In the Media

Matesan Writes on Why ISIS Will Not Thrive in Indonesia

Ioana Emy Matesan

Ioana Emy Matesan

Following an ISIS attack in the heart of Jakarta earlier this month, Assistant Professor of Government Ioana Emy Matesan writes on the blog “Political Violence @ a Glance” why she believes ISIS will not thrive in Indonesia. The ISIS affiliate in Indonesia remains very small, and “varies drastically from its counterpart in Syria in terms of motivations, organization, and perhaps more importantly, ability to challenge the state or claim territory.”

Matesan notes, “Indonesia has seen its fair share of violence, and even some earlier attempts to build an Islamic state.” She provides a history of different groups that over time have rejected the Republic and attempted to form separate Islamic states, resulting in periods of violence.

She writes:

Since 2009, however, there have been no major terrorist attacks in Indonesia. The trend that has been emerging over the last five years is a move away from hierarchical organizations and large scale attacks towards online, individual self-radicalization and decentralized networks of radical ideologues. Such is the case also with ISIS supporters in Indonesia, who are no more than several hundred across the entire archipelago.

This number is large enough to stage attacks such as the recent ones in Jakarta. But the number is minuscule when compared with the 50 million strong, pro-democratic and tolerant Nahdlatul Ulama (on their anti-ISIS and anti-extremism activities, see here). Compared to Syria and Iraq, there is also no significant challenge to the legitimacy of the Indonesian state or Indonesian democracy; there is no power vacuum or disintegration in the rule of law that these ISIS fighters could take advantage of.

To be sure, the threat of violence might not disappear in Indonesia. But it is important not to overreact to these attacks, not to overestimate the reach of ISIS, and not to conflate developments in the Middle East with developments in Southeast Asia. American involvement in counter-terrorism and harsh tactics by the police or Densus 88 (the counter-terrorism unit) have only spurred violent attacks before. Unlike many other countries countering terrorism, Indonesia has done many things right – it adopted a legalist rather than militaristic approach to counterterrorism and it has combined soft and hard tactics, understanding the importance of incentives, exit options, and respect for the rule of law. Rather than give in to an ISIS hysteria, the country should keep building on the lessons it has already learned from its tumultuous past.

 

 

Ulysse: ‘Ode to Haiti’s Neo-Comedians’

Gina Athena UlysseGina Athena Ulysse, professor of anthropology, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, writes an “Ode to Haiti’s Neo-Comedians” in The Huffington Post about Haiti’s recently cancelled election runoff. The title of her essay refers to Graham Greene’s The Comedians, a book whose description read: “Set in Haiti, amid an atmosphere of brutal force and terror-ridden love, three desperate people work out their strange destinies.”

Ulysse writes:

Relevance of The Comedians is apparent in Haiti’s recently cancelled election runoff that was set for this past Sunday. Indeed, until then, the outgoing president Michel Martelly, a chap with dictatorial tendencies who leads the “Bald Headed Haitian Party”—insisted on proceeding with business as usual. His would-be successor, Jovonel Moïse the so-called leading candidate, is eager to turn Haiti into a “banana republic,” a discursive play on his plantain plantation commerce. The opposition, Jude Celestin, boycotted the event and penned an op-ed disavowing the impending masquerade as a total farce. The masses who continue to suffer were being forced once again to absorb this electoral crisis and participate in a “selection,” as they say in the local parlance. It is hard to discern which is more comic and/or tragic in these instances.

“Surely you jest,” I say to myself in a mocking tone as elders decry, “the country has lost its dignity,” knowing full well that my late grandmother would use expletives.

LA Times Features New Dramatic Oratorio by Neely Bruce

The Los Angeles Times offers a preview of “Circular 14: The Apotheosis of Aristides, a new dramatic oratorio composed by Neely Bruce, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, which has its world premiere Jan. 23 at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

The piece tells the story of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a diplomat and little-known Portuguese hero to many thousands of Jews during World War II. In June 1940, nearly 120,000 refugees fleeing from Nazi persecution amassed down the road from the Portuguese consulate in Bordeaux, France. Though Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar issued a vehement directive to deny safe haven to the refugees, Sousa Mendes still issued more than 30,000 visas in a matter of months. The article likens him to Oskar Schindler, the factory owner famous for saving the lives of more than 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust. In contrast, Sousa Mendes’ “contribution to history hasn’t received the same recognition mainly because Salazar took great pains to bury his story, Bruce says.”

According to the article:

After Sousa Mendes’ actions were discovered, his case went to the Supreme Court of Portugal, where he was essentially given a slap on the wrist. The punishment wasn’t severe enough for Salazar, so the dictator had Sousa Mendes stripped of all diplomatic privileges as well as his license to practice law. When Sousa Mendes married his second wife, Andrée Cibial, the couple were not allowed to marry in Portugal. Family members found it hard to secure employment.

