Weekly Roundup 7/5/2011

An African Adventure, and a Revelation
Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, July 3, 2011

Synopsis: For the fifth year, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof took a young student – and this year, a 60-something teacher – with him on a foreign reporting tour to Third World Countries. The 10-day trip in mid-June took the traveling party to five African nations (Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Niger), where Kristof and the first-time Africa visitors witnessed poverty, disease and corruption slow to yield to reform from within or without. Nevertheless, Kristof is bullish on Africa’s prospects, noting that the continent’s economy is growing significantly faster than Europe’s or America’s.

Takeaway: “[T]he poverty is heartbreaking and the insecurity ominous,” Kristof writes in conclusion. “But the giraffes and villagers alike are hugely welcoming, and the progress is now effervescent. The backdrop is a continent that is chipping away at poverty and disease, while doing a better job of educating its young. Africa seems likely to become a much more important part of the global economy in the 21st century — a place to admire, not to pity.”

For our recent coverage, with a mixed report on democratization, see Jason McClure, “Sub-Saharan Democracy,” CQ Global Researcher, Feb. 15, 2011 (subscription required).

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


"Facebook Changes Privacy Settings for Millions of Users – Facial Recognition Is Enabled"
Graham Cluley, Sophos Naked Security Blog, June 7, 2011

"Facebook to Be Probed in EU for Facial Recognition in Photos"
Stephanie Bodoni, Bloomberg/Business Week, June 8, 2011;

and "Facebook Money: Will the Feds Stop Facebook’s Power Play for Online Currency?"
Jamie Court, Huffington Post, June 29, 2011.

Synopsis: Zuckerberg Nation arrives. And Mark knows who you are!

It’s here: Facial-recognition software that can find all your Jello-shots photos – or photos of your doppelganger doing Jello shots – and tag them with your name, without human intervention. Security writer Graham Cluley explains how to opt out of the new, scary Facebook feature, and Bloomberg/Business Week reports that European regulators are not happy.

Meanwhile, American consumer advocate Jamie Court reports that, as of July, all sales conducted on Facebook must use Zuckerberg money – so-called “Facebook Credits.” Up to now, credit cards or PayPal also could be used. “If Facebook's new facial recognition software isn't scary enough, imagine Mark Zuckerberg's face replacing George Washington's on the dollar bill,” says Court. “July 4th may be Independence Day for America, but on July 1st Facebook is making a declaration about its new virtual currency, ‘Facebook Credits,’ that could well put the Internet powerhouse on the road to dominance of all online commercial transactions.” Court’s California-based group, Consumer Watchdog, has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

For more, see my Sept. 7, 2010, report on “Social Networking.”

--Marcia Clemmitt, staff writer


"Married, With Infidelities"
Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times Magazine, July 3, 2011

Synopsis: After nearly 40 years of a wonderful marriage – yet one with the usual ups and downs – I read the Times magazine’s cover story on marriage with considerable interest. The lengthy story by Mark Oppenheimer, who writes the Times’ Beliefs column, takes a look at the institution of marriage through the prism of the Anthony Weiner and Arnold Swarzenegger scandals. Oppenheimer essentially explores the notion, pushed by popular sex columnist Dan Savage, that marriage is hard enough without imposing monogamy on a relationship.

Takeaway: While Oppenheimer notes that Savage says monogamy is appropriate for many couples (count me in!), he seems to support Savage’s enlightened (if that’s the right word) take on marriage. “Although best known for his It Gets Better project, an archive of hopeful videos aimed at troubled gay youth, Savage has for 20 years been saying monogamy is harder than we admit and articulating a sexual ethic that he thinks honors the reality, rather than the romantic ideal, of marriage,” Oppenheimer writes. In place of strict fidelity, Savage “proposes a sensibility that we might call American Gay Male, after that community’s tolerance for pornography, fetishes and a variety of partnered arrangements, from strict monogamy to wide openness.”

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor


Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union Is Wrong
Leon Aron, Foreign Policy, July/August, 2011

The Moscow-born director of Russia studies at the American Enterprise Institute makes a strong argument that Soviet Union disintegrated above all because of moral outrage, not economic decay nor military weakness. Ordinary citizens’ outrage at corruption and injustice tends to be underestimated as a revolutionary force, Aron writes. But popular anger is proving itself a force to be reckoned with, right now, in the Middle East. And Aron sees signs of that indignation returning to Russia, in response to the inequality, and the impunity for the powerful, that mark Russian life.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer