CRF Blog

This Week’s New Yorker Cartoons

by Bill Hayes

To see a slide show of this week’s New Yorker cartoons, go here, scroll down to “Cartoons from the Issue,” click on the date, and click on the arrow beside each cartoon to go through the slide show.

How Trump Is Ending the American Era

by Bill Hayes

In How Trump Is Ending the American Era for the Atlantic, Eliot A. Cohen, who served as counselor of the State Department in the George W. Bush administration, argues that the Trump presidency is doing great damage to America’s power in the world.

Trump seems incapable of restraining himself from insulting foreign leaders. His slogan “America First” harks back to the isolationists of 1940, and foreign leaders know it. He can read speeches written for him by others, as he did in Warsaw on July 6, but he cannot himself articulate a worldview that goes beyond a teenager’s bluster. He lays out his resentments, insecurities, and obsessions on Twitter for all to see, opening up a gold mine to foreign governments seeking to understand and manipulate the American president.

Foreign governments have adapted. They flatter Trump outrageously. Their emissaries stay at his hotels and offer the Trump Organization abundant concessions (39 trademarks approved by China alone since Trump took office, including one for an escort service). They take him to military parades; they talk tough-guy-to-tough-guy; they show him the kind of deference that only someone without a center can crave. And so he flip-flops: Paris was no longer “so, so out of control, so dangerous” once he’d had dinner in the Eiffel Tower; Xi Jinping, during an April visit to Mar-a-Lago, went from being the leader of a parasitic country intent on ripping off American workers to being “a gentleman” who “wants to do the right thing.” (By July, Trump was back to bashing China, for doing “NOTHING” to help us.)

In short, foreign leaders may consider Trump alarming, but they do not consider him serious. They may think they can use him, but they know they cannot rely on him. They look at his plans to slash the State Department’s ranks and its budget — the latter by about 30 percent — and draw conclusions about his interest in traditional diplomacy. And so, already, they have begun to reshape alliances and reconfigure the networks that make up the global economy, bypassing the United States and diminishing its standing. In January, at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, Xi made a case for Chinese global leadership that was startlingly well received by the rich and powerful officials, businesspeople, and experts in attendance. In March, Canada formally joined a Chinese-led regional development bank that the Obama administration had opposed as an instrument of broadened Chinese influence; Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France were among the founding members. In July, Japan and Europe agreed on a free-trade deal as an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump had unceremoniously discarded.

In almost every region of the world, the administration has already left a mark, by blunder, inattention, miscomprehension, or willfulness. [more]

The Costs of Racial Color Blindness

by Bill Hayes

The short video The Costs of Racial Color Blindness has an interesting and insightful game.

Here is a link to the study.

List of the Day: A Global Ranking of Soft Power 2017

by Bill Hayes

Portland, a strategic communications consultancy group, and the USC Center on Public Diplomacy have produced their annual Global Ranking of Soft Power 2017 (PDF). In 2017, the United States dropped from the top spot on the list, which it previously held.

1 France

2 United Kingdom

3 United States

4 Germany

5 Canada [more PDF]

Syria: what students need to know

by Bill Hayes

The TED-Ed Blog looks at four things students need to know about Syria.

1. Syria’s cultural significance. For thousands of years, Syria has been a place where human beings lived, loved — and created art. Bordering the Mediterranean Sea, located between Lebanon and Turkey, and a bit bigger than the American state of Pennsylvania, the independent country of Syria was established in late 1945 (after a few decades of French rule, which ended 400 years of Ottoman rule). Syria contains ancient artifacts of global significance, including 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites that used to attract tourists from all over the world. In 2011, a series of factors ignited a sprawling civil war in Syria. [more]

Pencils Down

by Bill Hayes

In Pencils Down for the New York Times Book Review, Dana Goldstein reviews The Test: Why Our Schools are Obsessed with Standardized Testing — But You Don’t Have to Be by Anya Kamenetz.

