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Commentary Archive

Europe’s ‘Hungarian solution’

by / RP 197 (May/June 2016) / Commentary

In a speech at a European Union heads-of-state summit on migration in February 2016, Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, declared that the ‘Hungarian solution’ to the migration ‘crisis’ facing Europe had now become ‘common sense’, adopted by other European countries after a summer in which Hungary’s ‘illiberal’ treatment of migrants had been pilloried.

A neo-Horthyist restoration

by / RP 197 (May/June 2016) / Commentary

Since winning the Hungarian general elections in 2010 with a two-thirds majority, Viktor Orbán’s nationalist-populist party Fidesz has introduced an authoritarian administration that is reminiscent of Hungary’s interwar regime, when Miklós Horthy ruled as an ally of Hitler. When state socialism collapsed in 1989, liberal ideologists propagated the idea that an age of Western-style democracy …

Why I write such excellent songs

David Bowie, 1947–2016
by / RP 196 (Mar/Apr 2016) / Commentary

As the limousine cruises its way through an arid Californian landscape, a pale and thin David Bowie sits in the back and humorously reflects that he never wanted to be a rock ’n’ roll star, ‘honest guv, I wasn’t even there’. This is a 27-year-old Bowie talking to Alan Yentob in 1974 and screened as the BBC …

Politicizing powerlessness

by / RP 195 (Jan/Feb 2016) / Commentary

How might we intervene in the new situation created by the 13 November attacks in Paris and the various reactions they have provoked? Instead of trying to figure out what the government should be doing, social movements should determine what they can do and what we can do ourselves.

One of the most common reactions …

An apology for French republicanism

by / RP 195 (Jan/Feb 2016) / Commentary

When the attacks of 13 November in Paris are used by the French government to criminalize activists and protesters, when fear is pushing its population deeper into the arms of the Front National, and when the radical Left has almost disappeared from the political landscape, can one retain any hope that the country will find …

‘Become a permanent migrant to the UK!’

by / RP 194 (Nov/Dec 2015) / Commentary

Since 2005, when citizenship tests were effectively introduced in the UK, the official guidance book Life in the United Kingdom has been a veritable battleground over identity, history and knowledge. ‘Could you pass a citizenship test? ‘Most young people can’t’, the media reiterate with each new edition. [1] Knowledge and ignorance …

Submarine state

On secrets and leaks
by / RP 193 (Sept/Oct 2015) / Commentary

It’s not answerable to anyone, given it doesn’t exist in law; no minutes are kept; and it’s confidential. No citizen ever knows what is said within… These are decisions of almost life and death, and no member has to answer to anybody.

Yanis Varoufakis, description of the Eurozone

The politics of counting and the scene of rescue

Border deaths in the Mediterranean
by / RP 192 (July/Aug 2015) / Commentary

Border deaths are not a new phenomenon. Since the early 2000s, the Mediterranean Sea has been named a ‘maritime cemetery’ by activists [1] and critical migration scholars. However, over the last two years migrant deaths at the borders have gained more and more attention in the media and EU political debate …

The signature of security

Big data, anticipation, surveillance
by / RP 191 (May/Jun 2015) / Commentary, Data & Surveillance

‘We are not crystal ball gazers. We are Intelligence Agencies’, noted the former GCHQ director Iain Lobban in a public inquiry on privacy and security by the Intelligence and Security Committee of the UK Parliament (ISC) in the wake of the Snowden revelations about mass surveillance. [1] Several minutes later, Lobban …

Big data, small freedom?

Informational surveillance and the political
by / RP 191 (May/Jun 2015) / Commentary, Data & Surveillance

In 2010, ‘big data’ was described as ‘datasets that could not be captured, managed and processed by general computers within an acceptable scope’. [1] Today’s definitions boil down to three Vs: Variety, Volume and Velocity. Big data deals with mostly unstructured, heterogeneous and non-validated data, whose size is so big that …

Oceanic enemy

A brief philosophical history of the NSA
by / RP 191 (May/Jun 2015) / Commentary, Data & Surveillance

6 July 1962, NAVFAC base, Barbados.

A grey building stands at the foot of a stone lighthouse overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Inside, a military serviceman is examining the lines being recorded on an enormous roll of paper by the stylus of a sort of gigantic electrocardiogram. We are in one of the secret bases of …

Food politics in the USA

by / RP 190 (Mar/Apr 2015) / Commentary

Nutrition in food is, today, a function of profitability: junk food and processed foods are more profitable than organics grown locally; meat is not only more energy intensive, but is more profitable (at least for those who package and market it). People’s diets are, in other words, determined not simply by what is grown or …

Old alliances, new struggles

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
by / RP 190 (Mar/Apr 2015) / Commentary

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a bilateral agreement between the European Union and the United States of America aimed at the liberalization and regulation of trade in goods and services. If adopted, it will supplant the EU, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the deal between China and the Association …

Russell Brand, Lady T, Pisher Bob and Preacher John

by / RP 190 (Mar/Apr 2015) / Commentary

Russell Brand’s new book Revolution * is an impressive contribution to political philosophy, a field which during the past thirty years or so has not been overly populated with interesting work. Brand’s argument can be summarized in ten steps:

Our lives are to a large extent given structure by a set of economic practices and …

Green economics versus growth economics

The case of Thomas Piketty
by / RP 189 (Jan/Feb 2015) / Commentary

What would be a radical economics today? It would have two components. First, it must understand economics as necessarily political economy; as a continuous human, social creation subject to political manipulation and to new positive political vision and action. Second, it must be a Green ecological economics. That is, it must have absorbed the …

Alternative economics

A new student movement
by and / RP 189 (Jan/Feb 2015) / Commentary

Economics is in crisis. The profession is under attack from the media, employers and the general public. The economists we are producing are not performing the tasks society demands from them. [1 ]

The recent global crisis not only led to a questioning of mainstream macroeconomic theories and their relevance …

Bruno Latour’s anthropology of the moderns

A reply to Maniglier
by / RP 189 (Jan/Feb 2015) / Commentary

An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns – published with the motto: si scires donum Dei (for those who do not know the Holy Scripture, this is John 4.10: ‘if you knew God’s gift’) – is said to be the result of Bruno Latour’s research over the last twenty-five years. [1] The book …

Legal terror and the police dog

by / RP 188 (Nov/Dec 2014) / Commentary

In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 2001 an off-duty police officer spotted Antonio Chatman, who was known by this officer as having a warrant for a misdemeanour. Soon other officers, including a K-9 unit, arrived on the scene. Chatman attempted to flee but a police dog pursued and apprehended him, which is to say the trained dog …

Deadly Algorithms

Can legal codes hold software accountable for code that kills?
by / RP 187 (Sept/Oct 2014) / Commentary

Algorithms have long adjudicated over vital processes that help to ensure our well-being and survival, from pacemakers that maintain the natural rhythms of the heart, and genetic algorithms that optimise emergency response times by cross-referencing ambulance locations with demographic data, to early warning systems that track approaching storms, detect seismic activity, and even seek …

Boycotting Israel

 Academia, activism and the futures of American Studies
by / RP 186 (Jul/Aug 2014) / Commentary

On 4 December of last year, the annual conference of the American Studies Association resolved that ‘whereas the United States plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine … whereas there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation, and Israeli institutions of …