Tahrir Square and England’s Pompeii: The Week in Global-Affairs Writing

It’s getting sweeter in the South—and at one university in particular.

In recent years the rising cost of student debt has given birth to an odd phenomenon: a population of ostensibly generous older men who appear poised to solve the higher-education crisis, one student at a time. Once a relatively underground subculture, this benevolent group of men is coming to the rescue across the country, essentially volunteering to subsidize the students’ tuition costs. But that description could be, shall I say, sugarcoating it.

Yes, these men are ponying up their money—plus more—for financially struggling students. However, it’s not free money, and it’s not all students. In other words, these benefactors typically expect some compensation from their beneficiaries—students who generally tend to be women willing to accept the help from the men in exchange for providing some tender loving care. And, at least, flaunting their good looks.

“Sugar daddies”—the official moniker granted to these wealthy men—and the microcosm they occupy aren’t anything new, but they’ve become more mainstream in recent years. That they’ve emerged as a noteworthy group during America’s student-debt crisis is indicative of their growing prevalence—as well as that of “sugar babies,” the ones entrenched in that crisis. And the subculture—”daddies” and “babies” alike—appears to be expanding rapidly. 2014 saw a huge spike in sugar babies nationwide, especially in the southern states, according to new data from SeekingArrangement, a site where “babies” and “daddies” sign up and connect. The trend itself, let alone writing about it, might seem frivolous or demeaning. But the data could clarify what’s going wrong with the system and where those problems lie.

The latest figures on student-loan debt—now an average of $28,400 per person—are frightening. This number has steadily risen over the past few years, and, worse yet, it’s likely much higher than estimated considering only 57 percent of public and private nonprofit colleges volunteered to report their statistics this past year. Moreover, these debt figures exclude for-profit colleges, which are notorious for their especially high student debt-default rates.

What might have been little more than a nuisance in the past has turned into an outright hindrance to many students’ financial security: It takes about 14 years on average to pay off the debt. As a result, young women across the country are turning to sugar daddies in droves. Many of them use SeekingArrangement, which describes itself as “the world’s largest Sugar Daddy dating site.” More than 1.4 million students have signed up as members, including nearly 1 million in the U.S., according to the company. The website claims that 42 percent of its members are students, many of whom are incentivized by SeekingArrangement to join; people who sign up with a .edu email address or show proof of enrollment, for example, receive “premium memberships” for free.

The whole thing may seem shady, but in its defense SeekingArrangement has strict rules prohibiting the exchange of money on its site. It also apparently has an in-house team that does background checks on members. Understandably, the company is mired in controversy. One New York Post contributor even accused the sugar-baby industry of trying to justify prostitution, one of the many claims to which SeekingArrangement eventually responded with a disclaimer. Last year, the company set up a FAQ-esque page, “a refresher course in the definitions of Sugar” that aimed to delineate the so-called differences between sugar baby-ing and prostitution.

But for many, that’s all old news. Now, the latest data reveals not only that the phenomenon is spreading, but also that it’s gaining traction in certain areas much more than in others.

The University of Texas at Austin, in particular, saw a massive growth in sign-ups between 2013 and 2014. With a 227 percent increase the growth far outpaced all other schools in the country when it came to the sugar phenomenon, according to SeekingArrangement. In fact, according to the company, last year was the first time several Texas schools even appeared on the list. (Four schools in the Lone Star State made the most recent top-50 list). So while sheer sugar-baby numbers are important, growth rates are telling, too. Here are the top-five schools in terms of growth in sign-ups between 2013 and 2014:

Cecil Rhodes, Colossus of Africa, Will Stay Up in Oxford


Eddie Keogh / Reuters

After months of debate, Oxford University has decided a statue of Cecil Rhodes will remain in place at Oriel College. In a statement, the college affirmed that the statute will still stand, but said “the College will seek to provide a clear historical context to explain why it is there.”

Rhodes, one of the most prominent British imperialists of the 19th century, founded the nation of Rhodesia—now Zimbabwe and Zambia—as well as the de Beers diamond company, and was  prime minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896. He spoke about the supremacy of Anglo-Saxons and, as prime minister, restricted black rights. When Rhodes, an Oriel College alumnus, died in 1902, he bequeathed a portion of his estate to Oxford for the creation of the Rhodes Scholarship for international students.

“By adding context, we can help draw attention to this history, do justice to the complexity of the debate, and be true to our educational mission,” Oriel said in its statement.

