Latest reviews

4 stars
Take an imaginary trip to the jungle as you enjoy a sweet snack!

This review first appeared here - https://pegdad.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/coconut-ash-banana-bar/

Downtown Houston holds a large liquor store. It sells more than liquor, though. It sells fine foods like deli-meat, artisan-cheese and gourmet-candies.

One rainy Memorial Day, I went there with my family. My mother-in-law shopped for bourbon; my wife shopped for red wine; I shopped for dark chocolate.

I found a bar, made by a chocolatier called Vosges Haut Chocolat. They called this bar the Coconut Ash & Banana Super Dark™ Chocolate Bar. What’s in it? Besides 72% dark chocolate, it has coconut, charcoal coconut ash, and banana (Coconut Ash & Banana Super Dark™ Chocolate Bar). I grabbed it; I bought it. I had to try it.

When I got home, I sat down on the couch to enjoy my new adventure in chocolate. I started to unfold the wrapper. But then, I saw something on the wrapper. the chocolatier printed a list of steps to follow when you eat the chocolate bar:

SMELL. Rub your thumb on the chocolate to help release the aromas. Inhale the chocolate and ingredient notes deeply through your nose…

SNAP. …Break the bar into two pieces. Hear a crisp, ringing snap, which indicates a well-tempered bar of chocolate.

TASTE. Place the chocolate on your tongue and press it to the roof of your mouth. Within thirty seconds, the chocolate should slowly begin to melt around your tongue… (How to eat chocolate at Vosges:The Art of Eating Chocolate)

Fascinating.

So I followed my directions. I rubbed the bar with my thumb; I smelled it. The sweet smell turned my blank stare into a smile.

Then, I broke off a piece from the bar; I put it in my mouth; I pressed it up with my tongue. As it melted, the flavors came out. First came the chocolate, strong and dark. Then, the banana pieces made it lighter and sweeter. Then, along came the coconut: it added some more sweetness and gave the chocolate some crunch. The mix of coconut and banana made me feel like an ape in the jungle.

All the flavors in the bar worked together to create something wonderful. This bar brought pleasure to three of the five senses: smell, taste and touch. I tried this bar with the goal of having a nice snack. Instead, I got more; I got a delightful experience.

In other words, this is good chocolate. You should try it, if you get a chance.

Sources

Coconut Ash & Banana Super Dark™ Chocolate Bar (n.d.) Retrieved on Jun 29, 2017, from https://www.vosgeschocolate.com/product/coconut-ash-banana-bar

How to eat chocolate at Vosges:The Art of Eating Chocolate (n.d.) Retreived on Jun 29, 2017, from http://www.vosgeschocolate.com/how_to_eat_chocolate


4 stars
A short but poignant morality tale

Gwendy’s Button Box is the result of a collaboration between Stephen King and anthology editor/publisher Richard Chizmar. It’s a short novella about a young, awkward girl named Gwendy (shocking, I know) who is given an odd device by a stranger. It turns out that the “button box” has great potential for evil, but it can also change her life for the better. Will she be a responsible custodian?

At one point, Gwendy quizzes her teacher and class about what to do, using a not-so-subtle political analogy. The story invites us to reflect on the responsibilities of power — perhaps, knowing King’s liberal politics, it was prompted by the recent occupation of the White House by a bumbling demagogue.

It’s a good story that stays with you and that suffers only from being a bit too cartoonish in parts. You’ll probably devour this in one or two sittings, so you might want to go for the cheap Kindle edition (7 US$ as of this writing).


4 stars
A rich tapestry of dreams, including some nightmares

number9dream, published in 2001, is David Mitchell’s second novel. Unlike Cloud Atlas, the famous book/movie that followed it, this story stays focused on a single protagonist, Eiji Miyake. Eiji is a young man from a small island, searching for a father he has never met in Tokyo’s vast urban jungle. In the process, he loses himself in his own fantasies, gets caught up in a Yakuza gang war, falls in love, and has to figure out what exactly he’s hoping to get out of his quest.

