Monday, October 24, 2016
How I was drawn to birds
by Hari Balasubramanian
There are interests that lie dormant within us, waiting to take hold some day. If someone had said ten years back that I'd be into birds, I would have been skeptical. It's true that I always had a fondness for animals: in high school, I spent a lot of time following neighborhood stray dogs and watching cheetahs chase gazelles on National Geographic. After moving to Arizona for grad school, I sought out every opportunity to hike and visit the famous national parks of the American southwest. But despite all the time spent outdoors, birds had never intrigued me. I used to be puzzled, even amused, by people who showed up at a trail with binoculars.
For many, it's the sighting of a particular species, usually a rare or colorful one, that sparks an interest. In my case, it was a very common North American bird – the cardinal. This was in 2011. I'd been living in Amherst, Massachusetts for three years. I had heard of cardinals, mostly as the name of a football team, and had never spotted one.
But in March that year, I suddenly starting seeing them: outside my apartment, during my walks in the woods around Amherst and while driving (they would often fly across the road). The crested bright red male was a thrill to watch. I felt privileged every time I saw one. Something was being revealed just to me! I asked others if they had seen any and would feel proud if their reply was negative. There was probably a simpler explanation of course. It snowed and rained a lot that year, and the population could have spiked for some ecological reason. Or the sight of the first made me look for more every day, with the result that I had simply begun to see what had always been there.
Whatever the reason, cardinals sparked a wider interest in birds and indeed all other species. It all seemed a tremendous mystery.
At the time my apartment had large windows in the living room. They overlooked a wide green lawn that sloped down to a stream. Close to the window was a fledgling tree or plant that had grown only to a few feet. Every morning birds would come, perch on a weak branch for a few seconds, their heads bobbing this way and that, before moving to a nearby bird feeder. There was a family of chipmunks too. They had burrows into which they disappeared and hid food. The squirrels – giants compared to the chipmunks – frequented the bigger trees just beyond, flashing their bushy tails and chasing each other. This was very much a window onto domestic wildlife.
It was here that I saw the same pair of cardinals almost every day for a few weeks. A sudden sighting of the red male would invariably be followed by the lighter red of the female or vice versa. A month or two later, I learned to identify their calls. Even if I was unable to spot them, I knew they were around in the trees. I just had to roll down car windows while driving through narrow roads.
One thing led to another. In looking for cardinals that spring, I stumbled upon the equally colorful American goldfinch. Like cardinals, goldfinches showed up at my window now and then. A gold finch is smaller than the cardinal, about the size of sparrow. The bright yellow of the goldfinch is made sharper by the black strips along the finch's wings.
Again the same question: How come I had missed something as common and striking as the goldfinch for three years? And what other open secrets of the natural world was I missing? Apparently a lot! The sightings kept coming over the years. Blue herons, downy woodpeckers, scarlet tanagers, cedar waxwings, wild turkeys, falcons. A mile-long walk along wooded trails and swamps in and around Amherst, which I had previously wanted to finish it within 15 minutes – thanks to the modern obsession with fitness and heart-rates – could now take an hour and a half. I became attuned to the movements of birds among trees, patterns of flight and behavior, their calls. All this happened not with any forced effort but with the simple act of paying attention and enjoying it. Binoculars proved invaluable. Amazing how the simple arrangement of lenses can bring the distant so vividly close!
Every time I felt that there was nothing more to be surprised by, something new would come up. This year alone – five years after cardinals set me on the path – I saw for the first time the dark silhouette of the great horned owl, seated on a bare branch, against the twilight sky; the crow-sized pileated woodpecker, knocking on a broken tree stump, possibly looking for carpenter ants; the kingfisher diving for a catch in a river, then screeching loudly as if declaring victory.
It isn't only about spotting a new or visually striking species. Recently I saw a crow steal three acorn nuts that squirrels had dropped from the high reaches of an oak tree. Somehow the crow managed to pack the three relatively large and spherical acorns along its 2-inch beak. No easy feat!
And once, while waiting at a traffic intersection for the signal to change, I noticed a small sparrow-like bird scurrying into a hollow beam. The hollow beam was the horizontal support on which the panel of traffic lights was hung. The diameter of the beam was just large enough to let a sparrow-sized bird in. Many species take advantage of the nooks and interstices of infrastructure – falcons nesting in the high ledges of buildings, starlings and mourning doves lining up quietly on telephone lines – but I would have never guessed the support beam of a traffic signal as a place of refuge. This split-second observation on the road produced as strong as an impression as anything I'd seen in more 'natural' settings.
E. O. Wilson, who spent decades studying ants, "found that ants are a magical well: the more you draw from them, the more there is to draw." I've certainly felt that way about birds. Every time I pay attention some new detail which I had previously missed comes to the fore. What I think of as familiar is constantly turning new, constantly reinventing itself. Nothing is ever settled.
Perceptions: selfie circa 1930
Otto Umbehr. Self Portrait at the Beach. c 1930.
by Mathangi Krishnamurthy
Interviews and dates begin thus, "Tell me something about yourself". In that moment, I balk. After all, what among a dozen different things might this question demand? Must I confess? Shall I tell all? Shall I say everything there is to say? Do I even know? Come to think of it, is who I am right now tantamount to who I will or want to be? Breathing deep, I brush away the doubts. I condense. I offer caveats. I make self and knowledge palatable to my interviewer. Eyes shining, legs crossed, smile wide, back straight, I produce all of the everything that must mean so little.
There is so much I'd like to say. But I fear incomprehension, and derision, and the walls between people that render them interested mainly in self. And yes, I know. This essay. But surely, things about self are also things about the world? In David Szalay's recent work, "All That Man Is", one of his protagonists is dismayed that the world he knows ends with him; there is only one person capable of knowing this world, and he is afraid of mortality and how it will destroy this world. I wonder that he didn't ask the other question; if this world even exists. So in hopes that it does, and in trying to grapple with its ultimate destruction, let me tell you some things about myself.
Most times, I am not even sure I exist. I am wholly and entirely the Descartian subject, however. I walk around with a body from which I feel an arm's length distance. We live together, my body and I, in a tenderly choreographed dialectic. I marvel at it sometimes, so full in its materiality and definitive weight. I wear it like raiment; other times, it wears me. And some very rare times, like when I manage to hold a tree pose, we are one.
Time passes by, and I try hard to hold it down. One of the great joys of my life is to look at old photographs, one by one, and fill in all the lives in between. Somehow, the present moment does not seem to have the same capacity for meaning. My past lives petrified in photographs seem to have been so whole, so lively, so full of pleasures that one could have not imagined in the moment when they were lived. Or maybe they were. Maybe the photographs tell the truth. Here I am smiling, here's the sun, so present, and here, there, and everywhere is the world in all its details. So full of promise that I no longer recognize my present in the wake of such a past. Like Susan Sontag suggests, in my photographs, I collect the world, and I am acquisitive of my own past selves.
