In the Media

“Citizenfour” Draws Praise

The new documentary about former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, “Citizenfour,” can be seen as both advocacy journalism and an elegant movie, says New York Times reviewer (and Distinguished Professor of Film Criticism) A.O. Scott.

In a review published Oct. 23, Scott praises the film by Laura Poitras as a “tense and frightening thriller,” while it also seeks to offer Snowden’s side of the controversy over his allegations of widespread government surveillance.

“… it is also a primal political fable for the digital age, a real-time tableau of the confrontation between the individual and the state,” Scott writes.  “It’s hard to tell the difference, and thinking about the issues Ms. Poitras raises can induce a kind of epistemological vertigo. What do we know about what is known about us? Who knows it? Can we trust them? These questions are terrifying, and so is “Citizenfour.””

Conn. Governor’s Race Sets Record in Negative Ads

Assistant Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, spoke to WNPR about the Connecticut governor’s race, which has emerged as the most negative in the country.

“We do tend to see movement in polls due to negativity,” she said. “The reason why you continue to see lots of negative [ads] is because people do seem to respond to them.”

“Foley and his allies are going after Malloy for being a career politician. For higher taxes that hurt the middle class,” Fowler said. “Whereas Democratic groups and Malloy are going after Foley for tax breaks for millionaires. For being anti-worker for not caring about the average citizen.”

Fowler said negative ads — and TV advertising in general — is generally targeted toward undecided voters and she said, “Negativity isn’t always bad. In a world where citizens don’t always pay a lot of attention to politics, a negative ad that induces a little bit of fear and therefore some information seeking, can actually be a good thing.”

The Wesleyan Media Project analyzes campaign ad spending in all U.S. Senate, House and gubernatorial races. More than 100 articles in major news outlets have cited the project’s research this election season. Other recent highlights include an interview with Fowler on Fox News, stories on NPR and Politico, and in The New York TimesThe Christian Science Monitor, CBS News, USA Todayand The Wall Street Journal.

Gruen on Killing ‘Excalibur’

Lori Gruen, chair and professor of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, writes in Time about the decision in Spain to kill a dog named Excalibur, who lived with a nurse exposed to Ebola.

Neither the dog, nor the nurse’s husband, who was put under monitoring, showed any signs of the virus, writes Gruen. Moreover, experts say there is no evidence to support the notion that dogs can transmit Ebola. Gruen writes:

The right thing to do would have been to isolate Excalibur and observe him, as was done to others who had been in contact with Teresa. But Spanish authorities weren’t thinking of Excalibur’s life as valuable or of how devastating his death would be to his family. They were thinking about what was expedient.

Many consider dogs, like most animals, disposable. Animal lives are thought to be worth less than those of humans. Rather than spend money or energy isolating a dog, it was easier, Spanish authorities decided, to kill him. And given how long it took the hospital to admit Teresa, it was unlikely they were simply acting with the utmost caution when it came to Excalibur. In the U.S., more than one million dogs are euthanized each year, dogs that are inconvenient or unwanted are routinely disposed of.

The routine killing of animals diminishes not only their lives, but the toll that choosing euthanasia takes on people who live with and love animals.

Ulysse Denounces Use of Term “Voodoo Economics”

Associate Professor of Anthropology Gina Athena Ulysse, writing in The Huffington Post, denounced New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s use of the term “voodoo economics” in a recent essay, calling it derogatory and outdated. She writes:

Indeed, with its direct references to the most archaic of tropes (black magic, cult, inward-looking or progress-resistant, vindictiveness) Krugman’s “Voodoo Economics, The Next Generation” shows a socially limited attachment to an outdated term. His column could not make it any clearer why the New York Times, which has been repeatedly petitioned over this terminology by concerned individuals and collectives over the years, needs to revise its style sheet. The Haitian Vodou religion is not Krugman’s voodoo.

Wesleyan Presents Muslim Women’s Voices

Pam Tatge, director of the Center of the Arts, was a guest on WNPR’s “Where We Live” to discuss a year-long program at Wesleyan looking at Muslim women’s voices through the lens of the arts.

“What we’re doing is really looking at the complexity of Muslim women today through the various performance modes that there are around the world. What that means is we are bringing artists in to be embedded in courses across the university–gender studies classes, Arabic classes, French classes, government classes–and then also do a performance,” said Tatge. “It’s the combination of the curricular integration and the performance that’s really going to allow us to have conversations with our community and our campus around some of the issues.”

Riffat Sultana, a Sufi fusion singer who will perform at Wesleyan on Nov. 7, was also a guest on the show.

Learn more about Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan here.

Plous’ MOOC Promotes Compassion

Professor of Psychology Scott Plous’ Social Psychology MOOC is believed to be the world’s most popular massive open online course, but its impact is being felt even beyond the hundreds of thousands of students who enrolled, according to BBC News. The story featured the results of Plous’ “Day of Compassion” assignment, in which he challenged students to live 24 hours as compassionately as possible.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do,” Plous told the BBC. “You don’t have to be a physician or in education. Anyone can look at what they can do and if they are dedicated enough they can make a difference in just 24 hours.”