The announcement is a defeat for the student movement Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford, a movement that seeks to “decolonise the institutional structures and physical space in Oxford and beyond.” The group argues that Rhodes made the fortune that funds the eponymous scholarship by exploiting black Africans. The students drew inspiration from others at the University of Cape Town who managed to get a statue of Rhodes removed from their campus last year.

Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford rejected Oriel College’s decision. “This recent move is outrageous, dishonest, and cynical. This is not over. We will be redoubling our efforts,” the group said in a post on its Facebook page.

The Daily Telegraph reported that leaked documents show wealthy alumni were upset that Oriel was considering removing the statue, and were threatening to cancel donations, which may have played a role in the decision. The college itself says the majority of the feedback they’ve received since opening debate in December “has been in support of the statue remaining in place, for a variety of reasons.”

Oxford Vice Chancellor Louise Richardson has argued that the statue is a distraction, but that Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford has contributed by sparking a discussion about speech on campus. One major issue in this debate is the experience and representation of minority students at Oxford. In its statement, Oriel College took pains to acknowledge that leaders are aware of these cultural problems and are “taking substantive steps to address them.” But for many students, the symbolism of the statue matters too.

Fighting the Zika Virus

The World Health Organization and other national health agencies are warning that the current Zika virus outbreak is likely to spread throughout nearly all the Americas. Alerts are being issued warning of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, carrier of the Zika virus which might cause microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition that causes the immune system to attack one’s own nerves. Last year, there was a sharp increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly, in parts of Brazil affected by the Zika virus (2,700 newborns affected in 2015, compared to fewer than 150 in 2014.) The condition results in an abnormally small head in newborns and is associated with various disorders including decreased brain development. Zika has now spread to every country in the Americas, except Chile and Canada—with at least a dozen cases in the United States confirmed by the CDC. While research is being done to verify the link between Zika and microcephaly, authorities in several countries have advised couples to avoid pregnancy for the time being.

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Who’s Covering Up the Italian Statue Cover-Up?

Offense, annoyance, and accusations of “cultural submission” rippled across Italy after naked Roman statues were covered up during a state visit to the Capitoline Museums by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

“Plywood boxes and panels were placed around the objects to obscure them from the Iranian president’s vision, or at least in photo-ops,” Ishaan Tharoor reported Tuesday. “Rome’s nude statues covered to spare Rouhani’s blushes,” read one headline chronicling the incident.

The backlash gathered on social media where many Italians used the hashtag #statuenude to tweet pictures of, well, nude statues in protest. One representative remark: “When in , do as the do.” The incident inspired both satire and screed outside of Italy as well.

Labeling the episode “Italy’s shambolic appeasement of Islamism,” Nervana Mahmoud posed a rhetorical question: “Should a sovereign non-Muslim nation sacrifice its historical legacy to please foreign dignitaries?”

The answer is simply no. There should be a line of demarcation between hospitality and cultural appeasement. It is alarming that the Italian PM fails to understand the difference, and how his seemingly benign gesture has more troubling implications. Does the Italian PM understand that his gesture will be interpreted in Iran and among other Islamist groups as the West bowing down to them and their beliefs? How can Italy or other Western nations expect Iran to be a partner against ISIS, while Iran shares a basic common value with ISIS—the rejection of art and Western values?

Others yet pointed out that nude statues had similarly been covered up in Italy before without inspiring controversy or comment.

One day after the flap, an even bigger question remains: Who is covering up the cover-up? Both Iranian and Italian officials deny having requested the move for modesty.

“I think there easily would have been other ways to not offend an important foreign guest without this incomprehensible choice of covering up the statues,” Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini told reporters, adding that neither he nor Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had anything to do with it.

One politician for Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party claims that the Capitoline superintendents covered the statues at the request of the prime minister. According to reports, an inquiry was subsequently ordered by the general secretary of Renzi’s office.

Rouhani also said he didn’t make the request, although he did express some appreciation to his hosts. “I know that Italians are a very hospitable people, a people who try to do the most to put their guests at ease, and I thank you for this,” he said.

Rouhani then departed for France, where a high-level dinner between French and Iranian officials was canceled in November after Iran reportedly demanded that wine not be served.

India Celebrates Republic Day

Today, India held its 67th Republic Day celebration, honoring the day in 1950, when it adopted its current constitution. French President Francois Hollande was among the guests of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited to view the spectacle of the parade held in New Delhi, filled with marching bands, floats, camels, military hardware, and stunt performers.

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