Category Archives: Weekend Reading

Weekend Reading

This is me not grading papers. This a distraction. This is a distraction in a fire in a barrel.

Women weren’t admitted to Columbia College until 1983. They went to Barnard, across the street, instead. Two years later, Literature Humanities added its first book by a female author, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse” joined later, but that’s it. On a syllabus of 21 books, only those two are by women. Contemporary Civilization, a crash intro to Western philosophy, is worse, with 33 readings and only Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” and Woolf’s essay “Three Guineas” by women. The only critical text on race in either class is W.E.B. DuBois’s short “The Souls of Black Folk.” There are no female authors of color and no Asians or Latinos represented in the core curriculum.

To expect the women of color who wrote the Spectator piece to feel comfortable or safe in a class where they are not even a curricular afterthought is disingenuous. The Columbia core and the Western canon were written by and for white men, and that has not been an especially contentious statement for a long time now. Columbia hasdebated this problem for decades, and in 1990 the school instituted a generic requirement, now called “global core,” that students take courses in cultures not covered in Contemporary Civilization and Literature Humanities. It’s an explicit admission: Europe is required; every other culture is optional.

Requiring courses in the literature and thought of Western civilization that introduce critiques at the end is passive-aggressive, an institutional microaggression.

I have never encountered a gang incident in Chicago remotely like this. The number of perpetrators involved — not to mention the nine deaths — far exceed the typical urban gang-related shooting. Maybe there was some gang incident in Chicago like this decades ago. But this sort of pitched battle? I’ve never heard of anything like it. If these biker gang members were non-white, I think this would cause a national freak out.

Weekend Reading

The bank is a mob bank. It houses millions of dollars of funds gained through extortion, drugs, theft, murder, you name it. Not only does The Joker rob the bank, he does so in a way in which all his criminal accomplices murder each other one by one thinking that they’ll get a bigger cut if they do. This is supposed to look diabolical bit of insanity but it’s really him immediately eliminating five dangerous murderers while he’s literally in the middle of crippling the mob financially… the real result is that The Joker completes a major anti-mob strike while getting a quintet of thugs off the streets for good. He doesn’t kill any civilians, and only wounds the manager with a shotgun in self-defense. Even then he lets the guy live with a joke.

In fact, for the whole movie his target is mostly the same mob that Batman has apparently been unable to really stop since Batman Begins. Not only are these crime families still going strong, but they are augmented by the fact that Batman was unable to stop the spread of Scarecrow’s fear toxin, creating a permanently deranged underclass that are now presumably desperate and starving. It’s these largely forgotten downtroddens that The Joker recruits for his army, which implies that Gotham has left them to rot.

The oceans are full of bodies. This is nothing new; the currents are imbricated with centuries-old ghosts of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the genocide of millions of Africans, the acceptable loss in the conversion of people into commodities. At Cape Horn, the particles of African ghosts mingle with the fragments of Chilean and Argentinean disappeared and whisper together of endemic violence. They are joined by the bodies of refugees turned away from shore, taken by the sea at the behest of state policy. The wind and the waves are always already full of ghosts, the particles of all the bodies rolling together with marine debris. The body is made of hydrogen and oxygen and when the body comes apart it becomes a part of what surrounds it, what consumes it.

[…]

Thousands of people disappeared in the regime of U.S.-backed state repression that swept through the Southern Cone of South America, particularly in Argentina and Chile, beginning in the 1970s, under what was known as Operation Condor. Disappearance is not just a euphemism for state murder, it is the central design of an act of terror. The disappearance—the murder without the corpse, operates in multiple ways. The systematic concealment of evidence is designed to exonerate the perpetrators. The withholding of information purposefully misled people and made them hold onto the unrealistic hope that they would find their detained loved ones alive. Extrajudicial detention, torture, and assassinations were carried out with the intention of intimidating survivors by setting an example of what could happen to them.

Weekend Reading

Let’s catch up on some reading and start some arguments.

Under Bush, Townsend had conceived of the job primarily as a counselor to the president. “You’re not the decision maker,” she told me. “You have a responsibility not to put your thumb on the scale. The president gets all the options as clear and concise as possible.” Brennan saw it differently. He didn’t simply enact the president’s policies; he shaped them.

What may well prove to be Obama’s most lasting legacy took shape in Brennan’s cramped quarters. It was here, 35 quick steps from the Oval Office, that Brennan built the drone program. He was the architect, the man responsible for taking the raw infrastructure the Bush administration had left behind and molding it into an institution that would survive. He selected the targets, and he brought their names to the president. Everything ran through him.

Don’t worry Oh immigration department, I will never be a heavy burden on you.

Thank you Oh sea, because you accepted us without a visa or a passport.

Thanks to the fishes that will share me without asking about my religion or my political affiliation.

Thanks to the news channels that will share the news of our death for five minutes an hour for two days.

To call the riots counterproductive… isn’t to say that they are useless. They are not merely unproductive. Instead, they confirm the worst judgments held about those in question. They set back Progress. As in: it is the fault of those who riot that nothing productive happens.

