April 3rd, 2012
chasewhiteside
Pills That Can Make You Smarter
Margaret Talbot writes for the New Yorker about the underground world of “neuroenhancing” drugs :

For the moment, people looking for that particular quick fix have a limited choice of meds. But, given the amount of money and research hours being spent on developing drugs to treat cognitive decline, Provigil and Adderall are likely to be joined by a bigger pharmacopoeia. Among the drugs in the pipeline are ampakines, which target a type of glutamate receptor in the brain; it is hoped that they may stem the memory loss associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s. But ampakines may also give healthy people a palpable cognitive boost. A 2007 study of sixteen healthy elderly volunteers found that five hundred milligrams of one particular ampakine “unequivocally” improved short-term memory, though it appeared to detract from episodic memory—the recall of past events. Another class of drugs, cholinesterase inhibitors, which are already being used with some success to treat Alzheimer’s patients, have also shown promise as neuroenhancers. In one study, the drug donepezil strengthened the performance of pilots on flight simulators; in another, of thirty healthy young male volunteers, it improved verbal and visual episodic memory. Several pharmaceutical companies are working on drugs that target nicotine receptors in the brain, in the hope that they can replicate the cognitive uptick that smokers get from cigarettes.

Read the full article here.
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Pills That Can Make You Smarter

Margaret Talbot writes for the New Yorker about the underground world of “neuroenhancing” drugs :

For the moment, people looking for that particular quick fix have a limited choice of meds. But, given the amount of money and research hours being spent on developing drugs to treat cognitive decline, Provigil and Adderall are likely to be joined by a bigger pharmacopoeia. Among the drugs in the pipeline are ampakines, which target a type of glutamate receptor in the brain; it is hoped that they may stem the memory loss associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s. But ampakines may also give healthy people a palpable cognitive boost. A 2007 study of sixteen healthy elderly volunteers found that five hundred milligrams of one particular ampakine “unequivocally” improved short-term memory, though it appeared to detract from episodic memory—the recall of past events. Another class of drugs, cholinesterase inhibitors, which are already being used with some success to treat Alzheimer’s patients, have also shown promise as neuroenhancers. In one study, the drug donepezil strengthened the performance of pilots on flight simulators; in another, of thirty healthy young male volunteers, it improved verbal and visual episodic memory. Several pharmaceutical companies are working on drugs that target nicotine receptors in the brain, in the hope that they can replicate the cognitive uptick that smokers get from cigarettes.

Read the full article here.

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March 28th, 2012
chasewhiteside

Mitt Romney and the Individual Mandate

As the Supreme Court debates whether or not the individual insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, and Republicans root for a ruling that would dismantle the bill, it’s worth remembering that the mandate, like many aspects of “Obamacare,” were originally conservative proposals. Though observers point to the court’s decision as a potential issue in this year’s presidential election, it was Romney who long fought for an individual mandate, while Obama was initially opposed:

Romney had accomplished a longstanding Democratic goal—universal health insurance—by combining three conservative policies. Massachusetts would help the uninsured buy private insurance; it would create a deregulated online marketplace; and it would require that everyone carry insurance. Uninsured citizens no longer would use the emergency room as a primary-care facility and then fail to pay their bills. “It’s a Republican way of reforming the market,” Romney said later that day. “Because, let me tell you, having thirty million people in this country without health insurance and having those people show up when they get sick, and expect someone else to pay, that’s a Democratic approach. That’s the wrong way. The Republican approach is to say, ‘You know what? Everybody should have insurance. They should pay what they can afford to pay. If they need help, we will be there to help them, but no more free ride.’ ” …

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama did not support a mandate as part of his health-care plan… Obama ran a television ad in which he criticized Clinton’s proposal for a mandate on the ground that “it forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can’t afford it.” …

If it were not for Mitt Romney, with assistance from the Heritage Foundation and George W. Bush, it is extremely unlikely that Obama would have passed his universal health-care law last year. Bob Kocher worked on health care in the Obama White House… “We asked the question ‘What plan can you invent that would cover a lot of people and not change anything?’ ” he told me. “We want them to buy private insurance, and so you end up wanting an exchange. You know you have to provide subsidies because some people can’t afford to buy private insurance. And you don’t really want to go from an uninsurance rate of sixteen per cent down to ten per cent, because it just doesn’t seem like you’ve accomplished that much, so then you say, ‘I need to add on a mandate.’ And then you add in the mandate and then suddenly you end up with a mandate, an exchange, subsidies. And that’s Massachusetts.”

