Longform Roundup will be a segment in which I link to and summarize a few longform articles I think worthy of your time. More often than not they will be recent articles, but I might occasionally bust out a classic just for fun.
The Arab Spring brings storms or flowers?
Here are a series of longform articles discussing the Arab Spring two years on. As it turns out, the Arab Spring has been a bit of a mixed bag. It’s worked out pretty well in Tunisia (sorta), but, um, that’s about it… It’s certainly too early to say definitively whether the Arab Spring will prove to be a bust or a boon to the Middle East in the long run, but let’s examine where analysts think it stands right now.
The essential Foreign Affairs magazine has published two longform analyses scrutinizing the Arab Spring from both the optimistic and pessimistic outlook.
The optimistic Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a historical perspective examining the rough democratic transitions of France, Italy and Germany to suggest that progress takes times but things will get better:
From the pessimistic side, however, Seth G. Jones, an associate director at the RAND Corporation and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, suggests “the Arab uprisings of 2011, once a great source of hope for democracy enthusiasts, have given way to sectarian clashes and political instability. The Middle East has not yet shed its authoritarian yoke, and the United States needs a policy that reflects that reality”:
Now let’s look at how things are in Egypt specifically. Peter Hessler has a fantastic new article in the New Yorker reporting his observations and findings from the past month spent in the country. Hessler examines what life is like on the ground in the two years since Mubarak was overthrown and where the Muslim Brotherhood is leading the country (hint: seemingly somewhere not very good):
*note – This was a premium New Yorker article, meaning it requires a subscription to read on its site, but you can find the most recent issues plus the entire archive of the New Yorker dating back to 1977 for free (it’s legal, I think) on the Gale Group’s General OneFile site (lots of other cool stuff on that site too).
Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute, has also written an extensive examination of the Muslim Brotherhood, focusing on how the new Egyptian constitution came to be.
The article details how the real losers of the revolution were the non-Islamists, even though it was they who sowed the seeds of revolt, and how the somewhat-moderate Muslim Brotherhood had to broker a last-minute deal with the hardliner Salafis to ink out a constitution that is, in many ways, anything but secular or democratic:
OK, so yeah, I realize that the Hudson Institute is a conservative think tank. I’m not always going to post stuff from people with whom I agree on every issue. Tardos’ article is a stellar work of scholarship and journalism and deserves to be disseminated by all who wish to have a deeper understanding of the history and current situation in Egypt. We should be willing to give anyone’s work a fair shake regardless of ideology.
Reality Bytes: The life and death of Aaron Swartz
Tim Carmody over at The Verge has a great lengthy profile on Aaron Swartz, the 26-year-old open internet activist and co-creator of RSS and Reddit who committed suicide recently before facing a possible prison sentence of up to 35 years. Swartz’s crime was “hacking” into the archives of JSTOR, a digital library of academic journals. In reality, Swartz merely used an automated script to download a huge chunk of the archives in what basically amounted to a violation of JSTOR’s Terms of Service Agreement. But JSTOR didn’t really give a shit and had no desire to pursue legal action.
However, Swartz was the victim of overzealous prosecutors and an outdated computer fraud law that was written in 1986, coincidently the year Swartz was born. In another bit of coincidence, or perhaps tragic irony, the week before Swartz hung himself JSTOR announced it would now offer free access to more than 4.5 million articles… sigh…
But Justin Peters over at Slate has perhaps the definitive piece on Swartz, delving not into his life’s accomplishments, but exploring what made him tic, warts and all. Also, it comes complete with an interactive chart of Swartz’s impressive work history, so there’s that:
Taxi Diva: Working with Lindsay Lohan
For a New York Times profile, Stephen Rodrick brings the longform format to a seemingly undeserving topic: Lindsay Lohan. Specifically, Rodrick chronicles the topsy-turvy experience of working with the troubled starlet when she is cast as the lead for the film The Canyons. She actually comes off slightly better than you might expect, but, fear not, the article still offers plenty of cringe-worthy Lohan antics:
Actually, The Canyons had some surprising talent behind it, as it was written by Bret Easton Ellis and directed by Paul Schrader. But Schrader, best known for writing films for Martin Scorsese like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Bringing Out the Dead, has a bit of a sordid history when he steps behind the camera. Besides the decent Auto Focus and excellent Mishima, Schrader, as director, is known for pure trash like Forever Mine and Cat People.
And Ellis, best known for his novels and their subsequent film adaptations Less Than Zero and American Psycho, has become quite the douchebag extraordinaire in recent years, writing a terrible adaptation of The Informers and going on petty petulant Twitter rants against the likes of Kathryn Bigelow and the late David Foster Wallace.
Also considering The Canyons was rejected by both Sundance and SXSW, you can probably bet dollars to donuts the film sucks.