Category Archives: Weekend Reading

Weekend Reading

Sun’s out, reading’s out.

The federal government regulates campus sexual assault adjudications in a variety of ways. Campuses are required, for instance, to inform students of their right to make a complaint to law enforcement, and to use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in resolving all complaints that are addressed on campus. No federal law or regulation, however, gives students the right to have a lawyer, counselor, or other adviser present during their appearances before such judicial bodies.

At Hobart and William Smith, both Anna and the men in the case were permitted to bring an “adviser” with them when they testified before the committee, but in accordance with college rules those “advisers” were forbidden to speak at any time. As a result, Anna had no one present to assist her when members of the committee misrepresented witness statements to her detriment, asked her inappropriate questions about her behavior on the night in question, or invited her to speculate about events that transpired while she was blacked out due to excessive alcohol consumption.

Weekend Reading

Let reading ring:

A recent survey of more than six thousand self-identified transgender people showed that 41 percent have attempted suicide, a staggering twenty-six times the rate of the general population. This percentage rises even more for self-reported victims of discrimination and violence, to as many as 78 percent for those who have experienced violence in school. Imagine the headlines if close to half of gay people attempt suicide. Yet the most play this statistic gets is in New York Times advice column about how to broach the topic of transgender transition on social media—and has not even been discussed in other national news publications like The Washington Post and USA Today.

Compare this to the media attention surrounding the suicide of Tyler Clementi in 2010, a gay white Rutgers student who committed suicide after his roommate filmed him having sex. This merited front page coverage and 85 related articles in the Times, while trans people are being outed routinely and our suicides generally go unreported. For instance, the transgender writer Donna Ostrowsky, who contributed to the Lambda Literary Award-winning The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard, committed suicide in New York on June 10 last year, and her death remained unreported by any media outlet, including theNew York Times.

The personal is political, the saying goes, but for women, the political is removed from the person, replaced by trite obsessions with clothes, hair, child care choices and exercise routines. The media’s preoccupation with such trivia is no mere relic of an earlier era. Even today, several generations removed from the devastating critique of their triviality that was at the heart of first-wave feminism, Marie Claire and other women’s magazines remain obsessed with the appearance of female public figures, an obsession that still extends far beyond them into leading news publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post. You can take the woman out of the woman’s magazine, but the style of coverage—and it is all about style—remains the same.

Weekend Reading

Every weekend has its readings.

One thing Brookings and New America have in common, besides a conclusion, is a funder. Both have been recently linked to the nonprofit Lumina Foundation, which was founded on $770 million from the sale of student lender USA Group to Sallie Mae in 2000. Lumina, Buzzfeed reports, has given Delisle’s New American Foundation nearly $3 million since 2008. Salon reported earlier this month that Chingos has received $500,000 from Lumina, $300,000 of it granted to him and Akers during the past year. Brookings received more than $1 million from Lumina in 2013 alone. Despite all the coverage for both the Brookings and New America papers, other reporters haven’t bothered to dig into these relationships and ask why a foundation that emerged from Sallie Mae stock options is so interested — now more than $1 billion interested — in making the rapidly expanding student debt crisis look sustainable.

It’s not hard to figure out why lenders want borrowers and policymakers not to panic. When the Obama administration nationalized 85 percent of higher education lending in 2010, executives like the ones who now sit on the Lumina Foundation board were the big losers. Since then, college costs have continued skyrocketing, but the tens of billions in profits have gone to the Department of Education instead of private lenders. If you were them, and you were angling to get back in the game, the first step would be to edge the government out, either by getting the feds to withdraw or by keeping costs rising faster and higher than DoE loan limits. Graduate loans are a great place to start in a divide-and-conquer strategy, so it’s no surprise that Delisle concludes in favor of shrinking the government’s role. Nor is it surprising that Akers and Chingos can’t find a cost crisis, even though theirs is a fringe minority opinion among higher education analysts and investors.

[T]here is nothing theoretical about abortion for one in three women and many trans men and gender queer people. Abortion isn’t a symbol. It isn’t an idea. It’s a medical procedure they chose to undergo. And the sidewalk outside the clinic isn’t a metaphor for the American abortion debate or the polarization of public opinion, but an actual sidewalk through which their actual bodies must cross in the face of actual harassment. To treat it as an abstraction is disrespectful to those who know too well the very real impacts of impeded access — and also betrays the Court’s distance from the on-the-ground dangers it now exacerbates. In McCullen we see the Justices looking down on the sidewalks of America’s clinics from a thousand feet. From this great height, every walk through the crowds looks shorter and every death threat sounds softer. It must feel very safe up there.