Read the full article here.

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March 15th, 2012
chasewhiteside

The Town That Blew Away

Just past midnight on April 28, the tiny community of Vaughn was going to sleep. Forty-five seconds later, it was no longer there. Justin Heckert for Atlanta Magazine:

In mid-August, more than three months after the community was blown away, a few of the remaining residents smoked cigarettes from beneath a tent donated by a local funeral home, drank Gatorade, and watched the people driving by on West McIntosh Road. Just about every other car slowed, someone inside pointing, occasionally taking a picture, then driving on. One of the residents, wearing aviator sunglasses, his skin dark from the sun, do-rag tied around his head beneath a ball cap—a man who had a nickname, “The Sheriff,” who always spoke the truth—raised his voice and yelled at them to speed up and drive the hell on by.

Read the full article here.

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March 9th, 2012
chasewhiteside

Pausing Joe

In a nod to our many new followers who’ve found us via Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tumblr, we offer Rachel Dovey’s pleasant 2010 profile of Gordon-Levitt for Paste Magazine:

He’s painstakingly polite, asking if I’m too cold when we’re seated outside, picking up my silverware when we move inside, moving the recorder closer to him so I can hear it better later. Our conversation is punctuated every few minutes by his clearly articulated “Thank you” every time the waitress comes to our table. He may shake off any trace of hesitation on camera, but he hesitates often during our conversation. He pauses nearly as much as he speaks, rewords statements, stops mid-sentence, starts over. It’s hard to tell if this is pure deliberation—a rigorous mind outracing his words—or media-trained evasion, the product of being on-the-record since he got an agent at age six.

Read the full article here.

With that out of the way, I don’t anticipate much more celebrity programming here at RTNT—check this page to find out what Read This, Not That is all about. And Welcome!

 - Chase Whiteside, Editor

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March 8th, 2012
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RTNT On The Problems With KONY 2012

The deluge of social media attention that has been given to the simplistic KONY 2012 campaign and the surrounding haze of misinformation has reaffirmed our purpose at Read This, Not That. Joseph Kony is a warlord and a monster - this much cannot be denied. The present controversy swirls not around Kony himself, but rather around the substance of the campaign, and the intentions of the organization behind it: Invisible Children.

Conversations are raging across the web between supporters and detractors - conversations that suffer, in many instances, from a lack of understanding about the current state of Uganda and of Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (details of which are notably lacking from the film.)

There has been much resistance to criticism of the campaign, resistance founded in knee-jerk reactions meant to defend the perceived good intentions of Invisible Children. The appearance of a noble cause to mask questionable action is not anomalous in our world. As such, it is our responsibility to be skeptical, especially when engaged with propagandistic media that aims to affect us emotionally and prompt a very specific reaction: in this case, to give money to Invisible Children.

Our effort here is to offer articles that inform the debate surrounding KONY 2012 and to encourage everyone to embrace critical conversation, even when that gaze is directed at what appear to be good intentions. Things are rarely as simple as they are made out to be, and we can be sure that the state of Uganda and the LRA is not as simple as the KONY 2012 campaign makes it seem.

Michael Wilkerson, writing for Foreign Policy, asks what the video is meant to accomplish:

So the goal is to make sure that President Obama doesn’t withdraw the advisors he deployed until Kony is captured or killed. That seems noble enough, except that there has been no mention by the government of withdrawing those forces — at least any I can find. Does anyone else have any evidence about this urgent threat of cancellation? One that justifies such a massive production campaign and surely lucrative donation drive?

TMS Ruge, writing for Project Diaspora, pleads with us to respect the agency of Ugandans:

This IC campaign is a perfect example of how fund-sucking NGO’s survive…They are, in actuality, selling themselves as the issue, as the subject, as the panacea for everything that ails me as the agency-devoid African. All I have to do is show up in my broken English, look pathetic and wanting. You, my dear social media savvy click-activist, will shed a tear, exhaust Facebook’s like button, mobilize your cadre of equally ill-uninformed netizens to throw money at the problem.