My anger as a woman is matched often by my anger at being a woman. But I experience gender only when I am named, recognized, interpellated. Or when my body leaks. I am not sure if I have gender, or if gender has me. I do know, as Stuart Hall argues, that I'm sutured into the category of a woman. And that suturing is strong at places, and weak at others. I consider my gender and its experiences as exceptional, and yet shudder when rendered as a fetish. In the same breath, I am, however, fascinated by the unmarked other, masculinity. That which I know very little of, and yet that which I also consider exceptional and fetishize. Perhaps, like a good structuralist, I should know that meaning lies in the relationship betwixt, that strange force-field of back and forth, and standing steady, and lurking known and unknown.
The form of the day fascinates me. I imagine its aspects as if I can see, touch, smell, and feel them. Mornings are pearl grey, mid mornings yellow, afternoons bright ochre, and evenings purple. Nights are bejewelled. There are smells of jasmine, citrus, and lavender. And each part of the day plays a different beat.
I consider all spaces mine and no space mine. I inhabit space and make it my place. When I abandon it, no trace remains. My imprint is large, but treads light. I am writing this in a hotel room constructed of wood, bamboo, and thatch. The bathroom has no roof. My parapharnelia have found place across shelves, floors, and door knobs. It seems that I have been here forever. This is mine, in Gaston Bachelard's words, "a real cosmos in every sense of the word." When I am gone later today, somebody will sweep and wash every inch, never knowing that this was mine. Another world will have disappeared.
The sea and I are not friends. Perhaps, I should not assume feelings on its behalf. Indifference would rightfully be its right. So, let's say, I am not friends with the sea. However, I can stare at it endlessly as it reminds me with its outward gaze that there it extends far and further than my eye can see. That it dances without me. That its gaze and preoccupations lie elsewhere. We play sometimes. I make contact, stepping slowly into the water, timid and bow-legged, to the point where I can still feel the sandy shore under my feet. This far and no further.
I think of words as solid entities. Between me and the world is always the word. But as many will tell you, the word is the world. It does not mediate; it conjures into being. This body, this pen, these thoughts, this flailing. Sometimes, I can step two inches away from a conversation and watch all of the words floating in the ether as they disconnect from all meaning and structure and intent. I can see and hear them in all their sonorous heaviness, and in that moment, they do not mediate, there is no world, and I cease to exist.
I could tell you so much more about myself, but I fear I will write myself away.
Monday, October 17, 2016
clicking buttons of a remote I dream of enlightenment
of crammed refugees in boats I dream
in flickering glow of screens I dream of enlightenment
of history that still careens I dream
hearing sirens in the dark I dream of enlightenment
of popping guns in parks I dream
seeing new corpses in the street I dream of enlightenment
of black men beaten by blue I dream
tasting the sky of a hard rain I dream of enlightenment
of earth recoiling from human stain I dream
feeling the blast and bite of drones I dream of enlightenment
of streets of blood and bones I dream
seeing skeletal forms of girls and boys I dream of enlightenment
while surfeit banquets cloy I dream
while glittering glass cubes burn and fall I dream of enlightenment
while no one seems to learn at all I dream
Curated by Anne Barlow, Art in General, New York in collaboration with kim? Contemporary Art Centre, Riga, LV
Mad and Mythical Dogs
by Genese Sodikoff
For thousands of years, people on every continent (save for uninhabitable Antarctica) have recognized the behavior of rabid animals and seen the ravages that rabies inflicts on the human mind and body. While the biological symptoms of rabies are universal, it, like many global diseases, manifests in different places with unique cultural markers and histories. These include everyday etiologies, or the ways people trace the origin of a disease or condition. They include the specific images or emotions expressed by victims in a feverish state, or the treatments applied to rabid animal bites. Beyond the cultural ideas and practices that shape any illness, rabies' origins and unpredictable incubation period, which can range anywhere from a week to months (or years!) before symptoms appear, invites the human imagination to fill in the blank.
In Madagascar, where I do anthropological fieldwork, rabies has been around since at least 1896, when the French colonized the island. Historian Eric T. Jennings writes that by 1899, a Pasteur Institute was established to forcefully combat human rabies, known as hydrophobia, but the virus was never eradicated. Jennings writes that to French colonial scientists experienced in treating rabies, Madagascar appeared to have a particularly acute and fast-spreading strain, requiring "more frequent injections of more active virus." Rabid dogs in Madagascar appeared more ferocious than elsewhere, aiming right for the face.
Given the prevalence and history of rabies in Madagascar, I was surprised to learn that many Malagasy people (including doctors and veterinarians) attribute the viral source to a wild species that has only recently appeared on the landscape: a creature they call "little big chest" (kelibetratra). I refer specifically to people in the region of Moramanga District, about a three-hour drive east of the capital, Antananarivo, but knowledge of the kelibetratra as the rabies source extends far beyond this district.
The creature was described to me as a furtive wild dog from the rain forest that only roams late at night. It is built like a pit bull, but with shorter legs and a bigger thorax. Because of deforestation, they said, the animal has been scared out of its natural habitat into villages and towns, where it attacks pet dogs and cats, infecting them with rabies.
On the face of it, the story is plausible because the destruction of Madagascar's rain forests has not only endangered countless rare species, but, paradoxically, has also made hidden creatures more discoverable. Scientists have been finding "new" species, already on the brink of extinction, with alarming frequency. But no species of wild dog exists in Madagascar, and in fact, no one has ever seen a kelibetratra. They have only heard the howls and growls of dogfights.
The tale of the kelibetratra is a political statement, even though people are not consciously offering political critique when they discuss it. They do, however, lay blame for deforestation at the feet of the foreign-run mining industry. (Foreigners have long blamed deforestation on Malagasy agriculture.) Graphite mines in the region date back to the French colonial period of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Then in 2007, a giant nickel and cobalt mine, Ambatovy, was established on the outskirts of Moramanga town, employing hundreds of people. Its open pit and buildings perforated a hole in a large contiguous rain forest, and its slurry pipeline, spanning a couple of hundred miles to a processing plant on the east coast, slashed through forest and fragile wetlands. In an effort to offset the ecological damages, the Ambatovy operation secured about 5000 hectares of surrounding rain forest forbiodiversity conservation. I won't go into the upshot of the mining industry becoming a conservation authority in the region. Suffice it to say that Malagasy residents think of Ambatovy when they discuss deforestation, and they think of deforestation when they discuss rabies and the kelibetratra.
The image of the kelibetratra seems to have emerged by the early 2000s. A Malagasy political commentator wrote a column in 2007 suggesting that that rumors of this nature, of dangerous, fantastical creatures, are mobilized when the state becomes too oppressive. The rumors agitate the population, but their sources remain obscure.
