Visit With Edward Snowden | The Nation

In early October, four Americans flew to Russia to present an award to Edward Snowden. They were all familiar with the workings of the national security state and took appropriate precautions.

We left Washington, DC, having a lawyer on retainer and no electronics—cell phones, laptops or any of today’s normal lifelines—knowing that the United States could geo-locate our whereabouts and find Snowden, and also knowing we could have our devices searched and confiscated upon our return.

One of them, Jesselyn Radack, wrote about the trip in The Nation. He’s doing well, it seems, all things considered.

Given the extraordinary circumstances and pressure he’s under, Snowden is doing remarkably well. He’s warm and engaged, greeting us with long embraces. His is well-grounded, centered, and has a quick sense of humor, darkly joking that if he were a spy, Russia treats its spies much better than leaving them trapped in the Sheremetyevo transit zone for over a month. Continue reading

Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex? | The Observer

Mendokusai translates loosely as “Too troublesome” or “I can’t be bothered”. It’s the word I hear both sexes use most often when they talk about their relationship phobia. Romantic commitment seems to represent burden and drudgery, from the exorbitant costs of buying property in Japan to the uncertain expectations of a spouse and in-laws. And the centuries-old belief that the purpose of marriage is to produce children endures. Japan’s Institute of Population and Social Security reports an astonishing 90% of young women believe that staying single is “preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like”.

The sense of crushing obligation affects men just as much. Satoru Kishino, 31, belongs to a large tribe of men under 40 who are engaging in a kind of passive rebellion against traditional Japanese masculinity. Amid the recession and unsteady wages, men like Kishino feel that the pressure on them to be breadwinning economic warriors for a wife and family is unrealistic. They are rejecting the pursuit of both career and romantic success.

“It’s too troublesome,” says Kishino, when I ask why he’s not interested in having a girlfriend. “I don’t earn a huge salary to go on dates and I don’t want the responsibility of a woman hoping it might lead to marriage.” Japan’s media, which has a name for every social kink, refers to men like Kishino as “herbivores” or soshoku danshi (literally, “grass-eating men”). Kishino says he doesn’t mind the label because it’s become so commonplace. He defines it as “a heterosexual man for whom relationships and sex are unimportant”.

via Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex? | World news | The Observer.

Why Scandinavian Prisons Are Superior | The Atlantic

One of the more surprising reasons the soft, subtle Scandinavian penal system works so well.

This is the polished glass nightmare. Every emotional discomfort, every moment of remorse that you might try to cover with resentment of the system, everything you try to grip onto to crawl away from personal responsibility slides back into the pit of the self. Judges and prosecutors are unelected professionals who are under political pressure only to minimize prison populations. The message everywhere you look and walk is the same. You did this to yourself. You sit in a university classroom, but you harbor a secret. You are not like the others. On the way to work, you walk along a lovely sea wall, among kids and adults on holiday, but you know you are not free. You look like them; they never raise an eyebrow at you. But you know. You are under quarantine, and the disease is the past you made for yourself. Everything is being done to help and prepare you to clear this secret and live again like others. But the weight, finally, rests with you.

via Why Scandinavian Prisons Are Superior – Doran Larson – The Atlantic.

Serious money and journalism

It turns out there was another tech billionaire looking at the Washington Post. Pierre Omidyar, co-founder and chairman of eBay, passed on the Post but started thinking about what a similar amount of money (US$250 million) could achieve if devoted to a new venture.

That thinking now looks set to bear fruit. Omidyar is joining forces with Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeromy Scahill, who had been planning to go independent themselves. And they’re thinking big.

Omidyar believes that if independent, ferocious, investigative journalism isn’t brought to the attention of general audiences it can never have the effect that actually creates a check on power. Therefore the new entity — they have a name but they’re not releasing it, so I will just call it NewCo — will have to serve the interest of all kinds of news consumers. It cannot be a niche product. It will have to cover sports, business, entertainment, technology: everything that users demand.

At the core of Newco will be a different plan for how to build a large news organization. It resembles what I called in an earlier post “the personal franchise model” in news. You start with individual journalists who have their own reputations, deep subject matter expertise, clear points of view, an independent and outsider spirit, a dedicated online following, and their own way of working. The idea is to attract these people to NewCo, or find young journalists capable of working in this way, and then support them well.

Omidyar isn’t a naive newbie to this territory. He started and still publishes Civil Beat, a news site in Hawaii. According to John Temple, its initial editor, “He’s got a journalist’s sensibility”, is very much hands-on but also “gives you the space to do your job.” Continue reading

Hidden Source of Terror | NYRB

In “The Thistle and the Drone“, Akbar Ahmed considers how drones might appear to a tribesman:

Flying at 50,000 feet above ground, and therefore out of sight of its intended victims, the drone could hover overhead unblinkingly for twenty-four hours, with little escaping its scrutiny before it struck. For a Muslim tribesman, this manner of combat not only was dishonorable but also smacked of sacrilege. By appropriating the powers of God through the drone, in its capacity to see and not be seen and deliver death without warning, trial, or judgment, Americans were by definition blasphemous.

The gulf between their perspectives on combat, honour and courage and this long distance, antiseptic, anonymous killing could hardly be greater.

Conflict between tribal societies and centralised states continually expanding their power is hardly new. Post 9/11, however, it’s intensified as the US in particular pursues its war on terror. One thing seems certain: it breeds a deep and mutually destructive cycle. How much of terrorist and jihadist activity is rooted in tribal resistance and revenge, and how much is ideologically driven is a question taken up in Malise Ruthven’s review: Continue reading