiberal Democracy.” It is available from  CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive. It is currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.

Opioid addiction, deaths, and treatment

by Bill Hayes

USAFacts analyzes the latest data on Opioid addiction, deaths, and treatment.

What is driving the supply of opioids?

The increase in supply is driven by both legal prescriptions for opioid painkillers and illegal heroin trafficking.

The availability of prescriptions painkillers peaked in 2012 at 81 prescriptions per 100 people. Recent efforts to curtail overprescription have brought that down to 59 prescriptions per 100 people as of 2017. However, according to the CDC, “more than 17 percent of Americans had at least one opioid prescription filled, with an average of 3.4 opioid prescriptions dispensed per patient” in 2017. The average number of days per prescription has continued to increase as well, to 18 days in 2017 – a statistic that may be impacted by a host of new state laws limiting prescriptions to fewer days to try to avoid addiction. [more]

The Most Comprehensive TweetDeck Research Guide In Existence (Probably)

by Bill Hayes

Writing for Bellingcat (“an independent international collective of researchers, investigators, and citizen journalists”) in The Most Comprehensive TweetDeck Research Guide In Existence (Probably), Charlotte Godart explains what she believes is the best way to use Twitter for research.

To some researchers, TweetDeck might seem superfluous in a world where Twitter Advanced Search exists. The platform would appear to be just a prettier version of what you are already doing through Twitter. However, I am here to show you how TweetDeck can vastly simplify and organize your research while allowing you to collect a greater amount of information with less time and effort.

Recall the fifty tabs you have open on your desktop, each one for a different Twitter advanced search. You are furiously clicking between them and trying to collect information.

Every time you want to change something small about your search, you have to start the search over again. Now, picture if there existed a platform where you could keep all these searches in one place, manipulate them at your will, and save them so that you could check on the same searches in a day or even a month to see what new information awaits you. Welcome to TweetDeck!

When something happens in real-time, such as a protest or election, you can use your TweetDeck to watch the events stream in right before your eyes. This makes it easier to collect crucial information in real time and sort through your searches, augmenting them to find more relevant content and removing the inevitable noise. For this process of live monitoring, I know of no better accessible and free tool than TweetDeck.

As a disclaimer, remember to always protect yourself when conducting online investigations. While Twitter is a fairly benign way to look through information, always know that one wrong click can reveal who you are if you are not careful. Take appropriate cautionary measures, whatever this means for you and your work.

I will begin the guide simply, as though you had never used the tool in your life. It will then progressively get more complex. In other words, fast forward if you consider yourself an expert — but also remember, everyone could use a refresher on the basics from time to time. [more]

What do we do when everything online is fake?

by Bill Hayes

In What do we do when everything online is fake? for Chatham House, James Ball discusses the “threat posed by the generation of fake news through artificial intelligence.”

Producing a deepfake video relies on the use of sophisticated AI techniques to make it appear that words spoken by one person are emerging from the face and in the voice of another. This is achieved by building up a bank of words and phrases that the target celebrity has said on film and then using this to extrapolate how they would say the script concerned.

The technique is currently time-consuming, costly and complex, but is expected to become much easier quite quickly, and within a few years could be a feature available on mobile phone apps.

This raises the spectre of a new era of ever more widespread online disinformation, far in excess of the current backdrop of Russian misinformation in eastern Europe, the disruption of American and European elections or the widespread electoral misinformation in Brazil. Imagine what damage could be caused if words were put into the mouth of Benjamin Netanyahu and fake footage broadcast across the Arab world, or into the mouth of Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan and shown across India, or Nigel Farage or Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. [more]

Recent Political Cartoons

by Bill Hayes

See Cagle’s collection of recent political cartoons.

For how to use editorial cartoons in the classroom, see Teaching With Editorial Cartoons.

How Stalin Became Stalinist

by Bill Hayes

In How Stalin Became Stalinist for the New Yorker, Keith Gessen reviews Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941 by Stephen Kotkin.