[…]

But the relevant question isn’t productive as opposed to counterproductive, and never has been. The question is: productive of what?

America only accepted those who would come to be called black Americans because they were productive: because they were slaves who produced the material wealth on which American and Western power was built. Because they were not tolerated but kidnapped, sold, and killed, all to produce a population that was never just addendum, bonus, or small crutch which could have been foregone. Between 1500 to 1820, African slaves made up around 80 percent of all Atlantic passage westwards, the majority of lives on whom the rest rested and the necessary machinery to complete the Atlantic trade triangle. The nascent American state made this unmistakably clear by legally codifying slaves as actual property, as something to be mobilized for economic gain and which had no place outside those sites of production. They were to be hunted down and dragged back on escape: it was the legal obligation of citizens to return productive property to where it could be put to work again. There, they were policed and terrorized not as exception but as routine, as maintenance and training.

Weekend Reading

There is a tendency, when examining police shootings, to focus on tactics at the expense of strategy. One interrogates the actions of the officer in the moment trying to discern their mind-state. We ask ourselves, “Were they justified in shooting?” But, in this time of heightened concern around the policing, a more essential question might be, “Were we justified in sending them?” At some point, Americans decided that the best answer to every social ill lay in the power of the criminal-justice system. Vexing social problems—homelessness, drug use, the inability to support one’s children, mental illness—are presently solved by sending in men and women who specialize in inspiring fear and ensuring compliance. Fear and compliance have their place, but it can’t be every place.

When Walter Scott fled from the North Charleston police, he was not merely fleeing Thomas Slager, he was attempting to flee incarceration. He was doing this because we have decided that the criminal-justice system is the best tool for dealing with men who can’t, or won’t, support their children at a level that we deem satisfactory. Peel back the layers of most of the recent police shootings that have captured attention and you will find a broad societal problem that we have looked at, thrown our hands up, and said to the criminal-justice system, “You deal with this.”

Yik Yak users may be all looked over by algorithms of standards and grace, but these are mere thumbs in a cracking dam. Standard social media anti-harassment features make the classic mistake of confusing structural violence for individual bad behavior. This is precisely why community policing on these sorts of apps is a Sisyphean task: Unable to address the underlying structures of oppression, they settle for whack-a-mole reporting features and ultimately rely on toxic communities to regulate their own toxic behavior.

[…]

Just as they believed anonymity was the source of the app’s innovative ability to extract honesty, Yik Yak’s founders… also believed it was the source from which all the problematic behavior flowed. But its voting system, too, plays a critical role. It’s hard to think of voting as a harassment vector because it seems more like a tool for making decisions, not an opportunity to be hateful. In a system where votes determine a post’s ability to command future attention, they serve to manifest and police a community’s discursive norms. But entire communities can be harassers; indeed entire nation-states have been unified by categorical discrimination, promulgating norms grounded in defining others as unclean, dangerous, or otherwise marginal.

Weekend Reading

These links are 99 9/10% pure. Don’t ask about the .1%

Al-Shabaab fighters can’t reach the United States, but they can reach Kenya, with which it shares a border. Kenyans shopping in a mall or attending university run the risk of being victimized too. That is the point which Al-Shabaab makes implicitly and explicitly with each attack. If their people can be killed, then the citizens of an occupying nation can be killed too.

Once again we see painful and heart rending images of victims and grieving families. The corporate media tells Americans little if anything about Somalia’s road to ruin which the United States directed. They don’t reveal the American violence directed at Somalis or present images of starving people or bodies left by war and drone strikes.

In the American mind Al-Shabaab is just another group of crazed foreigners who have bizarre grievances. In fact their grievances are justly held and if there were true justice in this world the United States and its puppets would not only have to leave that country but make restitution as well.

These days, Crystal Sugar hires or subcontracts 2,200 seasonal workers, 1,700 of them for only two to four weeks in October. The short season poses a different sort of hiring challenge and draws, as one might expect, a different sort of laborer. I would meet three kinds: unemployed and underemployed locals; retirees, bored or lacking pensions, who drove RVs from one temporary job to another; and travelers, like the ones I knew from Rock Creek. It was an odd assembly, a carnival of exiles, and it struck me that this was the new proletariat, unfaithful but adaptable and eternally adrift. If the American dream had not abandoned my fellow workers, they had abandoned it. They would not buy houses. They would not open bank accounts. They would move on to the next job, and the next, because the nation needed its hoboes.

Weekend Reading

Spring has sprung, reading has rung:

[Of] the more than 50,000 homicides in California from 1991 to 2002. As one would expect, teenagers perpetrated more of the homicides than other age groups—but only when he did not control for poverty. When he did control for poverty, teenagers committed more crimes than other age groups only in high-poverty areas. In the areas where teenagers had as much money as other middle-aged people, they tended to commit fewer violent crimes. And in the areas where middle-aged people had as little money as other teenagers, those middle-aged people tended to commit just as many violent crimes.