Teachers and their unions have resisted standardized testing since the early 20th century. Their critics have claimed they do so because they fear being held accountable for how much children learn. But over the past few years, on both the right and the left, in scattered suburbs and in urban neighborhoods, a small yet growing group of parents have begun to join teachers in denouncing standardized testing. They complain about the narrowing of the school curriculum to the questions asked on high-stakes exams, the many hours and days — sometimes up to a quarter of the school year — spent testing and prepping for tests, and the stress that testing imposes on children. Some parents even have their children opt out of standardized testing altogether. [more]

Backgrounder on U.S.-Cuba Relations

by Bill Hayes

Backgrounders from the Council on Foreign Relations are primers on pressing world issues. They usually include histories, summaries, images, graphs, video, and links to additional resources.

A recent Backgrounder was on U.S.-Cuba Relations.

The U.S.-Cuba relationship has been plagued by distrust and antagonism since 1959, the year Fidel Castro overthrew a U.S.-backed regime in Havana and established a socialist state allied with the Soviet Union. During the half century that followed, successive U.S. administrations pursued policies intended to isolate the island country economically and diplomatically. The United States has sanctioned Cuba longer than any other country.

Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro, who replaced his brother as Cuban leader in 2008, took some extraordinary steps to normalize bilateral relations, meeting with each other, restoring full diplomatic ties, and easing travel restrictions. President Donald J. Trump has reversed some actions taken by the Obama administration and raised the prospect that the United States might move to further roll back ties. [more]

Should a Greek Island Reconstruct One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World?

by David De La Torre

Slate asks: Should a Greek Island Reconstruct One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World?

The Colossus of Rhodes was a monumental bronze statue of Helios, the Greek sun god, constructed in 280 B.C. to celebrate a military victory. The statue was later destroyed in an earthquake in 226 B.C. [more]

Keeping Up With the Times

by David De La Torre

In Keeping Up With the Times, Wired magazine reports on how the New York Times is responding to the digital age.

The main goal isn’t simply to maximize revenue from advertising — the strategy that keeps the lights on and the content free at upstarts like the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and Vox. It’s to transform the Times’ digital subscriptions into the main engine of a billion-dollar business, one that could pay to put reporters on the ground in 174 countries even if (OK, when) the printing presses stop forever. To hit that mark, the Times is embarking on an ambitious plan inspired by the strategies of Netflix, Spotify, and HBO: invest heavily in a core offering (which, for the Times, is journalism) while continuously adding new online services and features (from personalized fitness advice and interactive newsbots to virtual reality films) so that a subscription becomes indispensable to the lives of its existing subscribers and more attractive to future ones. “We think that there are many, many, many, many people — millions of people all around the world — who want what The New York Times offers,” says Dean Baquet, the Times’ executive editor. “And we believe that if we get those people, they will pay, and they will pay greatly.”

How they reach those people, and how they make them pay, is now the work of hundreds of journalists, designers, engineers, data scientists, and product managers. At stake isn’t just the future of a very old newspaper that has seen its advertising revenue cut in half in less than a decade — it’s the still unresolved question of whether high-impact, high-cost journalism can thrive in a radically changing landscape. Newspaper companies today employ 271,000 fewer people than they did in 1990 — around the population of Orlando — and with fewer journalists working with fewer resources, and more Americans getting their news on platforms where the news could very well be fake, the financial success of the Times isn’t an incidental concern for people who care about journalism. It’s existential, especially in the context of the new American president.

Just days after the election, Trump suggested that the Times — or, per his preferred Twitter epithet, “the failing @nytimes” — would be a frequent target of his administration, calling an article “dishonest” for citing something he had said on CNN (which was odd, since he did actually say it, in public, on video) and adding (also falsely) that the Times “is losing thousands of subscribers because of their very poor and highly inaccurate coverage.” In fact, it’s been the exact opposite: Four weeks after the election, Times chief executive Mark Thompson told an industry conference that subscriptions had surged at 10 times their usual rate. To Thompson, the likeliest explanation wasn’t that the Times did a bang-up job covering the final days of the election — like everyone else, they failed to anticipate Trump’s victory — or that readers were looking to hedge against fake news. He suggests a simpler reason: “I think the public anxiety to actually have professional, consistent, properly funded newsrooms holding politicians to account is probably bigger than all of the other factors put together.” In other words, the president’s hostility to the press and the very notion of facts themselves seems to have reminded people that nothing about The New York Times — or the kind of journalism it publishes — is inevitable. [more]

The Week’s Political Cartoons

by Bill Hayes

See The Week’s latest collection of political cartoons.