We don’t always know for sure what is real and what is imagined, a point driven home by a departure into writings Eiji discovers during his quest: the anthropomorphic animal stories of a woman at whose house he is staying; an old World War II journal of a relative. And it’s of course no coincidence that we encounter a character from Mitchell’s first novel, the Mongolian hit man Subhataar, who plays a dangerous game with the Yakuza.

The novel as a whole succeeds in conveying the dreamlike quality that its title (inspired by John Lennon’s “#9 Dream”) promises; its strength is in its power to transport and surprise the reader, its weakness in the flatness of its characters and the limited payoff of its story arc. If you’re new to Mitchell’s work, I wouldn’t recommend reading this one first (I’d suggest starting with Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green instead). And a fair warning—while this isn’t a horror story, there are some violent scenes that may induce nightmares.


4 stars
Fun teasers for scientific papers, with special emphasis on computer science

Two Minute Papers is a YouTube channel that delivers what the name promises: short summaries (sometimes a bit above two minutes in length) of scientific papers, presented by Károly Zsolnai-Fehér, a young computer graphics researcher from Vienna. Given his own field of expertise, many of the featured papers are about graphics and neural networks: the simulation of realistic interaction between liquid and hair; the generation of images from sentences using a neural network; the beautification of selfies.

This has the advantage that the videos can often feature stunning animations and images from the papers that are summarized. The videos are lovingly put together, and Károly’s excitement is infectious (if occasionally a bit disproportionate). He stays away from the details and generally focuses on the practical application and the high-level challenges the researchers attempted to overcome, while giving links to any available open source code or data. There’s also a subreddit for additional links and discussion.

Like many YouTube channels, the project solicits public support via Patreon. With already more than 50,000 subscribers, the project will hopefully be able to raise enough funds to stay alive. It’s a beautiful idea, and it would be lovely to see the approach expanded to other topics. As it is, I recommend subscribing if you’re interested in graphics, machine learning, 3D printing, and similar topics.


4 stars
A pioneer in the emerging domain of constructive journalism

Natural selection has equipped our species with brains that pay special attention to negative events. We monitor the world for threats to our well-being, and we enforce in-group social norms by ostracizing those who violate them.

Our modern media ecosystem kicks these reasonable sensitivities into overdrive and produces pathological feedback loops. A celebrity’s stupid offhand remark in an interview may trigger a multi-day cycle of outrage; a terrorist’s violent act may dominate collective attention for weeks.

This is not without consequences. We become vulnerable to manipulation and demagogy. We become polarized. We become depressed. Negativity spreads on its own. It is positive, constructive engagement with the world that takes effort.

Positive News wants to help. A public benefit co-operative based in London, owned by authors and readers, it’s both a print magazine and a website dedicated to what it terms “constructive journalism”. This isn’t about images of puppies (not that there’s anything wrong with those) or about seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. Instead, Positive News focuses on stories that show how difficult problems can be solved or at least chipped away at.

Positive News magazine spread
The magazine is beautifully designed, with appealing typography and layout, and large format photographs and illustrations

Background

Positive News has been around for a while. It was started as a quarterly newspaper in 1993 but was relaunched as a magazine by editor-in-chief Seán Dagan Wood in 2015. The crowdfunding campaign for the co-op raised £263K (about $340K). The co-ownership model is becoming increasingly popular in the UK — nonprofit magazine New Internationalist launched a similar campaign earlier this year and raised £704K.

As part of its crowdfunding campaign, Positive News published a business plan, which includes long-term revenue goals. I was not able to find public information about revenue and spending beyond the plan, and have not received a response to an email inquiry. That said, the numbers here are still too small to worry about excessive compensation or bloat.

With a small budget, the site has managed to build a sizable social media presence, especially on Facebook, where it has more than 250K followers. Several multi-million dollar nonprofit journalism organizations we’ve reviewed do not come close to those numbers.

Revenue Model

Positive News is largely funded by print subscriptions. Subscribers get access to a digital version, but it’s impossible to directly buy individual issues of the magazine in digital form. The “Own the Media” campaign website is still up, but no community shares are currently up for sale.

