Category Archives: Weekend Reading

Weekend Reading

The move to more flexible scheduling has come alongside a shift from full-time to part-time work. One industry analyst reported that the retail sector went from being about 70 to 80 percent full-time jobs several decades ago to approximately 70 percent part-time jobs today. Retail employees comprise 11 percent of the US workforce, but 18 percent of those who are involuntarily part-time.

While erratic scheduling makes it difficult for someone not working a forty-hour week to find and hold a second job, relying on part-time work benefits employers — who can more easily vary hours and schedules, avoid overtime pay, and offer fewer benefits. Many companies have store policies that provide benefits only to full-time workers, and the Affordable Care Act applies only to workers employed thirty or more hours per week.

The thinking behind the idea that trigger warnings are a form of censorship is fundamentally illogical: those who offer warnings, at our professional discretion, about potentially triggering material are doing so precisely because we’re about to teach it! If we used trigger warnings to say, effectively, “don’t read this, it’s scary,” then there’d be no need to warn in the first place; we’d just leave the material off the syllabus.


[T]rigger warnings are, in practice, just one of a set of tools that professors use with varying degrees of formality to negotiate the give-and-take of classroom interactions. If you take away the media hysteria surrounding trigger warnings, you’re left with a mode of conversational priming that we all use: “You might want to sit down for this”; “I’m not sure how to say this, but…” It’s hardly anti-intellectual or emotionally damaging to anticipate that other people may react to traumatic material with negative emotions, particularly if they suffer from PTSD; it’s human to engage others with empathy. It’s also human to have emotional responses to life and literature, responses that may come before, but in no way preclude, a dispassionate analysis of a text or situation.

Weekend Reading

No doubt many liberals have grown increasingly sensitive to the uses and abuses of language. This might be a consequence of previously marginalized groups demanding respect, or it might have something to do with technological change, as the atomized Internet age gives way to the non-stop commentary of the social-media age. And it may be the case that this focus on language will prove, in the long run, unhelpful to the progressive movement. But it is hard to see how, as Powers argues, “the left is killing free speech” merely by paying too much attention to it. Last month, speaking about criminal-justice reform, President Obama issued twin exhortations. “We should not be tolerating rape in prison,” he said. “And we shouldn’t be making jokes about it in our popular culture.” To someone like Powers, this might have sounded faintly oppressive: the President telling citizens what jokes not to tell. Yet our discourse is shaped by innumerable taboos. (Just think of all the things one shouldn’t say about members of the military.) Certainly, some new taboos are emerging, even as some older ones fade away, but no one with Internet access will find it easy to claim that, in general, our speech is more inhibited than it used to be. Taboos discourage some speech, but the system of taboos is also maintained through speech. If you say the unsayable, you might well be shamed—and that shaming can have consequences—but you will not be arrested. Mostly, what inhibits speech is the fear of being spoken about.

Earlier this year, Powers took part in a debate over the proposition that “liberals are stifling intellectual diversity on campus.” One of the people on the other side was Angus Johnston, a historian of student activism. He cited the case of Robert J. Birgeneau, the former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, who was invited to deliver the commencement address at Haverford College last year, but declined in the face of protests; students had demanded that he apologize for the actions of U.C.B. police officers who arrested seven students during a 2011 demonstration. Powers considers Birgeneau the victim of a “campaign of intolerance,” but Johnston sees him as a perpetrator. “Birgeneau, an administrator who presided over the beating and arrest of student protesters, is portrayed as a free-speech martyr,” he said. “The students who just wanted to talk to him about that are portrayed as his oppressors.” Johnston conceded that “stifling” was worrisome, but insisted that the true culprits were administrators—liberal, perhaps, in political outlook, but motivated merely by “opposition to disruptiveness and clamor.” These days, just about everyone claims to be on the side of free speech.

All the good stuff we grow — tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce — has gotten continually more bland. This has been measured. They have become diluted of nutrients, as well. As we selected crops for agronomic traits like yield, shelf life and disease resistant, we never selected for flavor. And we lost flavor as a result. It’s reverse evolutionary pressure.

Simultaneously, while those flavors were being lost at the farm level, we started producing them in factories and adding them to all sorts of things. We created flavors that were out of context. For tens of thousands of years, the only place we could get the taste of orange was from an orange. Then we created orange flavoring and suddenly we had orange pops, ice cream, candy. These flavored foods deliver deliciousness and calories, but they don’t deliver a diversity of nutrients.

Weekend Reading

Weekend Reading wine pairings.


Weekend Reading

[I]n a 1996 article in Nature, a seismologist named Kenji Satake and three colleagues, drawing on the work of Atwater and Yamaguchi, matched that orphan [tsunami] to its parent—and thereby filled in the blanks in the Cascadia story with uncanny specificity. At approximately nine o’ clock at night on January 26, 1700, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake struck the Pacific Northwest, causing sudden land subsidence, drowning coastal forests, and, out in the ocean, lifting up a wave half the length of a continent. It took roughly fifteen minutes for the Eastern half of that wave to strike the Northwest coast. It took ten hours for the other half to cross the ocean. It reached Japan on January 27, 1700: by the local calendar, the eighth day of the twelfth month of the twelfth year of Genroku.

