When I graduated from university, I worked in ministry of women affairs for six months and I was working on criminal cases. One day when I was crossing the Puli Sokhta bridge, I saw addicted people under the bridge. They were laying there, and their situation was unbearable. When I saw this, I thought: the women who are suffering from a problem, at least they know that they are human beings. They are not forgetting their own personalities. But these people, they get this sickness, they forget who they are. So, that made me think to change my field.
Shabnam S., a 25-year-old woman from Afghanistan, in The Therapist.
The piece is part of a series by Jeffrey Stern, a grantee of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, called Afghanistan: On Its Own, in which Stern chronicles how vulnerable groups (women, minorities, youth, businesses dependent on foreign presence) are preparing for the withdrawal of foreign troops this year.
Shabnam, for example, writes about how jobs including her own are funded by foreign money:
Nowadays, people are graduating with good grades from universities. They go and search for jobs, but they cannot get them. For my own job, funding is provided by foreign countries. Once 2014 comes, foreign forces will leave and it is concern for all. We are all concerned, scared. But with all these challenges and with all this thinking that comes to our minds, we still try to believe that even after the foreign forces leave Afghanistan, we can stand on our own feet. And that we should still help these people on our own, somehow. But we understand that we are losing our budgets.
And the other concern we have is that, right now, there are organizations working against drug sellers, working against people who are importing, using, producing drugs, but when the foreign forces leave, there will be insecurity. And that insecurity will increase the rate of drug sellers and drug users and drug importers. That’s a big concern, because it is a big problem for us, we will have even more people addicted to the drugs. Now, there are organizations who are taking care of child labor, street children and other children, but in the future there won’t be such a thing. That will make more children drug users.
See the other pieces in the series, published in Foreign Policy, here.
We write to protest the limits on access currently barring photographers who cover the White House. We hope this letter will serve as the first step in removing these restrictions and, therefore, we also request a meeting with you to discuss this critical issue further.
Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the President while he is performing his official duties. As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the Executive Branch of government.
Opening paragraphs of a joint letter to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney from 30+ news organizations. (PDF)
Background: During a press briefing last week, the Washington press corp continued its criticism of the Obama administration and its perceived lack of access to the president.
Meantime, Santiago Lyon, vice president and director of photography at The Associated Press, took to the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times to call out the White House’s “draconian restrictions on photojournalists’ access to the president.”
This issue has been around for while. Last Febrruary, Politico ran a piece about a growing rift between the Obama administration and the Washington press corp.
As I wrote at the time, though, the access issue surrounds most every administration:
Go back to Timothy Crouse’s 1972 book, “Boys on the Bus,” about that year’s presidential campaign and reporters are complaining about “media events” and message control.
Or fast forward to the Reagan years and press complaints about Reagan’s mastery of political television and the importance of image over substance and you have, largely, the same phenomenon. It’s just different technology these days.
Yes, access is important. So too is recognizing and reporting on the political theater that surrounds a photo op. — Michael
Point, via The Guardian: The United Nations moved a step closer to calling for an end to excessive surveillance on Tuesday in a resolution that reaffirms the “human right to privacy” and calls for the UN’s human rights commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the impact of mass digital snooping.
Counterpoint, via Foreign Policy: The United States and its key intelligence allies are quietly working behind the scenes to kneecap a mounting movement in the United Nations to promote a universal human right to online privacy, according to diplomatic sources and an internal American government document obtained by The Cable.
Meantime, via Techrunch: Sir Tim Berners-Lee Blasts “Insidious, Chilling Effects” Of Online Surveillance, Says We Should Be Protecting Whistleblowers Like Snowden.
The government shutdown came and went this week as some Republicans finally convinced other Republicans that threatening a global economic cataclysm isn’t the best thing to pursue.
Good on them, we suppose, but what we saw during this latest generated crisis was the filter bubble in full effect.
While the concept specifically refers to how algorithms increasingly inform what information we receive and are exposed to, it can be broadened to include the active choices we make with our media diets, who we choose to friend or follow on our social networks and how willing we are to accept intellectual dissonance when reading, watching or listening to views that run contrary to our own.
The danger of the bubble, of course, is that once inside we only hear information we want to hear. Sympathetic to the shutdown and unworried about the consequences of defaulting on the debt? Fox and friends reframed it for you. This wasn’t a shutdown, it was more of a pleasant “slimdown.”
