Category Archives: Weekend Reading

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…

Weekend Reading

The thrill of clicking on links, and watching readings appear, can never be replaced.

In the first days of the Great War, Britain intended only to detain suspect enemy aliens as prisoners of war. Pressured by Parliament to arrest all enemy aliens, British Home Secretary Reginald McKenna resisted, saying he would proceed under the Hague Conventions, in which the military was responsible for designating enemy aliens for arrest. Internment, he noted, was reserved only for enemy aliens who were military personnel or seen as dangerous to the nation. After the Lusitania’s sinking, however, the political resistance vanished, all military-age enemy aliens were rounded up, and civilians were transformed into prisoners of war.

As declarations of war multiplied across the globe between signatories of the Hague Conventions, a complex bureaucracy of detention began removing groups of civilians en masse from society…. In November 1914, Germany moved to arrest all British, French, and Russian men between the ages of seventeen and fifty-five, and by war’s end held more than 111,000 enemy aliens. During the same period, France interned 60,000 German and Austro-Hungarian civilians; Bulgaria rounded up more than 14,000 Serbian and Croatian noncombatants; and Romania held 6,000 civilians, mostly Germans and Austro-Hungarians.

[…]

In an era of widespread conscription, any male of fighting age was a potential soldier. Generals worried that able-bodied foreigners deported to their home countries on one day might show up on the battlefield the next, further discouraging any desire to make distinctions between civilians and combatants. Internees knew that compared to life in the trenches, a concentration camp offered relative safety, but internment had its own price. Even where they had spent decades as part of a community, foreigners’ businesses were ransacked or shuttered, or their assets seized by governments. Internees were not soldiers, but instead a new kind of low-grade hostage. Not expected to fight or die, they only endured.

Boko Haram’s relentless attacks against individuals tied to the Kanuri establishment demonstrate its antipathy toward the northeast’s existing hierarchy. In areas it has captured, Boko Haram has allegedly seized the property of local notables and allocated it among its followers. The contours of a vicious class struggle within Kanuri society are readily evident.

In addition to the northeastern elites, Boko Haram’s worldview is at odds with rural Kanuri communities. Salafism – both its peaceful and violent varieties – remains primarily an urban phenomenon in Nigeria’s northeast. Cities tend to have a higher concentration of youths bereft of established kinship networks and therefore attracted to the universalist message espoused by Islamic revivalists. Conversely, the countryside serves as a bastion of traditionalism, with many Muslims practicing syncretic forms of Islam that incorporate elements of indigenous religions.

Boko Haram’s transition to a largely rural-based insurgency has placed the Salafi-jihadi movement in an operational environment where the majority of inhabitants regard it as an alien interloper. Rather than adjust its messaging to appeal toward the wary peasantry, Boko Haram appears to have elected to pursue a strategy of armed coercion in order to secure local compliance. This approach helps account for the surge in civilian fatalities as well as Boko Haram’s seemingly growing reliance on conscription and monetary compensation to replenish its ranks.

Weekend Reading

Read a few links to celebrate Arizona’s statehood, Frederick Douglass’ birthday, or the latest Hallmark holiday:

Not only do we bend the natural world to mathematics and science, then, but we also bend mathematics and science to political ends as well. No calendar is innocent, no temporal system is neutral…

Nationalist attempts to remake the date aren’t new — in perhaps the most famous example, the French Republican Calendar not only reorganized the days and months around a ten-day week called a décade, but also restarted the entire thing at Year I. At the time John Quincy Adams decried it as “superficially frivolous” and “coarsely vulgar,” not to mention “irreligious” — but this was of course the point: the de-Christianization of the calendar, and a temporal arrangement of time with an entirely new set of symbolic compass points. A calendar that was no longer based on saints’ feasts and religious holidays towards one named after the progression of the seasons and the plants and vegetables of nature, where September 22 (the date of the founding of the French Republic), not January 1, was now the beginning of the year, and the year itself was no longer 1792.

Twitter’s trending hashtags suggests that Americans can bring themselves to talk about the #ChapelHIllShooting but they can’t utter their names. They can’t be these people. While it is clear that we don’t need another parade of hoodie-clad white people claiming #IamTrayvon it is striking that there isn’t even an attempt to do so. White America can immediately identify with a racist French satire magazine they’ve never heard of, but can’t possibly stand in solidarity with fellow Americans that also happen to be Muslim.

The straight-forward narrative that makes #JeSuisCharlie so legible to so many people is inaccessible to the marginal. The causes of violence perpetrated by white men is exploded by white supremacist patriarchy’s insistence that each instance of white terror is actually the confluence of psychological illness, the availability of guns, video games, or anything else that doesn’t threaten the racial order or patriarchy head-on.

When uprisings occur, when people that are systematically denied the preconditions of solidarity ––the ability to continually meet each-other unharassed, a common language, the material support to mobilize against one’s oppressors–– find them through perseverance and creativity, the invisible background radiation that maintains their oppression suddenly becomes opaque and solid. The sustained and largely invisible strategies of hegemony are temporarily traded in for the tactics of swift and immediate police violence. To those not paying attention it might seem to come out of nowhere, but for everyone else it is utterly predictable.

Weekend Reading

Just add water.

[T]he prevailing consensus endorsed liberal education. A presidential commission chartered by Harry S. Truman recommended in 1947 that colleges strive to more fully realize democracy “in every phase of living,” promote international understanding, and deploy creative intelligence to solve social problems. College wasn’t a way to get a job or make a buck.

For a long time, the pushback to that philosophy was productive. It forced higher education to be dynamic, to respond to conditions beyond campus, says Mr. Roth, who is president of Wesleyan University and sits on the AAC&U board. People understood that liberal learning served individuals, regardless of their jobs, as well as society at large. That’s no longer true, he says.

A farmer reading the classics or an industrial worker quoting Shakespeare was at one time an honorable character. Today’s news stories lament bartenders with chemistry degrees. “Where once these ‘incongruities’ might have been hailed as signs of a healthy republic,” Mr. Roth writes, “today they are more likely to be cited as examples of a ‘wasted’—nonmonetized—education.”

External “assistance” in Africa proved limited in effect, created debilitating forms of aid dependency, and suppressed the creation of organic movements that can aptly respond to struggles of their time. Therefore, the search for a sovereign consciousness, which when found will give birth to new forms of grassroots activism, must begin with a repudiation of existing arrangements of power between Western donors and their NGO handmaidens in the South. Such a refusal would no doubt be met with resistance and punishment in the form of aid withdrawal by the West, if not worse. But that is the essence of the redemptive battle at hand.

We can only sing our redemption song and emancipate ourselves if we deny the white saviour industrial complex its ideological hold on us, and to do this we must collectively rethink our civil society relations and consciousness as Africans.  Failure to do so will result in us being continuously “chained to the obligation of gratitude” that Madonna implicitly expects. And it will result in Africans losing possession and control of their histories and memories, even if they reside in the form of something as seemingly unimportant as an autopsy report.