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

Density’s Next Frontier: The Suburbs

by Bill Hayes

In Density’s Next Frontier: The Suburbs for CityLab, Richard Florida looks at a report on how suburbs close to cities could help solve housing shortages.

In a recent survey, America’s mayors named housing, and housing affordability, as the number-one problem facing their cities. This concern was not only voiced by mayors of expensive, coastal cities, but in diverse communities across the nation. The biggest culprit, according to a large and vocal chorus of urbanists and urban economists, is outmoded and overly restrictive zoning and building codes — not to mention politically powerful NIMBY groups — which hold back new housing construction.

But according to a report released today by urban housing economist Issi Romem of Buildzoom, many urban cores are actually developing and densifying. And lots of housing continues to get built at the suburban periphery. Romem argues that America’s real housing problem — and a big part of the solution to it — lie in closer-in single-family-home neighborhoods that were built up during the great suburban boom of the last century, and that have seen little or no new housing construction since they were initially developed. [more]

Against the Technocrats

by Bill Hayes

In Against the Technocrats for Dissent, Sheri Berman argues that the problems democracies are experiencing are not caused by too much democracy.

Reading the newspaper today can make one easily depressed about democracy. Promising new democracies in Poland, Hungary, and Turkey have slid into illiberalism and pseudo-authoritarianism while long-standing democracies in the West are under attack most notably by populist parties whose liberal and perhaps even democratic commitments are uncertain. Some commentators, most notably Yascha Mounk and Roberto Foa, worry that “the warning signs are flashing red” and that it’s possible that democracy in the West is entering a period of terminal decline. What has caused this development and what is the solution to it?

One provocative answer put forward almost twenty years ago by journalist Fareed Zakaria in an influential essay on “illiberal democracy” is that democracy itself is to blame. Democracy, after all, means “rule by the people” and many elites look upon “the people” with fear: they can be uninformed, irrational, and prone to act in their own self-interest rather than with regard to the “common” or public good. Unchecked rule by the people can easily lead to illiberalism— or worse. As Zakaria put it, “today the two strands of liberal democracy . . . are coming apart. Democracy is flourishing . . . liberalism is not.”

Over the past few years concerns about “unchecked” democracy and rule by the people have exploded— but such concerns have been around as long as democracy itself. The ancient Greeks commonly equated democracy with mob rule. Aristotle, for example, worried about democracy’s tendency to degenerate into “chaotic rule by the masses” and in Plato’s The Republic, Socrates argues that given power and freedom the masses will indulge their passions, destroy traditions and institutions, and be easy prey for tyrants. Classical liberals, meanwhile, lived in mortal fear of democracy, convinced that once given power “the people” would trample the liberties and confiscate the property of elites. Great liberal thinkers like Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, and Ortega y Gasset constantly worried about democracy leading to a “tyranny of the majority” and the masses’ susceptibility to illiberal dictators.

While concerns about illiberalism, populism, and majoritarianism are certainly well-founded, blaming such phenomena on an “excess” of democracy is not. [more]

Spurious Correlations

by Bill Hayes

Spurious Correlations is a site with numerous charts, all apparently statistically correct, showing, well, spurious correlations, such as the one below. A good site that reinforces the idea that correlation does not mean causation (or in these cases, any relationship whatsoever).

Why plagiarize when you can rip off a writer’s thoughts?

by Bill Hayes

In Why plagiarize when you can rip off a writer’s thoughts? for the Columbia Journalism Review, Marc Fisher questions what the standard for plagiarism should be.

Amid that jumble of standards, under the crushing power of the scarlet P, is it time for a ceasefire in the war on plagiarism? Some notorious plagiarists are serial offenders — con artists and fabulists such as Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass — but should there be different penalties for those who broke rules that were never clear to them in the first place?