The elusive kelibetratra did not illuminate to me what was the real source of rabies in Moramanga. That is, beyond the problem of rabid stray dogs, I wondered was there a wild reservoir of rabies? Civets perhaps? I thought bats were a likely source, since they are abundant in the region and frequently enter people's homes. Bats carry lyssaviruses, including rabies, as well an array of other pathogens, making them common vectors of zoonosis.
I learned, however, that bats are not to blame for infecting dogs or people with rabies. For the past several years, Cara Brook, a doctoral student of Dr. Andrew P. Dobson at Princeton's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, has been studying fruit bats (fanihy) in Madagascar and their contribution to spillover diseases, including rabies. Fruit bats or flying foxes (of which three endemic species exist in Madagascar) indeed carry the rabies virus, but it is a different strain than canine rabies (RABV). Canine rabies is the strain that occasionally, though rarely, infects humans.
One might assume that processing or eating wild animals that harbor rabies would put people at risk. In some villages of the Moramanga District, Malagasy eat fruit bats though it is not a common dish everywhere and many people in town find the idea of eating bat distasteful. The cooking process appears to render the meat safe for consumption. Rabies needs vital material-- saliva, spinal fluid, or brain (but not blood)--to survive.
A big question that Cara Brook is investigating concerns how bats have evolved into such long-lived, resilient hosts, immune to tumors and the viruses that kill other mammals. The answer, she explained, may lie in their ability to fly, a metabolically costly process that may have generated mechanisms to lessen oxidative stress, which causes cellular damage. These mechanisms, in turn (or in a feedback loop, as evolution goes) may have generated effects responsible for bats' imperviousness to certain pathogens and tumors.
Malavika Rajeev, a fellow doctoral student at Princeton in the lab of Dr. Jessica Metcalf, is also studying rabies dynamics and rabies control measures in Madagascar, focusing on dog populations. Prior to her new project in Madagascar, Malavika did research on rabies in Tanzania with Dr. Katie Hampson (University of Glasgow) examining the dynamics of rabies transmission and the interaction of the virus with different landscape attributes, including vaccinated animals.
Malavika confirmed that in Madagascar, the virus is maintained within the dog population. There is no need to look beyond for a wild source that boosts the virus into the domestic animal population. (And there is no need for cryptozoology.) Rabid dogs, in their confusion, often stray into other localities without being noticed, bite other dogs, and leave. These isolated moments of contact in which the virus jumps from its still living host into another body has sustained rabies for over a century, and possibly longer. Dog vaccinations, needed every two years, are exorbitantly expensive (approximately $3.00 per shot) for most Malagasy to buy. The state agency in charge of rabies control lacks resources to round up and exterminate unvaccinated dogs and strays (which is anyway very unpopular with residents), so the cycle continues unabated.
When walking through villages and town, it is difficult to distinguish a snarling mean dog from a mad one (romotra is the Malagasy word for rabid). So although most human victims of animal bites get vaccinated (and hospital staff over-cautiously vaccinate family members and neighbors of human rabies victims), not everyone thinks it is necessary, particularly if they have never witnessed a case of human rabies.
Rabies, like the plague in Madagascar, is a disease that impacts traditional funerary practices, and restrictions on customs makes it all the more distressing for relatives of rabies victims. Persons who die of the plague in the hospital may not be wrapped in the traditional white burial cloth (lamba fotsy), which requires close contact with the corpse. The state requires that plague victims be buried in separate graves rather than familial tombs for a period of seven years, the duration of time deemed necessary to ensure that the bacterium is no longer active (and so cannot infect the extended family, including deceased ancestors, presumably). Rabies victims must be buried in separate graves for a period of at least five years before the family may transfer the remains to the family tomb. These rules of internment for certain diseases are overcautious, and in the case of rabies death, mysterious. They extend a family's period of suffering for years because for Malagasy, to be buried far from the familial tomb is to pass eternity in exile. Family members must bear the guilt of failing their loved one.
The blight of rabies in Madagascar includes, but is not limited to, acute poverty and all the infrastructural obstacles that sustain the rabies virus in dogs, as well as a policy that stifles the grieving process for families. I am also interested in a deeper exploration of the culturally specific symbols that infuse a rabies victim’s state of mind (as dreams are also infused).
I turn to an interview with Madame Irene, a woman in Moramanga District whose 12 year old son died of rabies in 2013. She told me and my Malagasy collaborator, Dieudonné, how her son got infected and what happened afterward. She recounted that the family dog had been in the courtyard and managed to swallow a poisoned rat, or so that's what the boy thought when he saw his dog walking and behaving erratically. He reached into the dog's frothy mouth in hopes of pulling out the rodent, which made the dog retch. But the boy could not retrieve the rat. The dog died the next day, and the family buried it in their yard.
About a month later, Madame Irene's son fell ill with an intense headache that progressed quickly to "crisis." She called the local midwife who advised he get tested at the hospital. The doctors determined it was rabies and kept him there. Meanwhile, the family and their neighbors received prophylactic vaccinations.
The boy was febrile and intensely anxious. He could not sleep in the hospital and writhed in bed. Hugging him close seemed the only way to soothe him. His mother recalled that he could not tolerate the color white, particularly white clothes. They seared his eyes. Note she did not say he had recoiled from sunlight or electric light. She specified white clothing. Dieudonné and I both had the same thought, which we discussed that evening. Could it be how the boy's mortal fear found expression, through a terror of white clothes? We were only leaping to this conclusion, but Dieudonné seemed convinced. The lamba fotsy, the white cloth used to wrap a corpse. Madame Irene's memories of her son were not generalizable to other cases and other terminal illnesses. Her son's experience was no doubt unique, but it tapped into a symbolic repertoire that resonates with Malagasy people and makes Madame Irene's story all the more chilling.
Throw Your Vote Away
by Akim Reinhardt
To say this has been an interesting presidential election season would be an understatement. Regardless of who is declared president after the polls close three weeks from tomorrow, this is almost certainly a tussle that historians will pick over and analyze for decades to come, if not centuries. They're apt to do that when an election reveals deep fissures in society, as has this one.
But of course there's more to it than that. Donald Trump's candidacy is not just about a political outsider emerging as the champion of ostensible insiders (mostly white males) who have come to see themselves as disenchanted, frustrated outsiders amid long term changes in the national economy, culture, and demography. Among other things, it's also about a startlingly unqualified person taking the reigns of a major party against the wishes of that party's leadership; an unleashing of various bigotries that have forced comfortable Americans to stop pretending racism and sexism aren't real problems; and the dramatic erosion of lines separating entertainment and politics.
Amid this whirlwind of upheaval, Hillary Clinton now seems very likely to win. Our Lady of the Establishment looks ever more presidential, partly in contrast to Trump's glaring ineptitude, but mostly because so many people find The Donald to be utterly contemptible. And a victory which, under more banal circumstances, might have been most noteworthy for the United States electing its first female president nearly a century after the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote, will now largely be seen as a moment when simple sanity held sway over startling lunacy.