Once scientists had reconstructed the 1700 earthquake, certain previously overlooked accounts also came to seem like clues. In 1964, Chief Louis Nookmis, of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, in British Columbia, told a story, passed down through seven generations, about the eradication of Vancouver Island’s Pachena Bay people. “I think it was at nighttime that the land shook,” Nookmis recalled. According to another tribal history, “They sank at once, were all drowned; not one survived.” A hundred years earlier, Billy Balch, a leader of the Makah tribe, recounted a similar story. Before his own time, he said, all the water had receded from Washington State’s Neah Bay, then suddenly poured back in, inundating the entire region. Those who survived later found canoes hanging from the trees. In a 2005 study, Ruth Ludwin, then a seismologist at the University of Washington, together with nine colleagues, collected and analyzed Native American reports of earthquakes and saltwater floods. Some of those reports contained enough information to estimate a date range for the events they described. On average, the midpoint of that range was 1701.

It does not speak well of European-Americans that such stories counted as evidence for a proposition only after that proposition had been proved.

there were already innumerable levers at our disposal to alter Facebook’s algorithm and its interpretation of us. Like this post, view that profile, visit this third-party site while logged into Facebook, etc. We didn’t know what the exact effects of these would be, and we still don’t know what the exact effects of the new “controls” will have on our News Feeds. You don’t control an algorithm by feeding more information to it; you teach it to control you better.

Facebook has always deferred to users because that deference allows it to gain more information that can be presumed more accurate than what it can merely infer. And it has never wanted to tell us what to find meaningful; it wants only to inscribe Facebook as the best place in which to discover our sense of meaning. The control Facebook’s algorithms impose is not what to think but where to think it.

Weekend Reading

You can read these links anywhere and everywhere.

In a wealthier Michigan county, kids convicted of minor offenses are almost always sentenced to community service, like helping out at the local science center. Doug Mullkoff, a criminal defense attorney in Ann Arbor, told me that prison in such circumstances is “virtually unheard of.” But Jamie is from Detroit, and in January 2012, she was sent to the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, a prison that holds inmates convicted of crimes like first-degree homicide. From this point onward, her world was largely governed by codes and practices and assumptions designed for adult criminals.

Jamie is 20 now, but her soft brown eyes make her seem younger. When she first came to prison, women old enough to be her mother told her she was cute and promised to take care of her. “They rub on you and stuff, I can’t stand it,” she said. In the seven months before her 18th birthday, prison records show that Jamie was housed with at least three adult cellmates, including one in her 50s who had a history of cocaine possession. Jamie said she was also around adults in the showers and the yard. She had a bunkmate who did drugs she had never been around before, “something you snort.”

In this environment, Jamie found it hard to stay out of trouble. And when trouble came, she didn’t know how to explain herself to the guards. According to Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), Jamie “failed in every instance” to meet good-behavior standards that under Michigan law allow certain inmates to have their records scrubbed clean after they serve their sentences. In June 2012, Jamie’s special status was revoked and she was resentenced to up to five years in prison for her original crime.

Chilean capitalists were—then as now—gifted at spotting and exploiting opportunities. Many found that setting up shops in San Francisco was more profitable than searching for gold. Some of the richer Chileans who came to California brought theirpeones with them—dependent workers who claimed sites in their own names but worked them for their patrón (often for very little pay). That didn’t sit well with some American prospectors, nor did the fact that foreigners had claimed some of the best sites.

In December 1849, a group of Iowans decided to target and expel foreigners from sites they wanted to work. Intimidation tactics worked in some cases, but Chilean miners proved generally hard to intimidate. The Iowans claimed that the Chilean “peons” were slaves in a free state, and got a Judge Collier to issue an eviction order: The Chileans had eight days to vacate the site or be forcibly evicted. The Chilenos coolly informed the Iowans that they had never voted for Judge Collier and therefore didn’t recognize his authority. And what started out as a conflict in the mines of the Wild West devolved (or escalated) into a battle over paperwork: Finding a judge of their own, the Chileans asked him to issue a warrant for the Americans’ arrest, petitioned for authorization to personally make the arrests, and obtained it. They invaded the American camp, and managed to legally take more than a dozen extremely surprised Americans prisoner.

Africans existed in many different conditions in the colonies. Some Africans were free; there are even instances of Africans bringing lawsuits against Europeans — then called “Christians” — and winning. There are records of Africans adopting Christian babies. It’s only later that language changes from “free” and “slave” (or “African” and “Christian”) to “white” and “black.” Africans were available for enslavement in ways that other people were not.

For the first time in human history, the color of one’s skin had a political significance. It never had a political significance before. Now there was a reason to assign a political significance to dark skin — it’s an ingenious way to brand someone as a slave. It’s a brand that they can never wash off, that they can never erase, that they can never run away from. There’s no way out. That’s the ingeniousness of using skin color as a mark of degradation, as a mark of slavery.

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.