Dr Tim Squirrell is a writer, broadcaster and researcher. He focusses on internet culture and extremism, specialising in the far right and misogynist extremists.

What I'm Reading This Week #3

This week I've got a couple of different themes to the reading I've been doing. As well as some miscellaneous bits on Arab LGBT culture and prescription heroin, there are a couple of pieces on famines (why they're man-made, and how they're used as weapons of war) as well as a bunch of articles and videos on new trends in the economy looking at Uber, Apple and the military-industrial complex. Enjoy.

  1. Saleem Haddad on "The Myth of the Queer Arab Life" is an attempt to push back against the essentialisation of LGBT Arabs. I can't quite do it justice and it really needs to be read, but it asks the question of "who owns queer Arab bodies?", navigating the various parties who vie for control of the lives of queer Arabs and the methods by which they do so.
  2. Vox on the 4 man-made famines threatening 20 million people: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvSW5Ez0koM

    The video explains how famine can be used as a weapon: warzones aren't particularly conducive to normal agricultural practices, meaning that people inside them often can't produce enough food for themselves, particularly if they've become concentrated in a small area through displacement. That means they're reliant on aid, and if that aid gets blocked, then they risk starvation. Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan are all the subjects of man-made famines right now.

  3. Similarly, The Inquiry: are famines always man-made? http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04w1b07

    This podcast looks at the current crisis in South Sudan, but it also takes a more historical look at famines, including the Bengal famine which it argues was caused by Winston Churchill. The broad sweep of the argument is that famines are always man-made, and that we can always prevent them.

  4. Ben Smith on Uber's toxic workplace culture: https://www.buzzfeed.com/bensmith/trumpian-tactics-have-finally-stopped-working-for-uber?utm_term=.svJGMREdG#.bajEMOleE

    Smith takes a look at the "Trump-style" tactics Uber has attempted to employ over the years, sacrificing public relations, staff happiness and employee satisfaction for continued growth. The article seeks to answer the question of what happens when a company continually mistreats all those who work for it whilst providing a service that people find valuable. For a long time it appeared that Uber was effectively invulnerable to PR problems, but the #DeleteUber campaign and steady stream of whistleblowers from inside the company appear to be catching up with it. There's also something to be said for the fact that Uber in many instances requires the permission of a city or country to be able to operate there, and if it continues to act like a spoilt child then it's less and less likely it will be welcome in new places.

  5. Keeping with the Uber theme, an analysis of why Uber cares so little about its "contractors".

    Uber treats its drivers badly because it doesn't see them as its future. Jeff Holden, its chief product officer, says that it doesn't matter that employees are discontented because "we're going to replace them all with robots". Drivers (2000 of them) overnight in their vehicles because they can't afford to live where they drive. When they're assaulted, they receive no support from Uber. Uber uses behavioural psychology to gamify driving, incentivising drivers to keep working for them even when it's against their best interests. After petrol, some drivers make less than minimum wage. Uber offers drivers a temporary lease on a vehicle at rates that make subprime mortgages look safe. "You're like, I'm a whisper away from being homeless. So you drive, and drive, and drive."

  6. Staying on with labour in the digital economy, but bringing in the old sweatshop chestnut: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/18/foxconn-life-death-forbidden-city-longhua-suicide-apple-iphone-brian-merchant-one-device-extract?CMP=share_btn_tw

    1.3 million people work for Foxconn, the company that manufactures iPhones. That makes them the third largest employer in the world, behind only Walmart and McDonalds. They employ as many people as live in Estonia. In 2010, it made the news when workers at its plant in Longhua, an assembly plant with 450,000 employees, started killing themselves (at a rate that Steve Jobs pointed out was within the national average). 12 hour shifts; managers making unrealistic demands, breaking promises and publicly scolding those who fail to perform. One journalist, Brian Merchant, managed to get an uncurated look inside and what he found corroborated what he was told: "It's not a good place for human beings".

  7. Moving back to a more traditional aspect of the economy, here's an explanation of the military-industrial complex by Vox: why Congress keeps buying the disastrous F-35.

    This is a really nice primer on the way that the military-industrial complex manages to cement itself. The idea is that job creation is used as a means by which it becomes politically palatable to keep investing in expensive military projects. The jobs get spread out across the country, and often between countries, in such a way that there are so many stakeholders who are so widespread that it becomes impossible to cancel a project without massive economic repercussions. This is a nice, granular look at one particular case study (the F-35 plane), but the military-industrial complex has been a major factor in politics and the economy since at least WWII, if not before (definitely before). It's worth having a look at some of the technologies create during the Cold War as an insight into the way that science, technology, the military, industry and politics all linked up (the Space Race is a classic example).

  8. And now for something completely different. German Lopez giving the case for prescription heroin: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/6/12/15301458/canada-prescription-heroin-opioid-addiction

    A long read which describes the effects of a clinic in Vancouver which provides heroin-assisted treatment for addiction. The idea is essentially that some people don't respond well to methadone or buprenorphine (the go-to medication-assisted treatments) and their addiction can be managed with actual heroin instead. Rather than being forced to spend a large amount of money on heroin that could be impure (and is potentially deadly, given the likelihood that it's contaminated with fentanyl or similar which means that you can't accurately gauge the correct dosage), they can receive free heroin from a clinic. This allows them to live their lives rather than be enslaved to the need to find more drugs. They're still addicted, but they're living rather than subsisting.



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