Weekend Reading

These readings are the closest to the sun:

Christensen has compared the theory of disruptive innovation to a theory of nature: the theory of evolution. But among the many differences between disruption and evolution is that the advocates of disruption have an affinity for circular arguments. If an established company doesn’t disrupt, it will fail, and if it fails it must be because it didn’t disrupt. When a startup fails, that’s a success, since epidemic failure is a hallmark of disruptive innovation. (“Stop being afraid of failure and start embracing it,” the organizers of FailCon, an annual conference, implore, suggesting that, in the era of disruption, innovators face unprecedented challenges. For instance: maybe you made the wrong hires?) When an established company succeeds, that’s only because it hasn’t yet failed. And, when any of these things happen, all of them are only further evidence of disruption.

[...]

Disruptive innovation as an explanation for how change happens is everywhere. Ideas that come from business schools are exceptionally well marketed. Faith in disruption is the best illustration, and the worst case, of a larger historical transformation having to do with secularization, and what happens when the invisible hand replaces the hand of God as explanation and justification. Innovation and disruption are ideas that originated in the arena of business but which have since been applied to arenas whose values and goals are remote from the values and goals of business. People aren’t disk drives. Public schools, colleges and universities, churches, museums, and many hospitals, all of which have been subjected to disruptive innovation, have revenues and expenses and infrastructures, but they aren’t industries in the same way that manufacturers of hard-disk drives or truck engines or drygoods are industries. Journalism isn’t an industry in that sense, either.

Prison labor has gone artisanal. Sure, plenty of inmates still churn out government office furniture and the like, and incarcerated workers have occasionally been used by large companies since the late 1970s. Nationwide 63,032 inmates produce more than $2 billion worth of products a year, most of them sold to government entities.

But in recent years a new wave has begun, driven primarily by small businesses that need workers for boutique-size production. These days inmates can be found making everything from redwood canoes to specialty motorcycles, fishing poles, and saddles. They produce apple juice, raise tilapia, milk cows and goats, grow flowers, and manage vineyards.

Weekend Reading

Kicking off:

The rest of your reads:

Imagine an editor asking a writer to passionately articulate why a drunk driver hitting and killing a boy on a bicycle is wrong and sad. That would never happen, because a drunk driver killing a boy on a bike is a self-evident tragedy. Asking a writer to exert lots of effort to explain why would be a disservice to the dead, as if his right to life were ever in question, as if our moral obligation to not snuff out our fellow citizens via recklessness were something in need of an eloquent plea.

When another unarmed black teenager is gunned down, there is something that hurts about having to put fingers to keyboard in an attempt to illuminate why another black life taken is a catastrophe, even if that murdered person had a criminal record or a history of smoking marijuana, even if that murdered person wasn’t a millionaire or college student. There is something that hurts when thinking about the possibility of being “accidentally” shot on some darkened corner, leaving a writer who never met you the task of asking the world to acknowledge your value posthumously, as it didn’t during your life.

While struggling borrowers certainly stymie economic growth, it remains the case that student borrowers are a boon for the federal government. Fiddles and small fixes, like those of the latest executive order, serve to maintain, not end, a society of debtors.

Student debt is a bubble with no promise of burst. Most student loan debt is government backed and can never be discharged. So, as New Inquiry editor Malcolm Harris has rightly pointed out: “There’s no escape from student debt, and the government and markets both know it. This is, then, the real plan for the education bubble: student debtors will be forced, in one way or another, to fill it in. Not only are student loans not a burden on the federal government, they’re a good investment.”

Of course the Treasury and investors want to foster a generation of workers and consumers. But when there’s a debt bubble that structurally cannot burst, the government will not join any aggressive fight to remove the student debt burden. In the service of campaign politics, there will be policy tweaks, earnest speeches, and high words about freeing the debt-encumbered youth. But the student debt crisis will not end and that’s no big problem for the government. Demands for free education are DOA in the face of these realities.

Weekend Reading

Last week, in links.

They send a cop to the homes of defendants seeking to apply for the public defender and have him interview and investigate them.

[...]