As Kotkin argued in the first volume, the October Revolution was actually two separate revolutions. One was the revolution in the cities, the storming of the Winter Palace, the fight for the Kremlin. The other, wider revolution took place in the countryside. There peasants who had for hundreds of years been subjugated and brutalized by the landed gentry rose up and chased them off their lands. They then reapportioned the land among themselves and got to work farming it. During the civil war, the Bolsheviks had staged periodic raids on the countryside to extract grain for the cities and the war effort — leading, eventually, to an immense famine in 1921 that killed millions — but, in the aftermath of the war, Lenin performed one of his patented strategic reversals and declared a New Economic Policy, or NEP, which partially legalized private enterprise and eased up considerably on the peasants. As a result, ten years after the October Revolution most of the land in the Soviet Union was in private hands.

For Stalin, this could not stand. In the arguments during the power struggles of the nineteen-twenties, he had used his support for the NEP to isolate its left-wing critics, notably Trotsky, but once he’d consolidated his power he became a critic, too. He believed that another European war was coming, and that, in order to survive it, backward Russia would have to industrialize. “We are fifty to a hundred years behind the advanced countries,” he declared in 1931. “We must make good this gap in ten years. Either we do it, or they will crush us.” Rapid industrialization would require that peasants deliver grain to the state on a set schedule; it would also require that many peasants become industrial workers. The U.S.S.R. needed large, mechanized farms, like those in the United States. And the independent, landowning peasantry was a threat. “Either we destroy the kulaks as a class,” Stalin said in 1929, using the term for rich or greedy (“fist-like”) peasants, “or the kulaks will grow as a class of capitalists and liquidate the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

The tragedy of Stalin’s agricultural collectivization unfolded in stages. In the summer of 1929, more than twenty-five thousand “politically literate” young Bolsheviks fanned out from Moscow to the nation’s rural areas, charged with setting up the new collectives. In the villages, they encountered fierce resistance. Most peasants had no wish to give up their livestock and be herded to giant farms; they began, en masse, to slaughter their livestock and eat it. When Bolsheviks came to demand their grain, the peasants shot them — more than a thousand were killed in 1930 alone. In some ways, this resembled the back-to-the-people movement of the nineteenth century, in which young progressives had been sent to the countryside to be with “the people,” and the people had rejected them.

But this time the progressives returned with machine guns. The so-called kulaks were arrested and exiled, and sometimes shot. Their property was confiscated. Then the definition of “kulak” expanded. There were not two million well-off farmers in the impoverished U.S.S.R. in the late twenties. And yet that’s how many were arrested for being such. By the end of collectivization, five million people had been “dekulakized.”

The slaughter of livestock, the mass arrests, and the requisition of vast quantities of grain led, inevitably, to shortages. A cold spring and a dry summer in 1931 meant disaster. Local and regional bosses pleaded with Stalin to relax the grain-requisitioning quotas, but he was stinting about it; he believed that the peasants were holding out on him. Long after all the grain had been beaten and tortured from them, Stalin still thought that they had hidden reserves. People began to starve. When they tried to leave their villages and head for the cities, where the grain that had been taken from them was turned into bread, they were blocked by armed detachments; when they tried to break into the government silos where their requisitioned grain was kept, they were shot. Parents ate their children. Before it was over, between five and seven million people would die of starvation and disease. [more]

Amanpour: Interview on the Effects of PTSD

by Bill Hayes

For PBS’s Amanpour & Company, Hari Sreenivasan interviews Dr. Rachel Yehuda, a specialist on PTSD.

Politico’s Cartoons for This Week

by Bill Hayes

See Politico’s selection of this week’s political cartoons from across the country and the political spectrum.

For how to use editorial cartoons in the classroom, see Teaching With Editorial Cartoons.

‘A Theory of Justice’ by John Rawls

by Bill Hayes

As part of its series on the greatest works in philosophy, Arc Digital examines “A Theory of Justice” by John Rawls.

A Theory of Justice, by Harvard philosophy professor John Rawls (1921–2002), has been widely hailed ever since its 1971 publication as a classic of liberal political philosophy — earning its author such praise as being called the most important political philosopher of the twentieth century, and receiving the National Humanities Medal in 1999. In presenting the award, President Clinton acclaimed Rawls for having “helped a whole generation of learned Americans revive their faith in democracy itself.”