Regardless of how high the stakes appear, however, there are still only two good reasons why you should vote for Hillary Clinton:
-You believe she would be a good president
-You don't believe she would be a good president, but you live in a swing state and don't want Donald Trump to become president
For these two reasons, tens of millions of people will vote for Hillary Clinton, and I applaud them. I really do think it's important we avoid the wretched shambles of a Trump presidency.
However, neither of these reasons apply to me or many other millions of voters. When such is the case, we should recognize it and vote accordingly.
First, I live in Maryland. Even before the Trump campaign melted down in light of his 2005 "pussy grabbing" rant going public, Hillary Clinton was already projected to have a more than a 99% chance of winning this state.
In this respect, Maryland is bluer than even California and New York. Only Hawai'i and Washington, D.C. poll higher for Clinton. Thus, I must face reality: my single vote doesn't matter. Regardless of whomever I vote for, Hillary Clinton will win this state. It and more than a dozen other states are locked down for Clinton.
There is a parallel circumstance facing voters in more than a dozen heavily red states such as Oklahoma and Wyoming. Trump is going to capture those electoral votes no matter what you and everyone you know does.
In truth, there are only about a dozen swing states in play this election, and they are home to a minority of American voters. The simple truth is, a great majority of electoral votes are already spoken for, and if you live in a non-competitive state, you should do the math and face facts. Not only does your vote not matter, but you can do all the door knocking, phone banking, and general haranguing you like; it simply won't make the slightest bit of difference in the final outcome.
That brings us to the second issue. In deciding whom to vote for, all of the polls are moot if you have strong, favorable convictions about a candidate. That is, even if you live in a state where your vote will have absolutely no bearing on the outcome, you should still vote for Hillary Clinton (or Donald Trump, for that matter) if you believe she (or he, god bless you) is the best choice for president.
In this case your vote, while statistically irrelevant and utterly inconsequential, will still be an honest expression of your political will. As such, casting your ballot for a candidate you enthusiastically endorse will contribute to the healthy functioning of American democracy. You will help make the final vote count an accurate reflection of the people's will.
However, I do not think Hillary Clinton will actually be a good president. I believe that, on balance, she will be a bad president.
Yes, next to Donald Trump, Clinton looks like the second coming of Christ. But next to Richard Nixon, Donald Trump looks like Beelzebub.
When I stand back and evaluate Clinton on her own merits, I come away less than thrilled. And that's putting it mildly.
Clinton strikes me as a center-right, neo-liberal pragmatist with questionable values who will show little compunction about striking ill-advised bargains with Congressional Republicans that end up exacerbating current economic problems. I also see her as a liberal interventionist in the mode of Woodrow Wilson or, ironically enough, Lyndon Johnson, who will be quick to send U.S. troops into war zones where they don't belong.
I believe Clinton will be a much better president than Trump, and if Maryland were in play, I would vote for her. But it simply is not.
Like most Americans, I live in a state that is not in play, and so I have no role to play in determining who will be president. At the same time, I do not think Clinton will be a good president; She represents many political values that I stand in opposition to, voting for her would be a misrepresentation of my political will, and on some level then, a disservice to American democracy. Thus, it would be both pointless and dishonest for me to vote for her.
If a vote is a neither an honest expression of the voter's beliefs and values, nor a strategic calculation to influence results, then it serves no practical purpose while degrading American democratic institutions by presenting a warped image of Americans' political desires. In the end, such a vote, often cast out of fear, constricts our vision of what American democracy can be instead of expanding the realm of possibilities.
Millions of Americans are in a similar position. They live in states that are not up for grabs, their presidential vote in that respect is mathematically meaningless, and they are only lying to themselves and others if they bluster on about their ballot having a practical effect in choosing a winner. At the same time, they might dislike one candidate a fair bit more than the other, but they don't actually like and would rather not support either.
And they don't need to.
If you live in a state that is not in play, and neither major party candidate represents your political ideals to a degree that you feel comfortable with, then it's time to do what many people wrongly believe is "throwing away your vote."
The most obvious approach is to express yourself earnestly and vote for a third party candidate who actually does represent your values, or at least comes closer than anyone else. I have done this in the past, usually voting for independent or Green Party candidates.
However, while it may not be obvious in America's winner-take-all electoral formula, there is in fact a way for citizens in non-competitive states to cast a crassly strategic vote for a third party candidate.
No, Jill Green is not going to win the presidency. Under any circumstances. But for smaller parties, there actually is an important prize for finishing a strong third or even fourth.
If a political party receives 5% of the popular vote nationwide, they become eligible for public campaign financing in the next cycle. That adds up to well over $20,000,000. Major parties are also eligible for this money, but always decline it because they can raise much more on their own, which is not allowed if you accept public funds. Third parties, however, can make enormous strides by accessing these public funds, which far exceed what they can normally raise from private sources.
Currently, Jill Stein is polling at about 2%. She would need to double up to reach the magic number. Meanwhile, Libertarian Gary Johnson is polling at about 9%, well over the threshold for public campaign financing.
For this reason alone, I am considering voting for Johnson even though I am not a Libertarian.
To be perfectly blunt about it, I think Johnson is a very weak candidate. More generally, I have serious problems with Libertarian ideology. My biggest grievance is that I see economic libertarianism as a näive contrivance which, if ever implemented, would likelier lead us into neo-feudalism than some magical free market paradise.
I do often agree with social libertarianism. For example, the nation's drug laws have wrought profound damage on American society, and abortion should remain legal, period. Then again, I think some issues, such as sex work, are a bit more complicated and call for nuance, not absolutism. Likewise, Libertarian foreign policy is a bit too disengaged for my taste. While I worry deeply about liberal interventionism, and outright despise more naked forms of imperial aggression, I do think U.S. foreign policy should be robust without being bellicose; the world is a dangerous place, and shades of isolationism don't cut it.
In other words, I would not vote for Gary Johnson if doing so could swing Maryland to Trump (it can't), or if he actually had a chance of becoming president (which he absolutely does not).
But since my vote is completely extraneous in determining the winner of either my state or the general election, I am free to make a calculated decision. And I have come to the point where I want to see almost any minor party make some headway against the duopoly. While the Greens are my first choice, they are lagging. If Stein gets closer to striking distance, I will go with them. If not, however, I may cast a vote to shore up the Libertarian total even though I have no affinity for that party. Simply put, I want my vote to help a minor party crack 5%, garner federal campaign financing, and build themselves up with a stronger political presence at all levels.
And to be even crasser and more strategic about it, consider the following. As the Libertarians rise, it will likely hurt the Republican Party far more than it will hurt the Democrats. American Libertarians' main plank (free market economics) is much more in line with the Elephants than the Donkeys. Building up the Libertarian Party can inflict long term damage on the GOP.
