Weekend Reading

Readers! After this reading list, I’ll be taking a brief break while I sort out non-internet tasks in life. I hope to resume the Weekend Reading ritual in a couple of weeks when things die down a bit, but in the meantime the aggregation will be sporadic. That isn’t to say I won’t be recommending readings – I’ll probably continue a toned down suggested reading over on Twitter – so watch that for ways to spend your free time. Without further ado, read these:

Michael Santos says, “The type of clemency for which I am applying is called a commutation of sentence. The commutation petition differs from a pardon in that I am asking President Obama to forgive the remainder of my sentence. I am not asking him to forgive the crime for which I am convicted.” And that would mean a lot for those of us who have been in for multiple decades as a result of the “War on Drugs.” Don’t forgive the crime we committed, but let us come home to our families and let us resume our lives. While campaigning for office, President Obama was critical of the mandatory minimum drug penalties, and talked about second chances. Yet he is on track to be the least forgiving President in US history. He has pardoned just 23 people, including one commuted sentence. His current pace puts him firmly among the most conservative American Presidents to use these powers. So much for second chances.

Both the cosmetic surgery and the cosmeceutical industries (anti-ageing products) are growing, fast. It’s these industries, “along with the fashion houses, the diet companies, the food conglomerates [which own the diet companies], the exercise and fitness industry, and the pharmaceutical and cosmetic surgery industries”, that Orbach is now combating, because, she says, “they combine, perhaps inadvertently, to create a climate in which girls and women come to feel that their bodies are not OK”.

Orbach debated with representatives from the diet industry in parliament to applause from the public gallery – outside women protested with placards saying: “Riot, don’t diet.” Discussing Weight Watchers’ recent £15m TV ad, she suggested it was affordable to them only because their members are locked into lifelong “straitjackets” of unrealistic weight-loss expectations. When I speak to her later, she goes further. “I do think we should be prosecuting the diet industry for false advertising,” she says firmly. If dieting worked, she argues, you’d only have to do it once. There is evidence that diets may in fact contribute to fat storage and that, in giving a sense that food is “dangerous”, create conditions for rebellion, which eventually makes people fatter than they were to start with.

One key reason why Quebec students are having relative success in sustaining this movement despite police aggression is the unique way the strike is organized. When students at Concordia, McGill, and other universities quit their classrooms, the state begins to lose money right away in teacher fees and other institutional costs. Student unions estimate that the total cost of the strike to the provincial government, including policing, has already exceeded the money it hoped to make from tuition hikes. Students, meanwhile, with few disciplinary sanctions for collective action, have almost nothing to lose except their time – the one thing that young people growing up into a world of austerity and unemployment have in abundance.

The combination of political leverage and minimal repercussions means that student strikes in Quebec are far more directly effective than they have been, for example, in Britain, where students at University College London were threatened with tens of thousands of pounds in damage claims merely for occupying a small set of rooms on campus. The University of California system has used the same tactic of punitive fines against anti-hike activists. In previous years, students in Montreal and around the province have won fee freezes and reversals to planned cuts in bursary schemes. Not earth-shattering social revolutions, perhaps, but enough to demonstrate to the state that the supposed future middle-class workforce is still a constituency to be reckoned with. “To understand the strikes in 2012, you have to understand the strike in 2005,” says Mehdi, who has been active in Quebec student politics for almost a decade. Nothing could have prepared her, however, for the scale and duration of this strike, or for the ferocity of the police response.

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