Observations about the echo chamber the shutdown’s leaders were operating within came from both left and right. Let’s start left with Salon’s Alex Pareene:
What’s funny about all of this, though, is how much it just reinforces the insane bubble that all of these people — conservative members of Congress, conservative media people and professional conservative activists — live their entire lives in. They are all talking to each other, and only to each other. The fact that the conservative position is deeply unpopular, the fact that conservative strategy is incoherent and self-defeating, none of that is reaching them. John Boehner and Ross Douthat know what’s going on. Rep. Tim Huelskamp only knows what he reads at RedState and what he hears from people who only read RedState.
Over on the right was National Review’s Robert Costa:
[S]o many of these [conservative] members now live in the conservative world of talk radio and tea party conventions and Fox News invitations. And so the conservative strategy of the moment, no matter how unrealistic it might be, catches fire. The members begin to believe they can achieve things in divided government that most objective observers would believe is impossible. Leaders are dealing with these expectations that wouldn’t exist in a normal environment.
In a study of the increasingly obvious, Pacific Standard reported on the increasingly obvious. Namely, how polarizing media — our intellectual cocoons — give us respite from an outside, cruel world. This is why we gravitate toward our left/right media, silly and outrageous as they may be.
"The data suggests to us that outrage-based programming offers fans a satisfying political experience," write Tufts University Researchers. "These venues offer flattering, reassuring environments that make audience members feel good. Fans experience them as safe havens from the tense exchanges that they associate with cross-cutting political talk they may encounter with neighbors, colleagues, and community members."
Put another way: Our day to day is hard. When we come home we want to kick back, relax and hear people stroke, if not necessarily our ontological egos, our day to day political ones. Twenty-first century life is a hassle. When a day comes and goes we want somewhere, someplace, that simply lets us rest peacefully in our beliefs.
Take it away, Pacific Standard:
In other words, being a part of, say, the community of Rush Limbaugh listeners—an identification talk-show hosts regularly attempt to instill in their fans—is a comforting social experience. It’s a way of feeling like part of a community that shares your values…
…Discussing politics with your colleagues or neighbors comes with the fear of saying something unacceptable, and subsequently being excluded from the next barbecue or water-cooler conversation. In contrast, “the comfort zones provided by the shows we studied present no such risk,” [the researchers] write. “In fact, they offer imagined and, in some cases, tangible social connections.”
The New York Times’ David Carr started to think about this last week. Much has been written about how our gerrymandered congressional districts has lead to extremism. Carr writes that our collective media habits are gerrymandered too:
The polarized political map is now accompanied by a media ecosystem that is equally gerrymandered into districts of self-reinforcing discourse…
…As I flipped through cable channels over the last week, the government shutdown was viewed through remarkably different prisms. What was a “needless and destructive shutdown” on MSNBC became a low-impact and therapeutic “slim-down” over at Fox News.
But cable blowhardism would not be such a good business if there hadn’t been a kind of personal redistricting of news coverage by the citizenry. Data from Pew Research Center for the People and the Press on trends in news consumption released last year suggests people are assembling along separate media streams where they find mostly what they want to hear, and little else.
But more media, and more diverse media, won’t solve any of this, argues Reuters’ Jack Shafer. Instead, he writes, Americans are purposefully, willfully and perpetually, perhaps, political imbeciles. That’s the way we roll.
Despite greater access to information than ever before. Despite all the news apps at our fingertips, Shafer cites a 2012 Pew study showing that “total minutes of daily news consumption between 1994 and 2012 is down for all age groups.”
Channeling Ilya Somin and his book Democracy and Political Ignorance, Shafer goes economic and concludes that collective ignorance isn’t due to a lack of information supply. Rather, it’s demand. Politics is too confusing. Our sense of belonging to and being able to affect the system is too obtuse. We’d rather watch football.
And so here we are. A debt crisis averted by punting it down the road. The current budget deal between Democrats and Republicans lasts until mid-January. Then we’ll be back with partisans hunkered in their bubbles while the rest of us try to grab some sanity in the next shiny thing.
Too negative a take? Facebook researchers report that our networks aren’t echo chambers at all but instead expose us to more varied opinions than what I write might lead you to think. — Michael