The Republican Party is currently in chaos, but odds are it will quickly recover after the disaster of November 8, 2016 is behind them. Its organization is still stout at the local level. And the Republican National Committee will almost certainly shore up party rules, making it nearly impossible for a repeat of the Trump fiasco. They'll continue to profit from their position in the duopoly, maintaining an air of respectability no matter how far to the right they drift. They'll continue to be a force in the Senate even if they lose their majority. They'll probably even hold onto the House of Representatives for years to come because U.S. Congressional districts are thoroughly gerrymandered.
But a successful Libertarian Party, even on a small scale, can split votes and thereby minimize the damage Republicans inflict on the nation. And if all that public money begins translating into Libertarian mayors, state legislators, and even some Congressional members, then things will get interesting.
For these reasons, then, I am prepared to vote for a candidate I do not support, who belongs to a party with dubious ideology. Except, unlike so many people, in doing so I won't be voting for either a Republican or a Democrat. It might be a Green. Or, perish the thought, I might cast a ballot for Libertarian Gary Johnson, safe in the knowledge that he cannot win.
Then again, if a majority of Nobel committee members could vote to give little Bobby Zimmerman its Me-Good-With-Words prize, then I suppose anything's possible.
Indeed, we are living amid the blinding sunburst of fading Boomer glory.
Akim Reinhardt's website is ThePublicProfessor.com. Visiting it is yet another form of throwing away your vote.
Lechery in the White House
by Leanne Ogasawara
I suppose I should mention my son is 14!
Never in my life, have I seen anything like the insane circus that is surrounding this presidential debate, have you? With 24 hour a day coverage and the wild reaches of Internet, it feels like the election is going to take down the entire country with it. I mean, I was just walking my poodle this morning, and I heard two guys in spandex shouting about Trump's latest outrages as they screamed past me on the their bikes.
You can't get away from it. Not even in the days of Bill Clinton was there this level of lechery.
And so I totally agree with John Oliver, when he said we have reached a point so low in this election that we are now breaking through the earth's crust, where drowning in boiling magma will come as sweet, sweet relief.”
Of course, Oliver had taped his show before the world had started gleefully repeating "that word" over and over again. All of a sudden, "that word" was everywhere, to the point that the detestable Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hugh was seen demurely asking CNN's Ana Navarro to, "Please stop saying that word, because," She explained, “My daughter is listening...”
Suffice it to say this did not go over well with Navarro, who angrily responded,
“You know what Scottie? Don’t tell me you’re offended when I say ‘pussy,’ but you’re not offended when Donald Trump says it!” Navarro shouted at Hughes. “I’m not running for president. He is.”
The CNN panel --along with millions of viewers-- sat there stunned, because TRULY, you just can't make this stuff up!
And as if Trump was not enough, we are now being made to re-live Bill Clinton's antics, who Trump tells us, "has said far worse to me on the golf course — not even close....” This being all insinuated as some of the women from Clinton's past were paraded in front of us on TV to describe how Hillary aided and abetted Bill's exploitative behavior to women.
Along with John Oliver, We the People are left wondering, "what on earth did we do to deserve this?"
Can't we all just slowly start backing away from these two total nut-jobs and pretend that the 2016 presidential election never happened? Or at the very least, can't we make it known to the world that the American people themselves hate these candidates, who have record negative numbers.
Better yet, is it too late to get Bernie back? How about Colin Powell? I wouldn't even mind seeing Anderson Cooper run. Anything has to be better than these two (well, almost anything).
So, my friend Paul J. Scalise, who is an academic mainly based in Europe and Japan, thinks that Americans have lost all ability to distinguish between public and private. And suggests that perhaps the real problem is the media. Right now, He is reading a really fun book called, Party Like a President: True Tales of Inebriation, Lechery, and Mischief from the Oval Office, by Brian Abrams.
-- I don't think we realize how impossible and unrealistic our standards of personal perfection are today in searching for a leader.
Some of America’s most popular presidents would never have stood a chance at election in today’s environment.
Would Teddy Roosevelt be elected today with revelations that he enjoyed big game hunting in Africa? Would FDR be elected today with revelations that he suffered from polio? Would JFK be elected today with revelations that he was a serial womanizer? Would Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, FDR, Grover Cleveland, Warren Harding, Lyndon Johnson, or even George Bush, Sr be elected today with revelations that they all had extramarital affairs? Would Chester Arthur, James Buchanan, and several others be elected today with revelations that they were borderline alcoholics? Would Abraham Lincoln be elected today with revelations that he never went to church or even cared about God until he ran for public office?
The list goes on and on...
America's very unique insistence on scrutinizing the private lives and private conversations of candidates -- something that is laughed at as irrelevant in most European and Asian countries --would likely have cost us a lot of good former presidents if today's standards were applied to the past.
Given the current climate where Americans do seem to care and judge each candidate by the strict standards and morals of our time, and given that Americans seem to like just fine this relentless scrutiny of candidate's private lives, then I think it is safe to say that both candidates are deeply problematic. Neither candidate meets the moral purity checklist--not by a long shot. So, if the media as it exists today won't go away and they continue to poke at the personal lives of politicians and if that is okay with people, then maybe these current candidates should bow out? There was a meme on Facebook that suggested we pay Obama month to month to keep going until we work this all out...
By way of a conclusion here, I would suggest that when one removes all the smoke and accusations of transgressions, we will be left with the worst kind of entitlement attitudes ever seen in the history of our country. Banana Republics levels of double standards, being above the law, and getting away with all manner of behavior because you have "power." This is what is most revolting about the entire mess.
We’re All in This Together: Life as Jamie Knows It
Jamie is a young man in his early twenties. He has Down syndrome and is the son of Michael Bérubé and Janet Lyon, who teach at Penn State. Michael has just published Life as Jamie Knows It: An Exceptional Child Grows Up (Beacon 2016). Here’s how Michael characterizes his book (p. 16):
In the following pages, Jamie and I will tell you about his experiences at school, his evolving relationship with his brother, his demeanor in sickness and health, and his career as a Special Olympics athlete. And we’ll tangle with bioethics, politicians, philosophers, and a wide array of people we believe to be mistaken about some very important questions, such as whether life is worth living with a significant disability and whether it would be better for all the world if we could cure Down syndrome. (Quick preview: Yes. No.) But we will not tell you that Jamie is a sweet angel/cherub whose plucky triumphs over disability inspire us all. We will not tell you that special-needs children are gifts sent to special parents. And we will definitely not tell you that God never gives someone more than he or she can handle, because as a matter of fact, God dos that all the time–whether through malice or incompetence I cannot say.
That’s a fair characterization of the book. There are stories about Jamie, lots of them, and some stories by Jamie in the Afterword. But there is also philosophy, especially the final chapter, and discussions of disability policy, health care, education, and job-related. The stories about Jamie, his family, and friends, both illuminate and motivate the more abstract discussions. Here and there, as you might already have deduced, Michael slips in a zinger, sometimes mild, sometimes hot and spicy.
