Category Archives: Weekend Reading

Weekend Reading

While disconnection rates vary from city to city, some of the biggest chasms are found between predominantly black and predominantly white neighborhoods—neighborhoods within the same metro area. In Chicago, for example—a city simultaneously known for its gang violence and its prestigious art museums— only 8 percent of the city’s white youth are disconnected, compared to roughly a quarter of its black youth. Youth and young adults aged 16 to 24 in Chicago who live in mostly black neighborhoods, as well as their counterparts in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, are ten times more likely to be disconnected than their peers living in majority-white neighborhoods in the very same cities.

The cities with high black-disconnection rates also have deeply segregated school systems. Less than 10 percent of kids enrolled in Chicago Public Schools are white, and the statistics are similar in D.C.(12 percent) and Philadelphia (14 percent). Unsurprisingly, the report parallels similar phenomena in school systems that, despite the six-decade-old Brown v. Board of Education decision,remain segregated to this day—often a byproduct of housing policies and trends.

Most of these early projects were built for whites, and whites of a particular kind: the “barely poor,” as Vale puts it — the upwardly mobile working class, with fathers working in factory jobs. Housing agencies required tenant families to have stable work and married parents. Children out of wedlock were rejected. Housing authority managers visited prospective tenants, often unannounced, to check on the cleanliness of their homes and their housekeeping habits.

“The idea — although people didn’t tend to voice it explicitly — was that you could be too poor for public housing,” Vale says. In many cities, the truly poor remained in the tenements.

[…]

By the 1960s, the tenants living in public housing began to grow more deeply poor and, particularly in big cities, much less white, in large part thanks to another set of active housing policies pushed next by the federal government.

In cities like Chicago and Detroit, public housing “became a black program,” says the Economic Policy Institute’s Richard Rothstein, “because the Federal Housing Administration created a different program for whites, which was a single-family suburban program.”

Weekend Reading

Readings on racism, policing, incarceration, and other forms of violence.

To view someone as a political equal is an act of respect and empathy. The decades-long growth in black incarceration rates represents a failure of empathy. How could rational people committed to liberal ideals allow such an obvious violation of those ideals to persist? How can such manifest social contradictions be so easily tolerated? Those questions have the characteristic feel of philosophical problems.

To understand what’s happened with incarceration in America, you must examine the concepts of propaganda and ideology, especially the kind of propaganda that is most prevalent in liberal democratic societies, which I call undermining propaganda. Undermining propaganda consists of arguments that employ a cherished political ideal in the service of a goal that undermines that very ideal. When it works, we do not even notice the contradiction. Ideology conceals the contradictions of propaganda….

Battles about the putative link between crime and race stretch back more than a century in the sociological literature, to Ida B. Wells and Du Bois. The story is masterfully told in Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s 2010 book, The Condemnation of Blackness (Harvard University Press), in which he shows how white social scientists used race to explain problems among blacks, while appealing to socioeconomic causes to explain the very same problems among whites. Mass incarceration yields many other instances of manipulative expertise.

Readings on higher education, tenure, and student-teacher dynamics.

My students’ discomfort with me is especially clear when I teach “general” courses — courses that are not explicitly about people of color. It is not uncommon for students to accuse me of diminishing the quality of their education when I teach classes like this. For example, when I taught an honors writing class, I included two — just two! — reading assignments by nonwhite authors. At the end of the term, a significant percentage of student evaluations complained that the class was skewed because it unjustifiably prioritized African-American authors.

All of my students, regardless of the identity categories they embraced, had been taught their entire lives that real literature is written by white people. Naturally, they felt they were being cheated by this strange professor’s “agenda.”

Readings on everything else.

More troubling, however, are Kaplan’s claims about supposedly artificial borders and the “order” brought by colonial rule. The artificial bordersargument is a common myth that sadly continues to pervade policy discussions of the Middle East. Kaplan simply regurgitates the claim that theSykes-Picot Agreement was arbitrarily drawn, and did not conform to sectarian or national realities on the ground, implying that the “artificial” borders drawn by the agreement have contributed to the sectarian strife we see today.

Complaints about artificial states imply that borders can ever be natural. While nationalist elites may like to portray borders as natural to their kin groups, around the world, states were formed through social processes involving conflict and negotiation to create the borders we see today. That’s true whether those borders have expanded, contracted, or been drawn by outsiders or insiders, but in all cases they are socially constructed and no more artificial than any other borders. To hold up some imperial divisions (like Ottoman borders) as “natural” while calling more recent colonial borders “artificial” greatly confuses the extent to which all borders are drawn through social processes, politics and violence.