Ugandan Journalist Angelo Izama, writing at This Is Africa, finds KONY 2012’s portrayal of Uganda outdated:

To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement. While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, it’s portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era.

Musa Okwanga, writing for The Independent, discusses the complexities the video left out:

What the narrator also failed to do was mention to his son that when a bad guy like Kony is running riot for years on end, raping and slashing and seizing and shooting, then there is most likely another host of bad guys out there letting him get on with it.  He probably should have told him that, too.

Guy Gunartne, writing for Codoc, questions the wisdom of Invisible Children’s preferred policy of military intervention:

The LRA is reported to be 90% made up of abducted children – military defeat would mean engaging in combat and targeting of the very victims of this war; these children are the LRA.

The author of Visible Children examines the armies on the other side of the war:

Both the Ugandan army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army are riddled with accusations of rape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them, arguing that the Ugandan army is “better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries”, although Kony is no longer active in Uganda and hasn’t been since 2006 by their own admission.

Glenna Gordon, who took the photograph above, takes issue with the filmmakers’ self-aggrandizement in this interview for The Washington Post:

People who have lived there for years, bona fide aid workers who have studied foreign policy and other relevant fields like public health, who are really there because they are trying to solve problems — they see Invisible Children as trying to promote themselves and a version of the narrative. 

Eric Ritskes, writing at Wanderings, reminds us that it is not about us:

It falls into the trap, the belief that the problem is ignorance and the answer is education. When we tell more people about Kony and the LRA, something WILL happen. It’s not true…More education does not change the systems and structures of oppression, those that need Africa to be the place of suffering and war and saving…We need to learn: It’s not about us.

Kate Cronin-Furman & Amanda Taub, writing at The Atlantic, discuss the arrogance of the campaign:

Perhaps worst of all are the unexplored assumptions underpinning the awareness argument, which reduce people in conflict situations to two broad categories: mass-murderers like Joseph Kony and passive victims so helpless that they must wait around to be saved by a bunch of American college students with stickers. No Ugandans or other Africans are shown offering policy suggestions in the film, and it is implied that local governments were ineffective in combating the LRA simply because they didn’t have enough American assistance.

Patrick Wegner, writing at Justice in Conflict, offers some final thoughts:

To conclude, the Kony 2012 campaign is a reminder why we should see advocacy campaigns to interfere in conflicts with some scepticism, no matter how good the cause…. It also challenges us to think of ways how to design advocacy campaigns that mobilise many people without dumbing down the problem and its purported solution.

[Edit:] Invisible Children has responded to some, but not all of the criticisms here. 

We put in a lot of work reading, reviewing, compiling, and excerpting these pieces for you, and hope you will consider them in this debate.

 - The RTNT Team

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February 24th, 2012
chasewhiteside

Within the Context of No Context

George Trow’s essay on television and its effect on American culture was first published in 1980 in a special issue of The New Yorker that devoted its entire central section to just this piece. Met with wide acclaim upon publication, it became a staple in media studies courses and a touchstone of essay writing. Novelist and screenwriter Michael Tolkin is quoted as saying that “No Context” is no longer fashionable because “It’s not a polemic for change. It’s just a cold description of where things are going. There aren’t many [essays] that are unafraid to be that negative.”

In the New History, nothing was judged—only counted. The power of judging was then subtracted from what it was necessary for a man to learn to do. In the New History, the preferences of a child carried as much weight as the preferences of an adult, so the refining of preferences was subtracted from what it was necessary for a man to learn to do. In the New History, the ideal became agreement rather than well-judged action, so men learned to be competent only in those modes which embraced the possibility of agreement. The world of power changed. What was powerful grew more powerful in ways that could be easily measured, grew less powerful in every way that could not be measured.

Read the full article here.

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February 21st, 2012
chasewhiteside

Couch-Surfing Across America

Mother Jones reporter Tim Murphy gives a very funny retelling of his trip across the country staying with hosts he met on CouchSurf.com:

In anticipation of our arrival, he’s sorted through a dumpster for an extra set of couch cushions, bedbugs be damned. But, he warns, “I’m gonna have a rager tonight, kind of. Like it’ll be pretty wild, so if you guys just want to stay with someone else, that’s cool.”