“The petty cruelty involved was just ridiculous,” Bruce says.

Sousa Mendes died in poverty in 1954, and he was buried in a wooden box in the cemetery of Franciscan monks.

It’s a beautiful yet tragic tale, filled with larger-than-life characters — all the hallmarks of great opera, Bruce says, adding that the piece has been in the works for more than five years and that he ended up writing the libretto himself.

“I wasn’t writing a fairy-tale opera. I was writing an opera about real events, so I wanted to be as accurate as possible,” says Bruce, who has often visited political issues in his compositions and once set the Bill of Rights to music.

 

Lubell ’98, Lexton ’08, Marcus ’13 on Top National Noteworthy Lists

Jordyn Lexton ’08, founder of Drive Change

Jordyn Lexton ’08, founder of Drive Change

Forbes named Jordyn Lexton ’08 and Guy Marcus ’13 to the 2016 “30 under 30” list for 2016, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy highlighted David Lubell ’98 as one of the “40 Under 40.”

Under the headline, “Todays Brightest Young Stars and The Future Leaders of Everything” Forbes magazine highlighted two Wesleyan alumni in their fifth annual listings of the top 30 young leaders in 20 different categories.

From an initial list of 15,000, Jordyn Lexton ’08 made the listing in entrepreneurs. Lexton is the founder of “Drive Change,” which employs previously incarcerated youth, teaching food preparation as well as providing positions in their award-winning culinary vehicle in NYC.

Washington Post Reports on Atwater’s Contributions to U.S. Dietary Guidelines

William Olin Atwater, Class of 1865 and later a chemistry professor at Wesleyan, developed America's first dietary guidelines in 1894. (Photo c/o Special Collections & Archives, Olin Library)

William Olin Atwater, Class of 1865 and later a chemistry professor at Wesleyan, developed America’s first dietary guidelines in 1894. (Photo c/o Special Collections & Archives, Olin Library)

On the release of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest dietary guidelines, The Washington Post looks back at the man responsible for starting it all: William Olin Atwater, Class of 1865 and later a chemistry professor at Wesleyan, who authored the very first dietary guidelines in 1894.

According to the Post, at that time, the U.S. government provided basically no funding into nutritional research, and good nutrition meant simply getting enough to eat.

But Atwater was a firm believer that nutrition was about more than simply staving off hunger. He framed the effort to figure out what foods are good for you as a moral imperative.

“The intellectual and moral condition and progress of men and women is largely regulated by their plane of living,” he wrote, and “the plane of their intellectual and moral life depends upon how they are housed and clothed and fed.”

In 1894, Atwater got his wish. Congress approved $10,000 in funding for nutrition investigations, and Atwater published the first ever federal dietary guidelines in the Department of Agriculture’s “farmers bulletin.”

In 32 pages, Atwater meandered through an examination of the various types of nutrients, how they are used in the body (at least, as far as 19th century scientists understood them), how Americans were eating them compared with how they ought to be, and their impact on health, which a few detours to discuss, say, the practices of ancient blacksmiths or a method for cooking rice (Atwater was, apparently, a man of many interests). He also took a look at foods’ nutritional value compared to their cost to determine which ones were most worthwhile.

In some ways, his conclusions weren’t too different from modern dietary guidelines. Americans should eat less sugar and fewer fats; well-to-do men with physically undemanding jobs (women were nowhere to be found in Atwater’s report) should eat fewer calories, workers who do hard manual labor should eat more. Everyone should avoid eating in excess of their needs, a problem that Atwater describes as not just unhealthy but also wasteful and “evil” (the modern USDA probably wouldn’t phrase that last one in quite such stark terms).

On the other hand, some of Atwater’s recommendations — his abiding admiration for milk, his general dismissiveness toward fruits and vegetables — would be unrecognizable to modern eaters.

Atwater’s voluminous personal papers—which include correspondence, articles, research materials, and notes—and two collections of family papers related to him and members of his family—among them, his daughter Helen, a prominent home economist—are available for research in Special Collections & Archives, Olin Library.

Atwater, far right back row, with his chemistry students, 1873-74. (Photo c/o Special Collections & Archives, Olin Library)

Atwater, far right back row, with his chemistry students, 1873-74. (Photo c/o Special Collections & Archives, Olin Library)

Gary Yohe Discusses Impact of Climate Change on Economy

Gary-YoheGary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, appeared on the RT show “Boom Bust” to discuss the impact of climate change on business and the economy. (Yohe’s interview begins at 3:45). He was asked what sectors of the economy are being affected the most by the forces of climate change.