In other words, financially secure teens act as responsibly as stereotypical middle-aged people; and poor middle-aged people act as recklessly as stereotypical teens. The financial situations of the would-be perpetrators had a lot bigger impact than what age they were at the time. And that impact was huge: The homicide rate among the poorest teenagers Males looked at was 18 times higher than it was among the wealthiest.

Weekend Reading

Celebrate the beginning of spring, fall, and/or new years with these reads:

In the spring of 1997, the adjuncts of nine colleges and universities in New Jersey received their ballots in the mail. We voted, returned the ballots, and waited for the count. The vote was successful and we were unionized. Despite initial resistance from administrators—the special interests—it seemed an easy fight.

Nearly two decades have passed since that vote. The union I voted for still exists and it still protects its members. But other things have changed. Teachers unions are under siege across the republic as the push to further privatize education gains momentum in legislatures and courts (a push that is largely funded, of course, with public money). Adjunct labor has been further divided in many ways, with new classes of positions cropping up at various schools, our right to collective bargaining challenged or denied at every step; we are all sharing the same employment insecurity courtesy of semester-to-semester, year-to-year, or provisional multi-year contracts. There are more of us now, twice as many as then, far too many—a surplus, a logjam, a largely expendable work force of intellectual laborers. To the world outside, we are “professors.”

Weekend Reading

Let the readings spring up like… a dozen links.

When Chicago teachers voted overwhelmingly to go on strike in 2012, their objective was not only to improve workplace conditions for teachers, but also to fight Emanuel’s austerity agenda for public education. Reminiscent of the CTF a century earlier, the CTU connected its labor fight to the struggle against a capricious ruling elite, and in the process made allies of the majority of Chicago residents, especially in black and Latino neighborhoods. Their strike was a strike for all Chicagoans.

It is hard to imagine a socialist America without a vibrant system of public education, and it is equally hard to imagine a vibrant system of public education without an excellent, unionized teaching force.

In January 1945 — two days before Franklin Roosevelt was to meet with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in Yalta — the Japanese were offering surrender terms almost identical to what was accepted by the Americans on the USS Missouri in the Japan Bay on September 2, 1945.

The Japanese population was famished, the country’s war machine was out of gas, and the government had capitulated. The Americans were unmoved. The firebombing and the nuclear attacks were heartlessly carried out. If anyone is guilty of disregarding the “context” of the firebombing of Tokyo, it’s the sycophantic and biased American historians who deride these critical facts.

Weekend Reading

Today we are back to a world that would be familiar to Sir Thomas Roe, where the wealth of the west has begun again to drain eastwards, in the way it did from Roman times until the birth of the East India Company. When a British prime minister (or French president) visits India, he no longer comes as Clive did, to dictate terms. In fact, negotiation of any kind has passed from the agenda. Like Roe, he comes as a supplicant begging for business, and with him come the CEOs of his country’s biggest corporations.

For the corporation – a revolutionary European invention contemporaneous with the beginnings of European colonialism, and which helped give Europe its competitive edge – has continued to thrive long after the collapse of European imperialism. When historians discuss the legacy of British colonialism in India, they usually mention democracy, the rule of law, railways, tea and cricket. Yet the idea of the joint-stock company is arguably one of Britain’s most important exports to India, and the one that has for better or worse changed South Asia as much any other European idea. Its influence certainly outweighs that of communism and Protestant Christianity, and possibly even that of democracy.

No amount of publishing, teaching excellence, or grants can compensate for an affiliation that is less than favorable in the eyes of a search committee. The fate of aspiring professors is sealed not with job applications but with graduate-school applications. Institutional affiliation has come to function like inherited wealth. Those who have it operate in a different market, more immune from the dark trends – unemployment, adjunctification – that dog their less-prestigious peers.

Weekend Reading

Careful management, good management, is the full and sole justification for the administration class that has bloated so entirely over the college landscape since the 1980s (and whose growth is still accelerating, even in the face of permanent cuts everywhere else). Simply put the promise of the management class was that they could manage colleges better than faculty. Even by their own estimation they have completely failed at this task on every possible level. Thirty years of running it like a sandwich has every college in the country living admission cycle to admission cycle, cutting budgets and services and wages every year, careening from supposed emergency to supposed emergency without any stabilization or improvement.

Even bracketing endowments and donations altogether, generally speaking colleges have a built-in client base, already own all the land and buildings, can borrow freely, and don’t pay taxes. I could devise a harder test of management acumen. So it seems to me the approximately 100% of college administrations that are now claiming emergency and desperation year after year need to cop either to their own incompetence, or else their dishonesty, or else their active malice.

Canavan’s Razor would tell us that permanent crisis is a management strategy, the unacknowledged goal of every plan. But whichever precise combination of incompetence, dishonesty, and malice best describes a particular university administration is irrelevant. The management class simply has no reason to exist at all if their interventions in the university produce not stability but crisis, after crisis, after crisis, after crisis, after crisis…