In the interests of full disclosure I should tell you that Michael is a friend. While I’ve only seen him face-to-face once, I’ve known him online for sometime, interacting with him through his now defunct blog, American Airspace, where Jamie was a frequent topic of conversation, and through email about this and that, mostly recently about Jamie’s art – a topic we’ll get to in due course. Thus this is not an arms-length review. It is simply a discussion of issues raised by a thought-provoking and well-written book.
Dots in Rhythm
The book first hit home for me with this passage (66):
Some of the people on Medicare and Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income are people with disabilities. Your parents, your cousins, your grand-nephews, your neighbors–some of them are people with disabilities. They have autism or Alzheimer’s or arthritis or achondroplasia or carpal tunnel syndrome of Crohn’s disease or Parkinson’s or Huntington’s or cerebral palsy or MS or traumatic brain injury; they are deaf or blind or paraplegic or schizophrenic.
A high school friend was hemophilic. Family friends, father and then son, had Parkinson’s. My father’s father was blind; he had once been a photographer and wood carver. My mother had Alzheimer’s.
Most of the specific conditions Michael lists have a genetic component, though not all (e.g. traumatic brain injury). Some are manifest at or soon after birth (e.g. Down syndrome, autism) while others don’t show up until later in life (e.g. Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s). If the condition is present at birth, then it is a determining factor in a person’s identity as they mature and build a life. If the condition shows up later, then it may well degrade or even destroy their identity. That is true whether the condition has a genetic component or is the result of severe injury or disease.
This plays into discussions of just how we conceptualize Down syndrome: disease or disability? Disease is the result of a condition that is not inherent in the diseased individual. Diseases may result in permanent disability, but not necessarily so. In these discussions the default understanding of “disability” is inherent disability, such as we see with autism. Deafness may be an inherent disability or it may be the result of disease or injury; blindness is the same. Diseases can be cured and eliminated; inherent disabilities cannot, though the fetus can be aborted if the disability is detected. Disabilities, however, can be mitigated accommodations in healthcare, education, transportation, workplace, and so forth. Diseases imply a research and treatment agendas that are quite different from disabilities.
Michael, as you might surmise, regards Down syndrome as an inherent disability. It won’t be cured. But we can mitigate the consequences of Down syndrome by providing appropriate help to individuals and families throughout life. Above all, as we have learned in the last two or three decades, people with Down syndrome can live far richer lives than had been thought possible when they were labeled “Mongoloid idiots” and had a life expectancy of less than 25 years. If we expect more of them, give them room, and support them in their efforts, they will grow and live into middle age.
Towers of Color
Thus Jamie has become a traveler. Michael travels frequently on academic business of one kind or another and takes Jamie with him. Jamie doesn’t have to book the plain tickets or the hotel rooms, much less pay for it all, but he has proven to be an alert and engaging travel companion. He’s been to Pittsburg, New York City, Las Vegas, Rome, Florence, and who knows where else. Making lists, swimming in pools, visiting museums, going to shows, listening patiently while his father delivers a lecture, and sometimes participating in the lecture when the topic is disability. On one occasion he upstaged the old man by concluding his portion of the program, not with “thank you” but with “merci beaucoup” (81).
In the Special Olympics Jamie learned to upstage himself. It was in April of 2009 at a meet in central Pennsylvania. He won gold in the 25m and 50m freestyle and was then placed in a 25m backstroke heat where he seemed hopelessly outclassed by two adult swimmers whose qualifying times were 10 seconds better than his. And yet, much to Michael’s amazement and satisfaction, he won. It seems that, when in midrace Jamie surveyed the field, he realized he was losing and went into overdrive, “churning his arms and legs frantically to beat his fellow swimmers” (120). He also beat is own personal best by over ten seconds.
And then there’s horse-back riding, martial arts, and golf, where Jamie displays a calm and composure at odds with the frustration inherent in a game where one tries to put a small ball into a somewhat larger hole over distances measured in 100s of yards. But the world of sports is not the real world; it is a world apart.
As is the world of the arts. Jamie loves both the visual arts and music and both figure in his prodigious list-making – Michael has a number of Jamie’s lists posted on line, and not just those of musicians and artists, but also lists of counties in Pennsylvania, military leaders, dates, wrestling matches by The Undertaker, capital cities of countries I’ve never heard of, and other topics. He’s visited many art museums and has a particular fondness for Caravaggio and the Beatles. What Michael doesn’t discuss in the book, however, is the fact that Jamie himself is an artist. But he has placed an extensive sample of Jamie’s work online and I’ve spent a good deal of time over the past week examining it and have become convinced that his investigations merit that label, “investigation.” He is exploring and discovering and, I rather imagine, have a great deal of fun as well.
He has settled on a few themes and motifs and has covered countless sheets of paper with them. Jamie has no interest in figurative art; all his work is abstract. You see some examples of them in this post.
I suspect that is because the relationship between what you see on the page, as an artist, and what you do as you draw is quite direct in the case of abstract art, but oddly remote for figurative art. While natural scenes often have a complexity that is easily avoided in abstract imagery, that is not, I suspect, the primary problem. The primary problem is that the world exists in three dimensions while drawing surfaces have only two dimensions. Figuring out how to project the 3D world into a 2D surface is difficult, so difficult that artists have at times taken to mechanical means, such as the camera obscura, a pinhole device used to project a scene onto a flat surface where the artist can then simply trace the image. Some years ago David Hockney caused a minor scandal in the art world when he suggested that the some of the old masters used mechanical aids, such as the camera obscura, rather than drawing guided only by the unaided eye.
But that’s a digression. The point is simply that figuring out how to place a line on a flat surface so that it accurately traces the outline of what one sees, that is a very difficult thing to do, so difficult that many artistic traditions have simply ignored the problem. By choosing to work only with abstract imagery, Jamie sidesteps that problem. He has chosen to work with round dots, concentric bands, rectangular towers and cells, and intriguingly biomorphic geometric objects. While that is a limitation, we should note that many fine artists have opted for abstraction over the last century and that a major family of aesthetic traditions, those is many Islamic nations, have eschewed representational art (as sacrilegious) and developed rich traditions of calligraphy and geometric patterning.
I note Jamie’s use of color and rhythm in the dots and the towers images (first two in this post) and dynamic quality of his biomorphic images (third in this post). But this is not the place for a detailed discussion of Jamie’s art – I’ve already done that in a series of blog posts. The general point is simply that Jamie has chosen materials he is comfortable with and has thrived from doing so.
What of others with Down syndrome? The late Judith Scott had Down syndrome and she achieved international acclaim as a fiber artist. Michael informs me, however, that he doesn’t know of anyone else with Down syndrome who draws as extensively as Jamie does. Is Jamie’s level of artistic skill that rare among those with Down syndrome? I certainly have no way of knowing.
