#433rds: 4/15/14

This is part of a month-ish-long blog/Instagram project. For more, go here.

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Do.

I am about 3/4ths finished with my workload, but about 47/50ths done with the school year, which means it’s time I just buckle down and do it. Just do. Every tangent must be fought off. Every divergence taken out. Every source footnoted and image captioned. Everything that needs doing needs to be done.

Finding a place to be productive can be a challenge in and of itself. I’ve had productive afternoons in the graduate student common room. There are cozy booths to settle into, and stained glass figures mundane and exotic. The clang of metal appliances and the aroma of coffee from the little café that sits in the middle of the room. And the most ornate ceiling I’ve seen on a campus filled with details. It’s a place to admire, but it’s also a place to do work. Do.

Curiously, it’s not always a place one can go to do work. It closes prematurely in the late evening, even early evening on weekends and during school breaks. While college students here enjoy the pleasures of residential college common rooms and libraries that are open all day, all year, the graduate students are left with beautiful common room with a closing time. All we want is a cove to call our own. A place to do work whenever we want to. We’ve fought for student space before, the struggle has seemed endless, but the end may be near. Cost estimates are coming in, resolutions have been passed, reports published. All that’s left is to take the keys out and leave the door open so we can just do our thing.

Weekend Reading

Weekend reading marches on:

#433rds: 4/10/14

This is part of a month-ish-long blog/Instagram project. For more, go here.

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I was sitting on the 3:50 train into New York City yesterday, curled up in my window seat, reading a book for class, jotting down some notes. A group of Yankees fans were lit, openly pregaming in the aisle, and the two undergrad/high school boys in front of me alternated between talking about sex and girlfriends vs. the music they were listening to. It was otherwise quiet.

Somewhere in western Connecticut, the train slowed, the electricity flickered, and only the lights by the doors stayed lit. The Yankees fans exchanged tipsy jokes about being stuck on the train, the youths talked about Brand New. The conductor announced that the pantographs weren’t connecting, and that mechanics were on their way to reattach them. I don’t think many passengers know what a pantograph is; I didn’t.

I immediately wondered if there were any phalanges on the train.

#433rds: 4/9/14

This is part of a month-ish-long blog/Instagram project. For more, go here.

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The weather is finally getting better. And by better I mean the wind is still awful, allergies are kicking in and I don’t even get the pleasure of real warmth, but at least it’s not freezing and there’s no ice packed onto the sidewalks. The sun’s out, but I still need a sweater, although it doesn’t have to be wool (I don’t own anything wool anyways). The weather’s nice enough to be deemed enjoyable.

The sky is clear, and while I was walking outside I snapped (yet another) photo of a late 19th-century building that belonged to the owner of a New Haven garment factory, since turned into a fancy apartment complex.

Living in a factory is one of those chic, trendy things that middle-class people do in urban settings these days. With walls of brick, exposed pipes, and all of the downtown lifestyle that comes with it. The people who live in factories might not generally wear a full outfit of pink with golden horses like the suit I laid my Scrabble tiles on.

But, damn, they should.

#433rds.

A friend of mine is doing a thing, and it is a thing I am going to try to do too. It’s called #433rds, and it is fairly simple:

For the month of April:

  1. At 3 pm every day, take a photo. Post on Instagram.
  2. Take 30 Bananagram tiles and arrange them into words in 3 minutes or less.
  3. Write something that day based on those two inputs. (Or, if you’re feeling Cage-y, don’t.)

I don’t have Bananagram tiles. I also will not always be free at 3pm. I also have pressing matters to attend to. But these are precisely the reasons that I will occasionally be playing with Scrabble tiles and photographing and writing about it. The desire to take photos, the need to not thesis, the fun of finding new ways to write. Anyways: Day 1 (err…. the 8th) is below:

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I just heard about this project earlier this afternoon. My decision to participate (however briefly it will last) was impromptu. I thought about sitting in a café to try and do some work, but decided that if I came home I could play with Scrabble tiles before getting down to business.

My day and the plans I have for it are certainly seeping through. I tried twice to spell out “thesis” with my tiles, but ended up with “these.” I had to include “meow” the second I saw the M and W. Not only is Jonathan, our new cat, the subject of my photo, but this morning I publicly debated letting him have his own Twitter account. And this isn’t the first time I’ve taken a photo I’ve taken of him overseeing his fiefdom from on high. Also he’s adorable.

Lastly, Men in Black is on Syfy this week. Not only did I already know that, but it prompted me to place those peripheral tiles down in that form as I ran out of time. I am clearly bad at this game and these projects.

Weekend Skimming

This weekend’s reading list is brief. Thesis duties abound and, while brushing up on my weekend reading through the week has helped me disengage from the research, I can rarely afford to disengage now. What follows is a small collection of whatever I read this week when I refused to thesis. It’s a smart bet that weekend reading will be light to non-existent for the next month or so, dear readers. If you find yourself itching for a fix, mosey on over to The New Inquiry‘s Features page and look for Big Sunday Reading. There’s bound to be lots of good stuff.

Weekend Reading

From the moment the New York Times took it up as a cause, the Kitty Genovese story has counterposed police rectitude against community violence, cowardice, and confusion. Genovese’s murder is a parable in which the absent cops are the heroes and her neighbors eclipse even her killer in their culpability for the crime. Subsequent debates over the story’s meaning have centered almost exclusively on that claim of culpability, and on the question of to what extent those neighbors can or should be exonerated.