There are no ads on the site, but there is a page dedicated to “brands of inspiration” — essentially a selective approach to sponsorship. Occasionally, staff writers write longer articles about these brands (which disclose the sponsorship).

That approach isn’t without risks — would Positive News report fairly about a competitor that doesn’t want to be a sponsor? Would it include legitimate criticisms? Do readers fully understand the sponsorship relationship? While all the featured businesses tend to be in the green/organic/pro-social category, the criteria for becoming a partner are not public.

I don’t want to overstate the issue. Positive News is not in the business of writing exposés about corporate abuses, so it is unlikely the sponsorship will clash with investigative work. And in any case, only two such sponsored “advertorials” can be found on the website so far. Still, a more transparent process for selecting partner brands would be welcome.

Positive News website screenshot
Like the magazine, the website design puts photographs and illustrations front and center — perhaps a bit at the detriment of readability for shorter articles

Design and Content

The website publishes feature-length articles and short newswire pieces, categorized into sections such as “lifestyle” or “economics”. Just like the printed magazine, the site is very visual, placing significant emphasis on design, typography and large lead images.

The site uses Disqus for comments. Activity is low (most conversations happen on the site’s Facebook feed) but there is little trolling or negativity in the comment section.

Although the organization is based in the UK, much of its reporting is international in nature (some is syndicated from other sources, including NGOs). The articles tackle tough subjects: climate change, terrorism, racism, and so on. But they focus on people working on solutions (“on patrol with an all-women anti-poaching unit”; “5 grassroots responses to terror attacks”) rather than on simply pointing out the gravity of problems.

For the most part, this isn’t about replacing bad news with good news — it’s about restoring a sense of agency. I found the reporting reasonably dispassionate, but it typically only scratches the surface and is not evaluative in nature (“does this work?”).

Site content is under conventional copyright.

The Verdict

I recommend adding Positive News to your media diet: 4 out of 5 stars. I am swayed by the argument that constructive journalism is psychologically valuable, and it undeniably brings attention to important causes. It also may inspire readers to replicate good ideas.

The organization behind the site would benefit from greater transparency about its revenue model and its plans for the future, especially if it intends to further pursue sponsorships and advertorials which may compromise real or perceived impartiality.

The site’s large social media reach demonstrates that there is a growing hunger for this type of journalism. Other media ventures would do well to consider how they can provide similar value to their audiences, e.g., by doing more feature reporting on solutions as opposed to problems.


4 stars
A dark and funny tale about race and class

Get Out by Jordan Peele (of Key & Peele fame) is not a masterpiece. It misses that high bar because its canvas is too small, the plot at times a bit too predictable, and the acting too ordinary. But it is a dark and entertaining little story about race and class that stays with you, and that you won’t regret watching.

The premise is simple enough: black photographer Chris Washington gets to meet the well-off parents of his white girlfriend Rose. As what started as a “meet the parents” trip is subsumed into a larger annual family get-together, small sinister goings-on develop into full-on horror.

Yes, this is a horror movie that quickly picks up pace, but its dark humor and social commentary are always so close at hand that the horror that gets under your skin is mostly of a different nature than, say, the creepy twins in The Shining. This is a movie about the role of black people in the United States, about slavery, about upper/middle-class anxieties. But it manages to speak to those topics without being preachy and depressing.

This is a fine directorial debut for Peele, who has assembled a solid cast to tell his tale. Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams do well enough in the lead roles, though I felt there was a bit of depth missing in their performances. LiRel Howery knocks his “comic relief sidekick” role out of the park (I laughed out loud several times), and Catherine Keener is excellent as the “friendly but actually super-creepy” matriarch.

Recommended without major reservations. I look forward to Peele’s future directorial efforts.


4 stars
A smart nonprofit newsroom focused exclusively on gun violence

These facts are not in dispute: the gun homicide rate of the United States is 25 times higher than that of other high-income countries. Last year, more than 15,000 people died from gun injuries, excluding suicides. Chicago’s number of gun victims since 2001 has exceeded US troop deaths in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s a system of violence sustained by a large industry. Guns and ammunition stores had revenue of about $9B in the last year, and the National Rifle Association, a nonprofit with 5M members that opposes gun control, had $348M in revenue in 2013.

