New on F&O: Boko Haram; press freedom; Tennessee Williams, and more


Children in a refugee camp in Niger
Children in a refugee camp in Niger. Photo by Wim Fransen, European Commission

Boko Haram heaps electoral bad luck on Goodluck Jonathan, by Jonathan Manthorpe (Paywall)


Reports from the Nigerian military that they have launched a major offensive against Boko Haram, killed 300 of the group’s fighters and recaptured 11 towns and villages should be treated with skepticism and caution. 

Freedom of the press ain’t so free anymore, by Tom Regan

A country often gets the press it deserves, particularly in the Western world. While we have no dictatorships in countries like the United States, Canada, Britain, France or Australia, we do have governments which will do everything in their power to reduce the importance of media and any unfavorable coverage of their actions. And most Americans have grown fat, lazy and complacent about freedom of the press because of the illusion that it is unlimited. 

Oscars’ snub to world cinema reveals outdated worldview. By Stephanie Dennison

 By privileging English-language production, the Oscars promote an incredibly old-fashioned worldview in which UK, Australian and Irish films, for example, are not “foreign.” It’s a preposterous notion, proposed, lest we forget, by a private enterprise whose function it is to promote American movies (the Motion Picture Association of America), but we all play along. A whopping 83 countries played along in 2015 and submitted entries for the competition.

Condemnation of memory: the destruction of World Heritage. By Bastien Varoutsikos

Why, despite international efforts such as the UNESCO, is cultural heritage still under attack worldwide? Some have blamed nationalistic regimes, which often attempt to politicize cultural artifacts, using them to reinterpret the past for specific ideological purposes. Others have highlighted the striking contrast between the massive profit created by the illegal antiquity market and the relatively low penal risk tied to it. And some have also pointed to the lack of enforcement of UNESCO regulations But above all, there seems to be a disconnect among nations and individuals in how they comprehend the concept of world heritage, and its importance as a means to safeguard mankind’s memory. 

 One Playwright’s Homage to Another: Tennessee Williams, by Brian Brennan, Brief Encounters columnist (Paywall)

Tennessee Williams had always wanted to reimagine Anton Chekhov’s 1896 play, The Seagull. He considered it the greatest of modern plays after Brecht’s Mother Courage, and he felt it had never been properly released from the confines of the translation straitjacket.

Writing instructor Josephine Scicluna tells writers to think about creativity as a kind of altered space. Above, a statute in Paris celebrates French author Marcel Aymé, whose storied character Dutilleul could walk through walls. Photo by Deborah Jones © 2015
Creativity: nature/nurture, or just waiting for the muse? Writing instructor Josephine Scicluna tells writers to think about creativity as a kind of altered space. Above, a statute in Paris celebrates French author Marcel Aymé, whose storied character Dutilleul could walk through walls. Photo by Deborah Jones © 2015

 Creativity: nature/nurture, or just waiting for the muse?  By  Josephine Scicluna

 One of the hardest ideas to grasp is the seeming paradox that creativity has little at all to do with the intellect. But saying don’t try too hard, or try not to think too much, is far too easy and not all that helpful.


Recommended elsewhere:

My Own Life: Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer. By Oliver Sacks, New York Times

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.  

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

Is Democracy in Decline? By Larry Diamond, Journal of Democracy 

“…around 2006, the expansion of freedom and democracy in the world came to a prolonged halt….

“Perhaps the most worrisome dimension of the democratic recession has been the decline of democratic efficacy, energy, and self-confidence in the West, including the United States. There is a growing sense, both domestically and internationally, that democracy in the United States has not been functioning effectively enough to address the major challenges of governance …”

“Even in weak states, autocrats perceive that the pressure is now off: They can pretty much do whatever they want to censor the media, crush the opposition, and perpetuate their rule … Meek verbal protests may ensue, but the aid will still flow and the dictators will still be welcome at the White House and the Elysée Palace.”

Sex redefined, by Claire Ainsworth, Nature 
The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that. Excerpt:

Sex can be much more complicated than it at first seems. According to the simple scenario, the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is what counts: with it, you are male, and without it, you are female. But doctors have long known that some people straddle the boundary — their sex chromosomes say one thing, but their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another. Parents of children with these kinds of conditions — known as intersex conditions, or differences or disorders of sex development (DSDs) — often face difficult decisions about whether to bring up their child as a boy or a girl. Some researchers now say that as many as 1 person in 100 has some form of DSD2.

Recommended in Brief :

The United States hosted a summit this week on countering violent extremism. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said the danger of putting aside human rights and a “moral compass” and giving into fear may be humanity’s greatest test in the 21st century. Host President Barack Obama touted human rights, tolerance and dialogue to combat terrorism, but as a New York Times piece pointed out, “his audience included representatives from some of the world’s least democratic countries.” In an essay in Foreign Affairs, security expert Audrey Kurth Cronin argues that Islamic State is not a terrorist organization, but a pseudo-state led by a conventional army, and counterterrorism strategies developed to combat al Qaeda won’t work.


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