“Agriculture comes to mind. It’s not just hurricanes and extreme precipitation events—although that seems to be happening along the East Coast. Any [real estate or] infrastructure that’s located near the coast line or near a river, for that matter, is in increasing vulnerability. But it’s more than that. It’s […] agriculture, suffering huge losses from drought. Farmers and cattle ranchers in Texas trying to figure out what to do with cows during their drought… People in California who are trying to figure out where the water is going to come from for very water-intensive crops that have sustained that part of the economy for a very, very long period of time. Industries typically have located, historically at least, along waterways and near coastlines because it makes transportation easier and it’s easier to get their products out, but those companies are realizing that over the short term, they have to protect their plants and their businesses. Over the long term, they have to move away from the water. That will be costly, but given enough time, it won’t be as costly as you might think.”

Yohe was also asked which areas of the U.S. are most susceptible to the effects of climate change.

“The whole Southeast coast. Go along the Gulf of Mexico down to Houston, Tx. Those places are increasingly vulnerable. For sure, Florida: it’s very low lying and it’s right in the way of many hurricanes and many very severe storms.” But even in places like Boston, Yohe said, sea level rise has meant that storm surges in two- or three-year storms look more like those once seen in 25-year storms.

 

 

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock on the History of the Russian New Year’s Tree

Victoria-Smolkin-Rothrock

Victoria-Smolkin-Rothrock

A hundred years ago, Christmas in Russia looked a lot like Christmas in America, with trees, presents and twinkling lights. All that changed with the Russian revolution, Assistant Professor of History Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock told NPR in an interview about the history of the Yolka, or New Year’s tree.

“The tree comes to be seen as a symbol of both the bourgeois order, which is one kind of class enemy, and of religion in particular, which is another kind of class enemy,” explains Smolkin-Rothrock. “There are very explicit statements that essentially unmask the Christmas tree for the class symbol that it is. It becomes clear that one does not have Christmas trees without political sympathies and allegiances falling into question,” a dangerous thing in the Soviet era.

In 1935, though, there was a letter in Pravda, the official paper, saying things had changed.

Smolkin-Rothrock sums up the argument of one high-ranking Bolshevik: “Here we are, and Socialism has been built, and why would we deprive those children who had never had a Christmas tree of their own of the pleasure of the tree?”

So, the tree was redeemed. And it moved up the Orthodox calendar, becoming completely secular. Today, New Year’s trees can be found in the homes of many Russian Jews.

Smolkin-Rothrock is also assistant professor of Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies.

The Wesleyan Media Project Finds More Campaign Advertising with Little Impact

Erika Franklin Fowler is co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Erika Franklin Fowler is co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

The campaign season so far has seen a significant increase in the volume of GOP presidential ads, and an explosion in advertising by super PACs and other outside groups. Outside groups sponsored 81 percent of ads between January 1–December 9, 2015—a 71 percent increase over 2011, and 12,000 percent increase over 2007.

This was the finding of an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project, its first of the 2016 election cycle. The “remarkable growth in campaign activity by independent groups” it found was covered by The Washington Post, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, USA Today, Vox and others.

Notably, the report found little correlation between campaign advertising and a candidate’s poll numbers. As Vox demonstrates in a chart, there actually appears to be an inverse relationship between the two at this point. They write: “The big thing that jumps out is the contrast between Jeb Bush (lots of spending, low poll numbers) and Donald Trump (no spending, high poll numbers).” The apparent ineffectiveness of TV campaign ads has led some to ask whether their death is near.

“It’s far too early to call for the death of TV advertising,” Assistant Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, says in the report. “The Republican field is still crowded, which makes for a more challenging advertising environment. It is also important to remember that volume isn’t everything. All ads are not created equal; advertising content and the characteristics of the receiving audience matter and will condition their influence.”

Fowler discussed ad effectiveness with NPR:

“Some ads score well” on effectiveness, she said. “But volume and quality don’t go hand in hand.”

She cited “Desk,” a 30-second spot the Bush superPAC released last week. As the camera moves in toward the desk in the Oval Office, images of Trump, then Ted Cruz, and then Marco Rubio appear as if sitting behind it. An announcer suggests each is unqualified for the job — and then the ad shifts to talk about Bush.

Fowler said three attacks are too many. “It ends up coming off as a laundry list,” she said. And right now that’s the problem with the whole campaign: “There are too many other candidates to attack.” She predicted the ads will get more focused and effective as the candidate field shrinks.

Yohe Writes: Climate Change Pact Good for Economy

Gary-YoheThe historic global deal on climate change reached by 190 countries in Paris will help the economy, not hurt it as critics argue, writes Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Gary Yohe in an op-ed in The Hartford Courant.