When put in perspective, you begin to see why Edwards has seen a drop in applications. It might have to do with the fact that people don’t want a police officer coming into their homes and asking them questions.

[...]

So the county sends a police officer to the homes of poor, underprivileged people in the guise of conducting an investigation into just how poor they are, exactly, and then use that opportunity to investigate other criminal activity and arrest those people.

This isn’t an option that is given to poor people seeking the assistance of a lawyer. This is a condition precedent to getting a lawyer.

The ubiquitous negotiations and morning-after bruises and disappearing condoms aren’t what we talk about when we talk about sexual violence. Samantha needs it to be “not that bad,” but so too, it seems, does the movement. I’m thinking of a little graphic that I saw on a friend’s Instagram feed a few weeks ago. It’s a flowchart. “Do you believe women are equal to men?” If you follow the “yes” arrow, you’re a feminist. If not, you’re an asshole. It is this same principle behind the #AllMenCan hashtag campaign that overwhelmed #YesAllWomen. The latter documented widespread gender-based violence in the wake of the Isla Vista shooting; the former insisted that men can just lean into not being misogynists and we’ll all be fine.

The flowchart and all the men who can insist that feminism is easy. It’s so obvious. This vision depends on an assumption that violence is a discrete patch on our community, the outline already visible and perforated: if we just push gently, it will pop out of our lives like a paper doll from cardboard. That’s a comforting idea for those who lack power (change is possible!) and those who hold it (but not that much change is needed!). And because the narrower definition of violence is more palatable to men, it is also strategically useful. Nice girls with proper manners are allowed at the dinner table and on Upworthy if we don’t ask for anything too disruptive.

Weekend Reading

A spoonful of reading:

In some mixed-income developments, the CHA [Chicago Housing Authority] renters cannot have grills on their balconies, while the homeowners can. They cannot use exercise facilities built in the condo buildings; they cannot have friends and family visit them freely; the property managers check their units for good upkeep. They can’t have parties. They report palpable surveillance at all times.

Again and again, former residents of Chicago’s public housing projects tell stories of the community they built there. Some narratives are recurrent: going door-to-door to collect ingredients for dinner during hard times, knowing one’s neighbors, the process of surviving together.

The flipped classroom, a learning technique that requires students to watch lectures as homework rather than in class, is another trend Powers applauded. Unfortunately, it has the potential to be equally problematic. Instructors can record their own lectures for students to play back at their leisure. Yet secondary school teachers, who tend not to have academic freedom or necessary resources, often rely on outside content providers like Khan Academy to flip their classrooms.

What happens if your administrators want to flip your classroom for you? A contract to license MOOC content from a major provider like Coursera or Udacity would certainly be the most efficient way to make use of that content. What if some professors are not familiar with or do not want to teach the content the administration licensed? At the very least, the quality of education that students receive will suffer and the traditional prerogative of the professors whose classrooms get flipped for them will effectively disappear.

Weekend Reading

The early American economy was built on slave labor. The Capitol and the White House were built by slaves. President James K. Polk traded slaves from the Oval Office. The laments about “black pathology,” the criticism of black family structures by pundits and intellectuals, ring hollow in a country whose existence was predicated on the torture of black fathers, on the rape of black mothers, on the sale of black children. An honest assessment of America’s relationship to the black family reveals the country to be not its nurturer but its destroyer.

And this destruction did not end with slavery. Discriminatory laws joined the equal burden of citizenship to unequal distribution of its bounty. These laws reached their apex in the mid-20th century, when the federal government—through housing policies—engineered the wealth gap, which remains with us to this day. When we think of white supremacy, we pictureColored Only signs, but we should picture pirate flags.

Trustee boards are an opening for universities to sink their claws into the ranks of the elite; naturally it’s also an opening for the elite sink their claws into universities. University presidents gain access to new high-dollar donors, increasingly complicated endowment investments, and firm allies in the quest for increased administration size and control. Board members gain the social prestige that all charitable efforts by the 1% engender and an outlet for one of the favorite pastimes of the business class: dispensing advice for which their only qualification is their wealth. Even more important, they also get privileged access to the financial decisions of multi-million (sometimes multi-billion) dollar organizations. An investigation by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that one out of every four private colleges directly do business with their trustees, which can take the form of noncompetitive contracts for construction, financial investment of endowment funds.