Everytown and The Trace

National groups promoting gun control have long paled in comparison with the NRA. Former New York mayor and 10th richest person on Earth, Michael Bloomberg, is working to change that. To this end, he funded the advocacy group Everytown. Its action fund reported $39.5M in revenue in 2015; much of it comes directly from Bloomberg.

Beyond its lobbying and activism, Everytown has seeded a new nonprofit newsroom, The Trace, to engage in specialized reporting on gun violence.

I was not able to find a tax return for The Trace (the organization did not respond to email inquiries), suggesting it probably hasn’t filed one yet. The “About us” page credits the Kendeda Fund and the Joyce Foundation as funders in addition to Everytown; Huffington Post co-founder Ken Lerer and liberal venture capitalist Nick Hanauer are listed as individual supporters.

The Trace does not define itself as partisan or nonpartisan; it states that it simply seeks to carry out public interest journalism to shed light on the problem of gun violence. It has partnered with many other publications to achieve this goal, including The Atlantic, TIME, and the Guardian.

Content Example: Murder Inequality

The article about “murder inequality” is a good example of evidence-based journalism. Its premise is that looking at city-level crime statistics is misleading because the disparities between neighborhoods (both in crime and poverty) can be dramatic.

This is consistent with increasing evidence that the economic barriers in American society are almost impenetrable. If this article has an agenda beyond broadening the evidence base of public discourse, it’s impossible to discern what it might be — it simply cites the available data in an easy to understand form (kudos for the use of interactive embedded charts with source code).

The Trace graphic on murder inequality
The article on “murder inequality” includes an elegant, interactive visualization that makes the large disparities between Chicago neighborhoods apparent.

Content Example: Killing of an 89 Pound Boy

“The Reasonable Killing of an 89-Pound Boy” is an in-depth look at the case of Martinez Smith-Payne, a 13-year-old kid from St. Louis, MO shot dead for rummaging through someone’s car looking for change. The article places the killing in the context of Missouri’s “Stand Your Ground” laws. These laws offer legal protection for the use of deadly force in defending one’s life or property, with hotly debated consequences on crime rates.

The article is a solid piece of journalism which largely refrains from value judgments (other than the implicit value judgment that “killing children for stealing change is bad”). Together with more data-centered articles, it contributes usefully to the discussion about “Stand your Ground” laws by way of a particularly horrifying case study.

Content Example: NRA and Immigration

This article from the category “Gun Lobby” tackles Donald J. Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric and actions, and the NRA’s record of siding with far right anti-immigrant positions.

Though not labeled commentary, the article is much more explicit in its value judgments. It explicitly accuses NRA executive Wayne LaPierre of “inflaming fears” and uses phrases such as “So much to be afraid out of there. If only there were a wall!”

While I strongly agree with its sentiments, it would be fair to describe it as advocacy journalism grounded in liberal values.

Design, Licensing

The Trace is powered by WordPress. It uses a slick theme that’s easy on the eyes and straightforward to navigate. The design shop behind the site, Upstatement, published a “making of” that gives some insights into the process.

As one would expect from a WordPress site, it works well on mobile devices and without JavaScript. Content is categorized into areas such as “Gun Policy”, “Data”, “Politics”; commentary is in its own category.

There is no “Terms of Use” page, so by default, content is under conventional copyright.

Note that the main site’s RSS/Atom feed is not advertised and can be found here: https://www.thetrace.org/feed/

The Verdict

The journalists at The Trace do an admirable job providing news and data to anyone concerned about the problem of gun violence, whether because they’re personally affected, or otherwise moved to care and do something about it. I recommend following the site if you fall into either category, and it is part of our Twitter list of quality nonprofit media.

Responsible gun owners who support more consistent gun control and safety measures should find the site generally to be fair in its coverage, but may take umbrage at the occasional slip into value judgments they disagree with.

There are two minor criticisms. First, The Trace would benefit from the standard bits of nonprofit transparency: continuous reporting about organizational impact, more financial details, and so on.