What would happen if children with Down syndrome were exposed to Jamie’s art, perhaps even watch him doing it (most likely through video or film)? Would they imitate him and develop their own preferred motifs and themes? Could people be trained to teach the Jamie method?
Perhaps the main disappointment in Jamie’s life is that he hasn’t been able to obtain satisfactory employment. His job skills, obviously, are limited. He’s had various part-time jobs, some better, much better in fact, than others. He currently works four hours on Fridays cataloging books and tracking inventory at Penn State Press, a job he likes very much. But it’s only four hours a week.
Michael observes (166):
that some people with disabilities were disabled by modernity, insofar as the organization of life and work in modern societies gave them fewer roles in public life than they might have had in some premodern societies. The Industrial Revolution increased the aggregate quality of life for the people of developed countries, but it also maimed millions of workers – men, women, and children – and inaugurated the era of the mental institution and the sciences of population management.
But Michael is not waxing nostalgic for the Good Old Days. He’s just pointing out that modernity is not an unalloyed good and that disability is somewhat contextual. He notes that his vision problem would have been irrelevant in a world without writing; and I note that dyslexia is a disabling condition that is actually defined with respect to writing. There was no dyslexia 6000 years ago.
What of the future? Are we on the brink of knowledge that will allow us to eliminate inherent disabilities or even milder conditions through genetic manipulation? Perhaps, and perhaps not. As Michael notes (182-83):
[Glenn] Treisman’s talk swiftly and decisively put to rest the claims of “liberal eugenics,” point out not only that we have no idea how to go about eliminating things like shyness or laziness but also, and more importantly, that we have no idea whether some of the traits we now consider undesirable or harmful actually have survival value for us as a species. In other words, for all we know, our capacity for depression is what is what got us through the Pleistocene. Likewise, for all we know, shyness and laziness are, in evolutionary terms, two of our saving graces.
There’s a lot we don’t know, and much of that ignorance is but the other side of knowledge we’ve only come by quite recently.
It is only recently that we’ve had the knowledge and technique to create powerful computers. And now those computers are putting people out of work, just as steam engines, electric motors, and a host of other devices did over the last two centuries. Will our computing machines disable us all? I suspect not, but something rather like it is a real question.
What those machines can do now is both interesting enough and threatening enough to force us to reconsider who and what we are. At the same time psychologists and biologists have been learning more about the minds and feeling of animals and they’re looking more and more like us every day. What happens to human identity in the age of intelligent machines and socially adept animals?
Well, Jamie Bérubé is right in there, forcing us to think about who we are. For that ultimately is where Life as Jamie Knows It leads us. Coming to terms with Jamie’s life forces us to come to terms with our own.
In the annoying manner of math texts, however, I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to continue that line of thought. I want to finish this discussion by turning things around and letting Jamie have the last word. But first Michael has some explaining to do:
OK, so this routine began in March 2007, when Jamie and I were in Florida and I was speaking at Stetson University in DeLand. (We then took a couple of days’ vacation in Orlando, where Jamie wanted nothing to do with the Magic Kingdom or with Universal Studios.) Along the way, Jamie kept asking me, as I made our various plans for the day, “are you crazy? are you nuts?” and I would apparently sigh (“deep sigh,” Jamie says when he tells this story), “I am not crazy. I am not nuts.” Gradually this turned into, “what are you, full of cashews/ peanuts/ walnuts” and then into the cornucopia of what are you’s you see here.
Here’s how the list begins:
What are you, a box of All Bran?
What are you, a plate of cheese qasudia?
What are you, full of peanuts?
What are you, a plastic bag of pears?
What are you, a bottle of Hidden Vally Ranch?
Well, what ARE you?
* * * * *
I’ve collected my posts about Jamie’s art into a single document: Jamie’s Investigations: The Art of a Young Man with Down Syndrome. You can download it from my Academic.edu page: https://www.academia.edu/29195347/Jamie_s_Investigations_The_Art_of_a_Young_Man_with_Down_Syndrome
Monday, October 10, 2016
Pick Up The Pieces
by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse
Early this week, we had prepared a column for today titled "Presidential Debates: What's the Point?," which discusses the role of presidential debates in American national politics. We argued that the televised spectacles called "debates" served more as alternating campaign commercials than as occasions for reasoned disagreement and clarification. But intervening developments in the presidential race have rendered that piece immaterial. Perhaps we will post an updated version of "Presidential Debates: What's the Point?" some time in the future. Today, our aim is to address, very briefly, what is now an unmistakable existential crisis within American conservatism.
To be sure, we are not conservatives; however, we hold that conservatism is both a formidable tradition of political thought and a vital force within American politics. Although we rarely embrace the positive proposals advanced by American conservatives, we find that conservatism harbors forceful critical resources. Liberal or progressive political programs ignore conservative critique at their peril. Our political views need strong intellectual opposition, and, at its best, conservatism is among the most robust frameworks for political thinking.
It has been clear to us, and to many others, that today's Republican Party is no longer uniformly conservative in any standard sense. Exactly what the current GOP is committed to remains strikingly obscure, and it is doubtful that, apart from a few prevalent but vague slogans, there is any positive principle that unifies the Party today.
Perhaps the most that can be said is that a negative stance unites today's Republicans. They seem to share an overriding concern to repel the current President's policies. Mitch McConnell, upon becoming the Senate Majority leader in 2010, said that the single most important thing is for him is to help make President Obama a one-term president. In the past eight years, the traditionally Republican agenda items faded into the background of the Party's consciousness, and a strictly oppositional orientation eventually became the only thread holding the Party together. It is in only in light of the dominance of this negative standpoint that Donald Trump could ever have passed for a Republican.
The emphasis on opposition was accompanied by the realization within the Party that there was need for a new positive conservative agenda. The need for a shift in Republican thinking is not surprising. National politics is complex business, and one should expect political parties to periodically confront episodes of transformation, where new ideas are developed which displace the old. Arguably the Republican Party had reached a crossroads of this kind during G. W. Bush's presidency; however, this did not rise to the level of an intellectual emergency. By the close of Bush's second term, conservatism seemed desperately in need of a tune-up, but its future was nonetheless secure. However, the felt urgency to oppose President Obama at all costs distracted the Party from the task of revamping its vision, and ideological disarray took hold. Being an especially brash critic of President Obama, then, was enough to enable Trump to outperform his rivals for the Party's nomination. The more traditional conservative voices simply were drowned out.
So here is where things stand today. The recently publicized recording of Donald Trump arrogantly reveling in his uncontrollable inclination to commit sexual assault, and his ability to do so with impunity, marks an existential crisis for the Republican Party. Here is a man who we now know openly flouts all of the moral principles at the heart of conservatism. His constant bragging about his material wealth, how he intimidates his rivals, and what he does to take advantage of the systems of civil government should be abhorrent to conservatives who value modesty, fair play, and equality before the law. But revelations about how he has behaved toward women have shown him to be simply abominable. And on top of that, he apparently has no idea of how to apologize. His actions and words constitute an explicit repudiation of what conservatives have long held as their most cherished and fundamental ideals. What Trump has revealed about himself is that he, in addition to opposing the Democrats, stands in opposition to conservatism. Although he is the candidate for president that the Republicans are running in the election, Trump is most certainly not a Republican candidate.