Moreover, supra-national entities, like the United Arab Republic in the Middle East and the Mali Federation in West Africa, fell apart under local and national political constraints. This suggests that, counter to Kaplan’s claims, national distinctions matter, even when colonial powers drew the borders of what became postcolonial states. And Marc Lynch and others have recently demonstrated the ways in which national identity remains highly salient in the Middle East. Kaplan’s “artificial” nations can in fact show a high degree of coherence and nationalist sentiment, even in the face of ongoing political, social and economic turmoil.

Weekend Reading

In describing its work, the Red Cross also conflates different types of aid, making it more difficult to assess the charity’s efforts in Haiti.

For example, while the Red Cross says it provided more than 130,000 people with homes, that includes thousands of people who were not actually given homes, but rather were “trained in proper construction techniques.” (That was first reported by the Haiti blog of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.)

The figure includes people who got short-term rental assistance or were housed in several thousand “transitional shelters,” which are temporary structures that can get eaten up by termites or tip over in storms. It also includes modest improvements on 5,000 temporary shelters.

let’s recap some facts about Hawaii, natively known as Hawai’i:

  • It’s an archipelago
  • settled by Polynesians and other Pacific Islanders
  • whose destruction at the hands of white people began in the late eighteenth century, when Captain Cook’s crew decimated the native population with tuberculosis and STDs
  • whose native monarchy was later overthrown at gunpoint by the British in 1843
  • which was later illegally annexed by the United States with the help of the economically oppressive white minority
  • which remains U.S. territory despite the fact that Bill Clinton signed a resolution in 1993 “apologizing” to the Native Hawaiians for the “deprivation of their rights to self-determination”
  • in which white people remain a decided minority at around 25 percent.

Now, let’s recap some facts about Aloha, which was also originally called Hawaii:

  • It’s a movie
  • directed by a white man
  • about Hawaii
  • called Aloha
  • starring a 100 percent white cast
  • in which one of these white cast members plays a woman named “Allison Ng.”

Weekend Reading

Research by Ozan Jaquette, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Arizona, has found a direct relationship between declining state appropriations and the rising number of out-of-state students. He has also found that as out-of-state enrollment rises, the number of black and Hispanic students falls. “If we envision the student body as a pie chart, with various student populations representing slices, the slice of low-income students narrows as the slice of out-of-state students grows, with a greater shift at highly ranked institutions and at institutions in high-poverty states,” he writes in a forthcoming paper in The Journal of Higher Education, coauthored with Bradley R. Curs and Julie R. Posselt.

As this happens, public universities become more and more like private ones. At the University of Wisconsin, for example, out-of-state undergraduate tuition, currently around $25,000, is set to go up $10,000. Right now, the state caps the number of out-of-state students at 27.5 percent, but given recent massive budget cuts, many expect that cap to be lifted, meaning the university will be catering more and more to affluent students.

“It’s raising the cost to the country of educating its younger population,” says Christopher Newfield, a professor of literature and American studies at UC Santa Barbara and the author ofUnmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class. “All the states are now trying to educate the students of other states so they can charge them three times more. The American funding model that we’ve had, it’s broken.” All the private money coming in doesn’t subsidize the public mission of the university. Instead, it undermines it.

Robert Capa’s famous 1936 photograph of a Spanish militiaman purports to record such a moment: The militiaman falls backward on a sunlit battlefield, his body accelerating to meet its shadow. The photograph is contested now — was it staged, or was it truly caught, by serendipity and skill, in the heat of battle? — but it is an image that, for its time, is imaginable. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to make a picture like it half a century earlier. And by 32 years later, in a world full of small cameras and quick-loading film, there is no longer any doubt that death can be photographed candidly. On a street in Saigon, the American photojournalist Eddie Adams clicks the shutter and captures the precise moment at which Nguyen Ngoc Loan, a South Vietnamese general, fatally shoots Nguyen Van Lem, a Viet Cong commander, in the head. A second before the bullet hits Lem, his face is relaxed. Then the shot — simultaneously of the gun and the camera — but there’s no blood, no splatter, only Lem’s face contorted in mortal agony. A second later he’s on the ground, blood gushing out of his head. We know these things because the execution was also captured on film, by Vo Suu, a cameraman for NBC. Suu’s footage is invaluable, but Adams’s picture, more striking and more iconic, earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1969. The picture was remarkable for the rarity of its achievement, in recording the last moment, unscripted and hardly anticipated, of someone’s life. But when you see death mediated in this way, pinned down with such dramatic flair, the star is likely to be death itself and not the human who dies. The fact that a photograph exists of a man being shot in the head in Vietnam is easier to remember than Lem’s biography or even his name.

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.