“The evidence in the peer-reviewed economic literature, as well as real experience around the world and in the United States, shows that climate action not only protects public health by reducing pollution, but also protects the economy from extreme weather shocks and other complications that have and will arise from a changing climate. The sooner we act, the more money we save,” he writes. Moreover, “Doing nothing, as those pushing inaction propose, means having to react more quickly at far greater cost in the future.”

So how to achieve the necessary reduction in carbon emissions? “Economists widely agree that reducing carbon emissions is most efficiently accomplished by placing a price on them. The price should start small, but rise over time to send a steady signal to businesses. It the price of carbon is clear, businesses can plan and make smart decisions to usher in the clean energy economy required to avoid climate calamity,” writes Yohe. “Economists know that exhaustible resources become more valuable over time. In this case, the resource is the atmosphere, and its ability to absorb carbon dioxide. The more we emit, the less the atmosphere can take before triggering changes that are devastating and irreversible.”

Yohe also spoke to WNPR about the climate deal.

 

Basinger Praised as Iconic Film Professor in The Hollywood Reporter

Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies

Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies (Photo credit: Smallz + Raskind)

Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, was recently featured in a Hollywood Reporter article “The Professor of Hollywood,” by film historian and best-selling author Sam Wasson ’03, who studied with Basinger at Wesleyan. The magazine brought together 33 of her former pupils who work prominently in the film industry for “an A-list class reunion” photo—and several of them talk about how Basinger inspired them, encouraging their self-expression while also sharing with them her love for the medium.

In the article, Basinger discusses how and why she came to devote her life to the study of film and how working as an usher in a movie theater, watching the same film over and over, helped her to understand the filmmaking process—and gave her the foundation for her future as a film scholar at a time when there were no film schools. In 1960 she began work in the advertising department at a scholastic publisher on the Wesleyan campus, but within a decade, she began teaching at the University some of first film study classes in America.

Rapper Le1f ’11 chooses his American music playlist

Rapper Le1f ’11 discussed the qualities of American music on NPR's 'Here & Now.'  (Photo: Le1f.com)

Rapper Le1f ’11 discussed the qualities of American music on NPR’s ‘Here & Now.’ (Photo: Le1f.com)

New York rapper and music producer Khalif Daoud ’11, known professionally as Le1f, was one of the musicians polled by WBUR-Boston and NPR’s Here & Now with the question “What is American music?”

“Growing up, the idea of ‘Americana’ as a word was intimidating to me,” he told hosts Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson. “The patriotism behind it, and the American dream, I always related that to whiteness and I didn’t easily see how I fit into that category, that culture. But I came to understand that blues and jazz and rock and roll, and all these other genres, that’s folk music to me.”

Asked to assemble a playlist, he offered first, “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” by The Crystals (1962, written by Gerry Goffin, Carol King, Phil Spector), explaining, “It feels American to me in the way it expresses such a sad story in such a frank way. It doesn’t condone domestic abuse, but it also doesn’t preach, either. That’s a style that… I’ve only experienced in American folk music and blues music.”

His second song choice, “Unpretty” by TLC (1999, FanMail), was important to him: “They discuss issues of self image and body dysmorphia in this anecdotal way and very empowering way…. That was such a big song for me. I don’t remember taking note to uplifting music in that way until this song happened.”

“Bad Religion” by Frank Ocean (2012, Channel Orange) was third on his playlist: “Having such a beautiful iconic singer tell the story of a same-sex love… it was a big turning point for how R&B and urban America might accept someone who isn’t straight and support their work.”

His own song, “Taxi,” off his latest album, Riot Boi, he explained, is a song “about my personal fears of rejection over my complexion and how that has been met in reality, both romantically and in very small ways… “

All four, he noted, gave voice to the black American dream, describing struggles to which he could relate and with an acceptance of difference in perspective, of moral ambiguity.

To listen to the interview and accompanying music clips, click here.

Grant’s Project Among NYT’s 10 ‘Best in Art’

A collaborative project by Assistant Professor of Music Roger Matthew Grant was listed in New York Times’ co-chief art critic Holland Cotter’s Top 10 list of Best in Art.

Grant served as the dramaturg and also performed in the installation of “The Magic Flute,” a revamped version of Mozart’s original at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, staged by 80WSE Gallery and the Cheap Kollectiv of Berlin. “This was theater for mind and senses,” writes Cotter, describing it as “packed with magic.”

Part one of “The Magic Flute,” an opera in six steps, was in open rehearsals Dec. 1–5. Part two, a film of the piece by Michael Auder, will play June 8 – Aug. 13 at 80WSE Gallery.