The rager ultimately consists of seven people, clustered in a kitchen. There’s a strobe light in the living room, but no dancing. The whole thing, Bill concludes, would have been better if he could have scored some dry ice. Still, he shows us the side of the city you’ll never find in a guide book: a Brazilian Laundromat with live parakeets; an abandoned ski jump with a panoramic view of the harbor; and the “graffiti graveyard,” an I-35 overpass that’s home to the city’s finest underground art.

Read the full article here.

February 1st, 2012
chasewhiteside

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

Reviewing a new documentary that explores the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex, which went up with high hopes only to be demolished in 1972, Michael Kimmelman, for the New York Times, contrasts the project with the similarly intended Penn South:

Penn South is a cooperative in affluent, 21st-century Manhattan past which chic crowds hustle every day to and from nearby Chelsea’s art galleries, apparently oblivious to it. It thrives within a dense, diverse neighborhood of the sort that makes New York special. Pruitt-Igoe, segregated de facto, isolated and impoverished, collapsed along with the industrial city around it.

But they’re both classic examples of modern architecture, the kind Mr. Jencks, among countless others, left for dead: superblocks of brick and concrete high rises scattered across grassy plots, so-called towers in the park, descended from Le Corbusier’s “Radiant City.” The words “housing project” instantly conjure them up.

Alienating, penitential breeding grounds for vandalism and violence: that became the tower in the park’s epitaph. But Penn South, with its stolid redbrick, concrete-slab housing stock, is clearly a safe, successful place. In this case the architecture works. In St. Louis, where the architectural scheme was the same, what killed Pruitt-Igoe was not its bricks and mortar. (Minoru Yamasaki, who designed the World Trade Towers, was the architect.)

The lesson these two sites share has to do with the limits of architecture, socially and economically, never mind what some architects and planners promise or boast. The two projects, aesthetic cousins, are reminders that no typology of design, no matter how passingly fashionable or reviled, guarantees success or failure: neither West Village-style brownstones nor towers in the park nor titanium-clad confections. This is not to say architecture is helpless, only that it is never destiny and that it is always hostage to larger forces.

Read the full article here.

January 31st, 2012
chasewhiteside

Letter From Detroit

Ingrid Norton, writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, offers a fresh perspective on the Motor City’s struggles, and the efforts at revitalization:

Over the last 60 years, the city has lost 1.3 million residents from its 1950 peak of 2 million. The continual bleed of people moving to suburbs and other regions of the country means that Detroit’s current population is as low as it has been since 1910. The massive abandonment has invidious, far-reaching effects for the Detroiters who remain. Over the last year, there have been an average of 35 major fires a day in the city. A lack of maintenance funds and property abandonment mean it is not uncommon for power lines to hang low over the empty houses and cracked sidewalks. Last September, a combination of dry weather, high winds, and downed power lines caused 85 fires to break out in one 24-hour period. Five suburban fire departments were called in to help Detroit’s department combat the blazes. Whole blocks were incinerated. Louvenia Wallace, a hair stylist and mother of three whose east side duplex burned, told a reporter from the Detroit Free Press: “It was like blankets of smoke were everywhere, and the next thing I knew everybody’s house was on fire … My kids couldn’t sleep because it smells like smoke … My daughter is asthmatic, so she can’t be around here, no way … I don’t have the money to just move.”

Read the full article here.

January 23rd, 2012
chasewhiteside

Monday Evening Roundup

5 must-read pieces from the last week of Read This, Not That:

1. Forget About It
On the increasing impact that social networking has on our “real-world” lives.

2. Gingrich Attacks the So-Called “Liberal” Media—But What Liberal Media?
Exploring the frequent conservative critique that the mainstream media is “liberal.”

3. Google’s History of Censorship
It wasn’t that long ago that Google, seeking to expand its presence in China, the world’s fastest growing online market, had its own role in censoring the web.

4. The Many Lives of Stephen Colbert
In-depth profile of the popular conservative news satirist.

5. Will Football Die?
Can football survive the troubling frequency of severe head trauma that leads to permanent brain damage?

Remember, you are what you read!
 - Chase Whiteside, Editor 

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