It’s important to note that the very idea that marriage could extend to two people of the same gender may only be possible because feminists broke out marriage from the hierarchical system it had been in and reinvented it as a relationship between equals. Those who are threatened by marriage equality are, many things suggest, as threatened by the idea of equality between heterosexual couples as same-sex couples. Liberation is a contagious project, speaking of birds coming home to roost.

Homophobia, like misogyny, is still terrible, just not as terrible as it was in, say, 1970. Finding ways to appreciate advances without embracing complacency is a delicate task. It involves being hopeful and motivated and keeping eyes on the prize ahead. Saying that everything is fine or that it will never get any better are ways of going nowhere or of making it impossible to go anywhere. Either approach implies that there is no road out or that, if there is, you don’t need to or can’t go down it. You can. We have.

Weekend Reading

Weekend Reading, categorized (kind of) for your convenience.

Africa:

Education:

Since 2000, the average cost of tuition and fees has more than doubled, while student loan debt has grown at double-digit rates and well-paying jobs have all but vanished. Since 2001, employment in low-wage occupations has increased by 8.7 percent while employment in middle-wage occupations has decreased by 7.3 percent. The most popular industries pay poorly: According to the April 2014 jobs report, four of the top six industries that saw job creation were in the lowest paying fields. Meanwhile, in prestigious professions entry-level jobs have been replaced with full-time, unpaid internships.

Today’s youth are thbest educated generation in US history. But opportunities are reserved only for those who can buy them. Young US citizens have inherited an entrenched meritocracy that combines the baby boomers’ emphasis on education with the class rigidity of the WASP aristocracy it allegedly undermined.

Everything Else:

Jezebel’s is a feminism that seeks its scapegoat in altered images. To refrain from Photoshop is girl-positive marketing gold. Dove Campaign for Real Beauty delights itself by putting out fake filters that chide retouchers. Magazines sign “No Photoshop” pledges. Clothing companies crow that they’ve never taken a clone stamp to their models’ thighs.

To these feminists, Photoshop is to blame to unrealistic body standards, poor self-esteem, and anorexia in teenage girls. The campaign against Photoshop is the perfect cause for white, middle-class women whose primary problem is feeling their bodies do not match an increasingly surreal media ideal.

[...]

Anyone who’s been at a photo shoot knows that even untouched photos bear only the scantest resemblance to a subject. A photo is frozen. A model sweats and bloats, ages, and dies. Framing is a lie. Lighting is a lie. Cropping is a lie. When you suck in your stomach, or turn your head so the light washes out your laugh lines, you’re lying as much as any liquefy tool. Untruth is baked into the process: Photographer Syreeta McFadden writes how the chemical makeup of some films is biased against dark skin tones. Even snapshots often don’t look like you, because you are not static. You are a three-dimensional being, torn by time. Photos are pixel ghosts.

Photos are lies because art is a lie. Art is artifice. Art makes things as they are not—occasionally in the service of greater truths.

Weekend Reading

Weekend reading is back with a vengeance:

The BLS monthly report doesn’t say which jobs come with dignity and fair pay and which are degrading, but no matter how you measure it, a wedge has been growing for decades between worker output and compensation. A 2012 report from the Economic Policy Institute describes the situation in clear terms: “This divergence of pay and productivity has meant that many workers are not benefiting from productivity growth — the economy can afford higher pay but is not providing it.” Increases in employment and productivity — America’s two dearest metrics — provide only the possibility of shared higher living standards; they do not and have not guaranteed them. Economists keep muddling through their data tea leaves, but who needs them when the writing is on the wall?

The mayoral and council class of 2013 is one of the most progressive cohorts of elected officials in recent American history. In one major city after another, newly elected officials are planning to raise the minimum wage or enact ordinances boosting wages in developments that have received city assistance. They are drafting legislation to require inner-city hiring on major projects and foster unionization in hotels, stores, and trucking. They are seeking the funds to establish universal pre-K and other programs for infants and toddlers. They are sketching the layout of new transit lines that will bring jobs and denser development to neighborhoods both poor and middle-class and reduce traffic and pollution in the bargain. They are—if they haven’t done so already—forbidding their police from cooperating with federal immigration authorities in the deportation of undocumented immigrants not convicted of felonies and requiring their police to have video or audio records of their encounters with the public. They are, in short, enacting at the municipal level many of the major policy changes that progressives have found themselves unable to enact at the federal and state levels. They also may be charting a new course for American liberalism.