Second, the site seems to not be quite clear yet who its target audience is — some articles lack a clear “through line”, others stray a bit into commentary or advocacy without being labeled as such. Explicitly adopting a journalistic code of ethics (example: ProPublica) could help to establish a more consistent standard for readers and writers alike.

The intelligence and passion of the site’s editorial team are evident, and there’s every reason to believe it will play an increasingly important role informing the debate about guns and violence. 4 out of 5 stars.


4 stars
A weekly dose of brain candy

You may never have heard of the Wellcome Trust, but with a £20.9B ($26.7B) endowment, it is one of the largest philanthropies and the largest non-government funder of health research in the world. Established in 1936 after the death of American British pharma magnate Henry Wellcome, it has retooled itself into a modern science funder and promoter of open access to scientific research.

Beyond direct funding for research, Wellcome also supports science communication projects, and Mosaic is an in-house effort launched in 2014 to publish “compelling stories that explore the science of life.”

The model is simple: every week, Mosaic publishes a long-form story or other journalistic work. Some examples:

  • a look at kangaroo care, a child care concept for pre-term babies pioneered in Colombia,

  • an investigation of the work of Robert G. Heath and his almost forgotten research. Heath implanted electrodes in human brains and gave them the ability to self-stimulate their pleasure center. He also attempted to “cure” homosexuals.

  • an overview of the current state of thinking about animal intelligence.

These articles are written for a general audience. They would be right at home in, say, the New Yorker, but might be a bit too light on details for Scientific American. Illustrations are often artistic rather than technical. There is some podcast and video content as well.

Occasionally, Mosaic experiments with data journalism. A good example is the Global Health Check, which is a nice way to explore how health indicators have changed since the year of one’s birth.

Other Aspects

Mosaic screenshot
The site design is entirely inoffensive, and some of the illustrations are quite beautiful.

Given the financial position of its parent organization, you won’t find any ads or donate buttons on the site. You also won’t find a lot of information about Mosaic’s organizational internals (though there are mountains of documents about Wellcome itself).

The site design is unremarkable and easy to navigate. It works well on mobile devices and without JavaScript.

Mosaic is described as editorially independent, and its reporting goes beyond projects Wellcome funds. I did find disclosure statements where appropriate. It’s also nice to see that every person involved with a story is credited at the bottom of each story (author, editor, copyeditor, fact checker, art director, illustrator, etc.), a practice I’d encourage other media to emulate.

Consistent with Wellcome’s open access policy, Mosaic content is under the Creative Commons Attribution License, allowing anyone to re-use it for any purpose provided credit is given.

The Verdict

If you’re at all interested in life science, I can’t think of any reason not to follow Mosaic’s work. It’s fairly easy to decide whether the weekly story is something you care about, and if it is, the journalism is generally of very high quality and a pleasure to read.

The focus of Mosaic is on the process of scientific exploration, on the scientists and caregivers, and on the lives impacted by their work. There’s room for improvement in how more technical aspects and key takeaways are conveyed. Call-outs or sidebars summarizing key concepts of an article might help readers who are short on time, or who just want a bit more than a teaser before deciding to spend 30-60 minutes on a story.

You can follow Mosaic on social media (Twitter, Facebook) to get updates and reposts, or you can subscribe via email to get only the new stuff. They’re also part of our Twitter list of quality nonprofit media. The rating is 4 out of 5 stars: recommended.


2 stars
A raw group blog for the antiwar left

If you’ve been online since the late 90s, you probably have known about CounterPunch for a while. After 9/11, it became one of the primary sources for non-mainstream information about US foreign policy, while usually staying clear of the most absurd conspiracy theories.

The project was started as a print newsletter by Ken Silverstein in December 1993 (1993-2011 archives). A one-year subscription to 6 issues of the 36-page newsletter currently clocks in at $50 for US residents. Website content is unrestricted and ad-free.

I would situate the politics of CounterPunch on the antiwar far left (think Ralph Nader/Jill Stein), with some curious contradictions. For example, co-founding editor Alexander Cockburn (deceased in 2012) did not believe in climate change and opposed gun control.