But Genovese herself lived in fear of police persecution, both at work and in her personal life. At least one witness to the crime, a friend of Kitty’s, also had good reason to be wary of law enforcement. And once the cops did engage with the case, they failed spectacularly to provide the kind of assistance the legend assumes they stood poised to offer that night. The Genovese story isn’t just a story of individual moral culpability, it’s also a story about malign and corrupt institutions and the corrosive effects those institutions have on our lives, and one of the real services Cook’s new book provides is the restoration of those effects to the broader narrative of the case.

Universities trade on our hopes, and on the fact that we have spent many years developing skills so specialized that few really want them, to offer increasingly insecure careers to young scholars. Although a fortunate few make smooth transitions onto the tenure track, many are lost in a phase of lecturing, adjuncting, or even unemployment. To those of us on the outside, the current academic employment system resembles a two-tier contract in which we are punished simply for having made the poor decision to graduate in the middle of a recession. Compensation for our labor is unprofessional, and we and our families are expected to bear this as a sign of commitment to disciplines and institutions that reserve the right never to commit to us.

I could perhaps hang on for another round: after all, I’m in for 9 years, what difference is 10? But I know also that each time I apply, I lose a little bit of something I’m afraid I’ll never recover. Depression has been the predictable price of failure in the past few years, and I know that it has sometimes robbed me of the experiencing the joy of having young children. It has certainly made me a less patient husband and father. Next year would be my fifth on the job market, in one way or another. Not so very long ago, I might have earned tenure with as much as I’ve done. Now I’ll spend the next months praying for the chance to move my family across the country for a one- or two-year position.

I wonder if I should work so hard to stay. My older son is the same age as my Ph.D., and he’s grown from a blob to a little person who can tell you about the moons of Jupiter. Is it time to trade my hopes for his? To give up on the work of my adult life, and just find a way to give my family some security? If I could do it all again, it would be madness to say that I would take the same path. But now, another year will pass, with no promise of success. And I wonder, channeling John Kerry but with lower moral stakes: how do you ask a year to be the last one to die for a mistake?

Yale Tries to Sneak Kissinger on Campus

Yale’s Jackson Institute of International Affairs is hosting Henry Kissinger on campus Friday for a ‘private,’ ‘invite-only’ address. Students in select departments received invitations via email that explicitly stated that the event would not be publicized and asked that the invitees keep the event confidential. (I was not invited, c’est la vie).

Kissinger is, of course, everyone’s favorite combination Nobel Peace Prize laureate and war criminal. His presence in campus is itself all sorts of disappointing. No institution that seeks to improve the world should be giving such a person a platform from which to speak. But it is even more disappointing that the event is to be exclusive and therefore limit any sort of protest or honest dialog about Kissinger’s record.

Of course, this isn’t exactly a sudden misstep of Yale’s. The monstrosity that is the Jackson Institute is the current employer of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the man behind JSOC during much of the GWOT. So, really, this is just more Yale being Yale.

US Ramps Up Counter-LRA Operations

Last night, news came out that the Obama administration is doubling down on the efforts to help hunt down the top commanders of the LRA. According to the Washington Post:

At least four CV-22 Osprey aircraft will arrive in Uganda by midweek, along with refueling aircraft and about 150 Air Force Special Forces and other airmen to fly and maintain the planes.

For those who’ve been following this for a long time, 100 special force advisers were sent to Uganda in 2011 to help track down the LRA. This recent news is a huge increase in troop commitment and in other material.

So far, the U.S. presence there has helped implement safe reporting sites and coordinate defection messaging efforts, including dropping fliers and flying helicopters with speakers to encourage LRA rebels to surrender. The presence has also helped bolster the Ugandan security sector and further militarized central Africa, though it may have had an effect in monitoring UPDF abuses.

The Ospreys are on loan from a base in Djibouti, where they have been under Centcom control. Africom is borrowing them for counter-LRA efforts, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they were there on standby in a region where more and more problems are arising. The Ospreys were already active in the region, attempting to respond when South Sudan descended into chaos in December.

The buried lede is that Kony and the LRA aren’t the only (or maybe not even the main) reason to send troops to Uganda:

The LRA poses no threat to the United States, but the administration sees assistance to the A.U. mission as a useful way to build military and political partnerships with African governments in a region where al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are rapidly expanding, as well as to demonstrate adherence to human rights principles.

Weekend Reading

Spring has sprung, weekend reading is weekend read.

The definition of fetal harm in such cases has been broad: An Indiana woman who attempted suicide while pregnant spent a year in jail before murder charges were dropped last year; an Iowa woman was arrested and jailed after falling down the stairs and suffering a miscarriage; a New Jersey woman who refused to sign a preauthorization for a cesarean section didn’t end up needing the operation, yet was charged with child endangerment and lost custody of her baby. But the vast majority of cases have involved women suspected of using illegal drugs. Those women have been disproportionately young, low-income and African American.

Protests like this one, fueled by social media and erupting into spectacular mass events, look like powerful statements of opposition against a regime. And whether these take place in Turkey, Egypt or Ukraine, pundits often speculate that the days of a ruling party or government, or at least its unpopular policies, must be numbered. Yet often these huge mobilizations of citizens inexplicably wither away without the impact on policy you might expect from their scale.

This muted effect is not because social media isn’t good at what it does, but, in a way, because it’s very good at what it does. Digital tools make it much easier to build up movements quickly, and they greatly lower coordination costs. This seems like a good thing at first, but it often results in an unanticipated weakness: Before the Internet, the tedious work of organizing that was required to circumvent censorship or to organize a protest also helped build infrastructure for decision making and strategies for sustaining momentum. Now movements can rush past that step, often to their own detriment.