In response to the challenge, a doctor in India dedicated herself to combatting sexual abuse of young girls:

One day last year a doctor walked into a school near her clinic in a rural area near New Delhi in India and taught 2,000 girls how to protect themselves against sexual abuse.

Dr. Balesh Jindal’s talks evolved into being constantly on call at her surgery for girls and their mothers and to teaching boys from impoverished backgrounds how to respect women.

She is paving a new way for women to protect themselves in India, where there has been anger at a number of high-profile rape cases and concern about the availability of sex education.


Grossman Discusses Policy in Wake of Financial Crisis

Professor of Economics Richard Grossman, author of Wrong: Nine Economic Policy Disasters and What We Can Learn to Themwas interviewed on Concord News Radio about policy decisions made in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

“The actions that were taken in the wake of the financial crisis, I view as having been completely necessary. If you go back and look at the Great Depression,when the government didn’t do enough and the central bank for sure didn’t do enough, then you get a sense of how bad things can be,” said Grossman. “When you’re just a few inches away from financial Armageddon, even if the policy isn’t perfect, you really have to turn all your guns on it and do everything to avoid going those last few inches over the edge.”


Rutland on Hong Kong Pride

Writing in Foreign Policy, Peter Rutland argues that the protestors in Hong Kong are not just demanding democracy, “they’re also asserting their own identity in the face of increased efforts by Beijing to impose greater homogeneity on its far-flung territories.”

Mainland China is experiencing its own upsurge in nationalism, writes Rutland as he looks to 19th century Europe to explain how rapid industrialization and a boom in international trade lead to increased military spending and a rise in populist nationalism. This trend is echoed, in some ways, in Hong Kong, particularly in “the growing prominence of identity politics.”

Rutland writes: “Hong Kong’s impressive economic achievements have inspired great pride among the city’s residents — pride in a local identity increasingly defined in contrast to that of the mainland Chinese.”

Read the full essay here.

Rutland is The Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, professor of government, professor of Russian and Eastern European studies, tutor in the College of Social Studies.

Wesleyan Goes Test Optional To Increase Access

Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Nancy Hargrave Meislahn spoke to Bloomberg Businessweek about Wesleyan’s decision last May to go test optional. According to the article, over the past two years, at least 20 U.S. schools have stopped requiring applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores.

“This is a moment in time where we felt there’s growing questions in K-12 and beyond about the value of standardized testing,” said Meislahn. “We also see this as an access initiative. We’ve known for a long time the correlation between test scores and income.”

A study released in February that found no significant difference in the grade-point average or graduation rates between applicants who did and didn’t submit test scores was another reason behind the school’s decision, Meislahn said.

McAlister on Studying Aggressive Prayer

In this essay on the Social Science Research Council’s “The Immanent Frame” blog, Elizabeth McAlister considers “negative prayer as a part of lived religion,” citing examples from the Afro-Haitian Vodou religion and American evangelicalism. She writes: “Just as sorcerers are famous for their deployment of malediction, evangelical Christians are well known for a branch of thought and practice known as ‘spiritual warfare,’ which is also a form of aggressive prayer.”

McAlister is professor of religion, professor of African-American studies, professor of American studies.

McAlister discusses the ways different religious groups employ negative prayer. She concludes:

Studying prayer as it is actually lived in the world means paying attention to such aggressive forms of prayer, and exploring how ideas about negative and aggressive prayer change over time in a given society. We must also open up questions about the negative implications of positive prayer. [...]  Studying aggressive forms of prayer may mean asking how religious actors engage with supernatural forces they perceive to be destructive, such as in exorcisms, or magic, and how they control the ritual so they are not themselves harmed. It means figuring out how explicitly negative prayer is rationalized or even justified by the person praying. Does someone praying negatively imagine themselves to be partnering with destructive or evil forces for their own gain, or do they imagine themselves to be neutral, or even righteous? Perhaps they imagine themselves to be in alliance with forces of ultimate good, which demands an aggressive form of prayer. How is negative prayer tied to conceptions of justice?

Read more about McAlister’s study in this past News@Wesleyan article.

Eiko Performs “A Body in a Station”

The New York Times featured a new performance by Visiting Instructor in Dance Eiko Otake, the first she has conceived and performed without Koma, her husband and artistic partner. Titled “A Body in a Station,” the work, presented by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, develops as a series of three-hour performances once a week. The museum is also featuring a exhibition of photography by William Johnston, professor of history, professor of East Asian studies, professor of science in society. The photographs show Eiko performing in abandoned train stations in Fukushima, Japan.

“The images, elegant, bleak and harrowing, place her in a desolate landscape devastated by the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plant after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami,”  the Times writes.

Rubenstein’s Book is Reviewed

Mary-Jane Rubenstein’s new book, Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse (Columbia University Press 2014), is reviewed on the site “New Books in Religion”:

In Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse (Columbia University Press, 2014), Rubenstein wonders why there is a proliferation of multiverse theoretical cosmologies by contemporary scientists. While the cosmos are generally considered to be singular and finite many well-respected physicists explain the universe’s complexities as evidence of a multiverse. These explanations argue that our world is just one of the infinite number of universes existing simultaneously.

Read the entire review here. Rubenstein is chair and associate professor of religion, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.