The nonprofit organization behind the site (incorporated as the “Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity” in California) is as small as you might expect; it reported revenue of $427K in 2015, and did not report any employee compensation, suggesting a shoestring operation.

Unsurprisingly for a tiny org, there’s not much in the way of organizational transparency on the CounterPunch website: no reports, no financial statements, no link to the tax returns.

Content

CounterPunch primarily publishes analysis and opinion rather than original news reporting. Its writers include journalists and authors, activists and academics. It publishes a lot of material – the current “weekend edition” contains 45 articles, some exclusively published on CounterPunch, others cross-posted elsewhere.

The site doesn’t make much of an effort to organize this flood of information. The latest headlines are listed in the sidebar, and excerpts from selected articles in the middle column. The reader has to navigate opaque headlines like “We Aren’t Even Trying”, often without any additional context other than the author’s name.

Editing is hit-or-miss, and citations are few and far between. The website is more of a group blog than a journalistic enterprise, and to get value out of it, readers need to become familiar with the authors whose judgment they trust.

The site covers international politics with special focus on US domestic and foreign policy. There’s no meaningful distinction between types of content (e.g., news vs. opinion), and it’s not unusual for posts to adopt disparaging monikers like “Killary” (for Hillary Clinton), or to ascribe malevolence to political actors. Example:

“And certainly Sanders’s Iraq vote suggests he is not as reckless or bloodthirsty as Killary, but that is setting the bar somewhere beneath the belly of a viper.”

The tone is set at the top – editor Jeffrey St. Clair, too, uses monikers like “MSDNC” (for MSNBC) or “Hillaroids” (for Hillary Clinton supporters).

Positioning, Bias

The underlying perspective shared by many CounterPunch writers is that the leading political forces in the US are equally bad. Individuals like Julian Assange who express viewpoints opposing the US are uncritically celebrated. Here are a few headlines about Assange (who has also published on the site):

This hyperpartisan cheerleadership facilitates the spread of misinformation. For example, CounterPunch also published “Droning Assange: the Clinton Formula”, which was based on a story by True Pundit, a fake news site in the narrowest sense of the term (the made-up claim was uncritically repeated by site editor Jeffrey St. Clair).

It also ignores the many criticisms that have been raised about Wikileaks, which turned itself into a propaganda machine for the alt-right in the 2016 election cycle, up to and including proliferation of complete nonsense such as the infamous “Spirit Cooking” tweet.

Generally, CounterPunch publishes material consistent with a specific narrative: the US is the world’s dominant superpower, and therefore global issues can usually be traced to American action and inaction; in contrast, claims about misbehavior by countries not aligned with the US should be regarded with extreme skepticism. This view can perhaps be best summed up with this image shared via the site’s Twitter account:

img
How CounterPunch views the world. Source

Consistent with that idea, CounterPunch is receptive to apologia for dictators the US doesn’t like – it has published numerous stories defending Venezuela’s increasingly brutal and corrupt regime, for example. In extreme cases like the Syria conflict, it has published bizarre pro-Russian propaganda pieces such as William Blum’s oeuvre. In one recent article titled “The United States and the Russian Devil: 1917-2017”, Blum writes:

The same Western media has routinely charged Putin with murdering journalists but doesn’t remind its audience of the American record in this regard. The American military, in the course of its wars in recent decades, has been responsible for the deliberate deaths of many journalists. In Iraq, for example, there’s the Wikileaks 2007 video, exposed by Chelsea Manning, of the cold-blooded murder of two Reuters journalists; the 2003 US air-to-surface missile attack on the offices of Al Jazeera in Baghdad that left three journalists dead and four wounded; and the American firing on Baghdad’s Hotel Palestine, a known journalist residence, the same year that killed two foreign news cameramen.

There is in fact no evidence that journalists were specifically targeted (“deliberate deaths”) in the incident exposed by Wikileaks or the firing on the hotel. A much stronger case can be made that the attack on Al Jazeera was deliberate, and indeed US right-wing media agitated in favor of such attacks at the time, labeling Al Jazeera “enemy media”. If intentional, this certainly was an immoral and illegal attack.