Yet in comparison with the tradition of political philosophy from antiquity to at least the late nineteenth century, both Rawls’ aims and methods — indeed, his very conception of political philosophy — are quite novel. And his account of justice represents a considerable departure from the one embodied in the American constitutional tradition. [more]

For a free classroom lesson on Rawls, see “ ‘Justice and Fairness’: John Rawls and His Theory of Justice.” Available from CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive, it is currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.

States of Emergency

by David De La Torre

In States of Emergency for The Nation, Alyssa Battistoni reviews Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future by Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright.

At first, climate change was discussed as a distant problem, something to fix for future generations. Then it was discussed as geographically remote, something that was happening in some other part of the world. Now it’s recognized as something that’s happening today to people living in the United States — and yet what are we doing about it? Usually, it seems, very little. Kim Stanley Robinson has dubbed this period of doing-nothing-much the Dithering; Amitav Ghosh suggests calling it the Great Derangement. Something has gone terribly wrong: A problem that is widely recognized as threatening millions of lives, perhaps even the future of human life on Earth, has not been addressed seriously and doesn’t seem likely to be.

For a while, democracy was deemed to be the culprit: Democratic politics, some argued, simply isn’t suited to addressing problems that lie in the future or extend beyond national boundaries. Climate change is just too complicated for most people to understand; better to leave it to the experts. It’s too hard a subject to broach during a political campaign; no one really wants to think about something so depressing, and what politician in his or her right mind would call for lowering living standards in order to decrease carbon emissions?

Now that capitalism is again on the table as a political issue, it also gets its share of blame. The political problem, it’s now said, isn’t democracy alone, but rather that democracy is held hostage by oil money and the politicians purchased by it. Even some capitalists are starting to acknowledge that the system could use some tweaks. (Others, like Elon Musk, are planning to decamp to Mars: the Great Derangement indeed.) Swapping corporations for democracy as the root of the problem is a welcome development. Yet serious political thinking about climate change remains in short supply. Most people are now worried about it, but few are putting climate change at the heart of their political thought and practice.

In this context, Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright’s new work of political theory, Climate Leviathan, is a welcome addition to the small but growing body of climate writing on the left. It’s a book explicitly aimed at understanding the political dimensions of climate change instead of relegating them to a paragraph or two in the concluding section. It also takes a different tack than most works on climate politics. The authors are not interested in why we aren’t acting to curb carbon emissions; instead, they’re interested in the kinds of political scenarios that are likely to emerge in response to the approaching ecological crises. [more]

The ‘Race Debate’ in America Today

by Bill Hayes, founded in 2005, provides split-screen video dialogues about politics and ideas. A recent duo discussed: The “Race Debate” in America Today. The two panelists were Glenn Loury (of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and Brown University) and John McWhorter (of Columbia University, Lexicon Valley, and The Atlantic).

Five Best Memoirs of Communism

by Bill Hayes

For Five Books, Pulitzer-prize winning historian Anne Applebaum lists what she considers the five best books on Memoirs of Communism and is interviewed on her choices. Her picks are:

  1. The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz
  2. A World Apart by Gustaw Herling-Grudziński
  3. Memoir of Hungary by Sándor Márai
  4. The Snows of Yesteryear by Gregor von Rezzori
  5. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov

Tell us about Miłosz’s book The Captive Mind, to begin with.

The Captive Mind isn’t a straight memoir. Although Milosz is writing about his own life and his past, he is also grappling with a larger subject: How his generation of liberal intellectuals came to collaborate with, and work alongside, the Communist party. And he is trying to understand his own behaviour: Why did I act that way?

To explain, he uses an extended metaphor: “It’s as if we all took a magic pill, became temporarily enchanted and went along with this ridiculous thing.” Then he goes through some “case studies” of individuals’ behaviour – even though they’re not named in the book, we know who he was writing about – and tries to explain why people collaborated or opposed the regime. In essence, the book is about the mentality of collaboration with communism. [more]

An animated introduction to Alexis De Tocqueville

by Bill Hayes

An animated introduction to Alexis De Tocqueville, the 19th century Frenchman who wrote the seminal Democracy in America.

For a related free classroom lesson from CRF, see The Citizen in de Tocqueville’s America.