No one argues for wholesale theft of others’ work, but a growing chorus of academics and others find it counterproductive to focus on rooting out scofflaws. As far back as the 19th century, the German poet Heinrich Heine, citing literary stealing by Goethe and Shakespeare, wrote that “Nothing is sillier than this charge of plagiarism… The poet dare help himself wherever… he finds material suited to his work.”

In all forms of art and culture, appropriation of others’ work is essential to creativity, Lethem contends. The American mistake, he says, has been to adopt a mercantile, legalistic ethic in which a piece of writing is a commercial product rather than a way to advance ideas and spread information for the public good.

Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor, takes the notion that ideas want to be free a step farther. In his books, Free Culture and Remix, Lessig says it’s wrong to apply to writing the same rules we use to protect against theft. “Ideas released to the world are free,” he writes. “I don’t take anything from you when I copy the way you dress.” He quotes Thomas Jefferson: “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

Gladwell, responding to Our Bad Media’s allegations, directed readers to a piece he wrote for The New Yorker in 2004 about his reaction when a playwright used, without attribution, passages from one of his own articles. Initially miffed, Gladwell examined why plagiarism has become such an ethical tripwire. When he finally confronted the playwright, Bryony Lavery, about why she hadn’t credited him for the material, she told him: “I thought it was OK to use it… I thought it was news.”

Gladwell found some merit in that notion. “When I worked at a newspaper,” he wrote, “we were routinely dispatched to ‘match’ a story from the Times: to do a new version of someone else’s idea. But had we ‘matched’ any of the Times‘ words — even the most banal of phrases — it could have been a firing offense.”

That notion of originality, Gladwell concluded, is “the narcissism of small differences: Because journalism cannot own up to its heavily derivative nature, it must enforce originality on the level of the sentence.” He decided to let go of his offense over his words being appropriated; he would no longer pretend “that a writer’s words have a virgin birth and an eternal life.”

Does that mean Gladwell wouldn’t mind if I took one of his elegant New Yorker pieces and published it under my byline in The Washington Post, where we were once colleagues? Of course not, because by merely stealing his words, I would not be doing anything creative. [more]

‘The Ocean Is Boiling’

by Bill Hayes

In ‘The Ocean Is Boiling,’ Pacific Standard gives an oral history of the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill, which helped spur the modern environmental movement.

On the morning of January 29th, 1969, Santa Barbara News-Press reporter Bob Sollen received a call from an anonymous source. When he answered, the voice at the other end of the line rang out clear and urgent: “The ocean is boiling.”

For nearly 24 hours, gas and thick black oil had been bubbling to the water’s surface, and, with each lapping wave, the sludge inched closer to the California coastline. The day before, the workers on an offshore oil rig called Platform A were removing the drill pipe from a freshly bored well when gas and drilling mud erupted onto the platform. Though the crew managed to stopper the top of the well, the highly pressurized gas and oil continued leaking into the water through faults and fractures in the upper layer of the ocean floor.

Platform A was owned and operated by Union Oil, a petroleum company headquartered in nearby El Segundo, California. With no contingency plan and no federal regulations in place, it took Union months to contain the blowout. In all, three million gallons of crude oil spilled out into the Pacific, unfurling across more than 800 square miles of ocean, coating 35 miles of beach, and killing more than 3,600 seabirds and countless marine mammals and fish in the process.

Santa Barbarans of all ages mobilized against the profound degradation of their otherwise-pristine seaside city, long known as “The American Riviera.” Demonstrations took many forms: There were the dozens of local protests against Union, which saw residents lashing out at ecological injustice; there were grassroots factions like Get Oil Out!, which distributed pamphlets and bumper stickers and once famously dumped a bucket of oil onto the desk of a Union Oil executive; and there was the lawsuit against Union, filed jointly by the city, county, and state.

The blowout — then the largest in United States history — drew global attention, too, as images of oil-coated marine life circulated in news reports around the world. That reporting got people thinking about how to balance their desires for economic progress (and cheap energy) with the emerging idea that humans have a moral obligation to protect the environment. [more]