A fair comparison would look at Russia’s own record in wartime and in peacetime, including the staggering list of journalists murdered within Russia. But a fair comparison is clearly not what Blum is aiming for.

In an aside, Blum credits Donald Trump for “not [being] politically correct when it came to fighting the Islamic State.” This is the same Trump who campaigned on the promise of murdering terrorists’ families. As for Russia’s own imperialist ambitions? Here’s Blum’s pro-Putin take:

Lastly, after the United States overthrew the Ukrainian government in 2014, Putin was obliged to intervene on behalf of threatened ethnic Russians in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. That, in turn, was transformed by the Western media into a “Russian invasion”.

In this view of the world, actions by actors the US dislikes are almost always defensible when viewed in light of alleged American behavior. That is not to say that the antiwar perspective isn’t useful – of course it is. But many of the writers CounterPunch publishes tend towards dogma, disinformation and rhetoric more than rigorous analysis, which makes the site, at best, a mixed bag.

At its worst, it enables demagogues. For example, CounterPunch routinely publishes Israel Shamir’s writings (including an execrable defense of Pol Pot). On his own website, Shamir has published an essay about Holocaust denier David Irving (emphasis original):

Technically, David Irving was sentenced for so-called “holocaust denial”. But the concept of Jewish holocaust being the only enforced dogma of supposedly secular Europe has little to do with the Second World War and its atrocities.

(…)

They say that even their death is not like the death of anybody else. We must deny the concept of Holocaust without doubt and hesitation, even if every story of Holocaust down to the most fantastic invention of Wiesel were absolutely true.

(…)

European history went full circle: from rejecting the rule of Church and embracing free thought, to the new Jewish mind-control on a world scale.

There’s not much to say here – no defense of this anti-Semitic rubbish is possible. Yet, CounterPunch has published more than 50 posts by the person who wrote these words.

Other Aspects

As noted, the website design overall is minimal and doesn’t aid discovery. Articles are usually just text; image embeds are often low-resolution, and other types of embeds (charts, interactive maps, etc.) are nowhere to be found.

The site works reasonably well on mobile devices. It refers to its Facebook presence for discussions, which is not a bad move – however imperfect, Facebook’s ranking algorithms at least mean that some of the better comments will come out.

CounterPunch content is under conventional copyright.

The Verdict

If you are looking for sources that help you understand what is going on in the world, I cannot recommend CounterPunch. Reading it may be cathartic if you share the specific views evinced by many of its writers, but the occasional bit of well-researched reporting is drowned out by one-sided commentary and analysis.

The site’s willingness to offer a platform to writers like Shamir suggests either very sloppy oversight or, worse, sympathies for anti-Semitic views. Either way, it makes the site less useful as a source to be cited and shared.

Evidence like the proliferation of the “Drone this Guy” story shows that even obviously made-up nonsense will not be weeded out reliably. Caveat lector applies – if you do rely on CounterPunch material, track down sources and verify that they really say what the author claims.

This is obviously not a criticism of every writer who publishes on CounterPunch. The site has been around for a long time and has attracted many widely respected left-wing and antiwar intellectuals. Project Censored, which does good work highlighting stories underreported in major media, has recommended a few CounterPunch pieces over the years.

However, since the 90s, many much more interesting alternatives have emerged, for example:

  • Common Dreams and Truth Out publish many writers from the antiwar left, but are more carefully edited and curated;
  • The Intercept and New Internationalist provide in-depth original reporting on international war and social justice issues;
  • Jacobin publishes explicitly socialist perspectives on current and historical events, while being usually reliably in opposition to all forms of authoritarianism.

2 out of 5 stars, with points off for poor editing, sensationalism, misinformation, and distortion through extreme one-sidedness.


1 star
Evite  pt

É difícil achar algo de positivo aqui, mas pelo menos a equipe do hotel foi gentil. O hotel em si é bem fajuto, o café da manhã é fraquíssimo (com direito a pão velho e Tang de laranja, única opção de suco), as paredes estäo descascando, só tem uma tomada que funciona no quarto, o banheiro tem teia de aranha, a decoração, quando existe, é cafona… Enfim, nada se salva aqui.

Evite.

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