Accordingly, the panicked distancing maneuvers we have seen in the past 48 hours from national Republican leaders -- including Paul Ryan, Reince Priebus, and even Trump's running mate Mike Pence -- are all inadequate; in fact, they are utterly beside the point. Those who, like John McCain, have officially withdrawn their endorsement have done better, but they still fall short; it is not enough to withdraw one's support from Trump. To repeat: Donald Trump has shown himself to be an enemy of American conservatism. Worse still, he is an enemy within the GOP; he resides inside the Party that serves as conservatism's voice and political steward in the United States. Actions that disassociate from Trump and words that denounce him are insufficient. These are all strategies that one exercises when dealing with any garden-variety political opponent; however, Trump is an internal menace. His comments, attitudes, and actions, given that he is the Republican nominee for the highest political office, represent the stance of the national Republican Party. Republican leaders must explicitly oppose him rather than merely admonish him or withdraw support, lest they be plausibly considered hypocritical opportunists who employ the language of conservatism when in fact they seek only to gather power for themselves. Republicans who are actually committed to conservatism must actively promote Trump's decisive defeat. They should announce that they categorically oppose Trump, and would like Republican voters to support someone other than Trump in the Presidential election. They should also plead with Republican voters to support GOP candidates in the House and Senate. But, importantly, their pleading must be accompanied by a solemn promise to the country that they will spend the next four years repairing the Republican Party by making it conservative again.
Sughra Raza. For the Sake of Clarity. October 1, 2016.
Imagine: Listening to Songs Which Make Us More Generous
by Jalees Rehman
It does not come as a surprise that background music in a café helps create the ambience and affects how much customers enjoy sipping their cappuccinos. But recent research suggests that the choice of lyrics can even impact the social behavior of customers. The researcher Nicolas Ruth and his colleagues from the University of Würzburg (Bavaria, Germany) assembled a playlist of 18 songs with pro-social lyrics which they had curated by surveying 74 participants in an online questionnaire as to which songs conveyed a pro-social message. Examples of pro-social songs most frequently nominated by the participants included "Imagine" by John Lennon or "Heal the World" by Michael Jackson. The researchers then created a parallel playlist of 18 neutral songs by the same artists in order to truly discern the impact of the pro-social lyrics.
Here is an excerpt of both playlists
Artist Pro-social playlist Neutral playlist
P!nk Dear Mr. President Raise Your Glass
John Lennon Imagine Stand By Me
Michael Jackson Heal the World Dirty Diana
Nicole Ein bisschen Frieden Alles nur für dich
Pink Floyd Another Brick in the Wall Wish You Were Here
Scorpions Wind of Change Still Loving You
Wiz Khalifa See You Again Black and Yellow
The researchers then arranged for either the neutral or the pro-social playlist to be played in the background in a Würzburg café during their peak business hours and to observe the behavior of customers. The primary goal of the experiment was to quantify the customers' willingness to pay a surcharge of 0.30 Euros for fair trade coffee instead of regular coffee. Fair trade coffee is more expensive because it is obtained through organizations which offer better trading conditions to coffee bean farmers, prohibit child labor and support sustainable farming practices. Information about fair trade coffee was presented on a blackboard in the center of the café so that all customers would walk past it and the server was trained by the researchers to offer the fair trade surcharge in a standardized manner. The server also waited for a minimum of six minutes before taking the orders of guests so that they would be able to hear at least two songs in the background. During the observation period, 123 customers heard the prosocial playlist whereas 133 heard the neutral playlist.
The effect of this brief exposure to prosocial songs was quite remarkable. The percentage of customers who opted for the more expensive fair trade coffee option doubled when they head prosocial songs! Only 18% of customers hearing the neutral playlist were willing to pay the extra 0.30 Euros – even though they had also seen the information board about the benefits of fair trade coffee – but 38% of the customers hearing prosocial songs opted for the fair trade option.
Interestingly, hearing prosocial songs did not affect the tipping behavior of the customers. Independent of what music was playing in the background, customers tipped the server roughly 12% of the bill. This is in contrast to a prior study conducted in a French restaurant in which hearing prosocial songs increased the tipping behavior. One factor explaining the difference could be the manner by which the songs were selected. The French study specifically created a playlist of prosocial songs with French lyrics whereas the Würzburg playlist contained mostly English-language songs, often with global themes such as world peace, brotherhood and abolishing boundaries. Supporting fair trade may be more consistent with the images evoked by these global-themed songs than increased tipping of a server in Germany. It is also important to note that servers or waiters in Germany are comparatively well-compensated by restaurants and cafés, therefore they do not really depend on their income from tips.
The Würzburg experiment raises some intriguing questions about how music – either consciously or subconsciously – affects our immediate decision-making. The researchers went to great lengths to minimize confounding factors by matching up songs from the same artists in both playlists. Their work is also one of the first examples of a field study in a real-world setting because prior studies linking music and pro-social behavior have been mostly conducted in laboratory settings where pro-social behavior is experimentally simulated. But one also needs to consider some caveats before generalizing the results of the study.
Würzburg is a university town where students represent a significant proportion of the population. The researchers estimated that more than 40% of the customers were in their 20s, consistent with a principal student clientele which may be more mindful of the importance of fair trade. The history of Würzburg is also noteworthy because more than 80% of the city was destroyed in a matter of minutes during the Second World War when the British Royal Air force firebombed this predominantly civilian city and killed an estimated 5,000 residents. Residents of the city may be therefore especially sensitive to songs and imagery that evoke the importance of peace and the perils of war.
Some of the next steps in exploring this fascinating link between background music and behavior is to replicate the findings in other cities and also with participants from varying age groups and cultural backgrounds. Another avenue of research could be to assess whether the content of the lyrics affects distinct forms of behavior. Are there some prosocial songs which would increase local prosocial behavior such as tipping or supporting local charities whereas others may increase global social awareness? How long do the effects of the music last? Are customers consciously aware of the lyrics they are hearing in the background or are they just reacting subconsciously? The number of questions raised by this study shows us how exciting the topic is and that we will likely see more field studies in the years to come that will enlighten us.
1. Ruth, N. (2016). "Heal the World": A field experiment on the effects of music with prosocial lyrics on prosocial behavior. Psychology of Music, (in press).
2. Jacob, C., Guéguen, N., & Boulbry, G. (2010). Effects of songs with prosocial lyrics on tipping behavior in a restaurant. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 29(4), 761-763.
A Litany of Images
by Olivia Zhu
I wrote a few months ago on May Swenson’s “Untitled,” a love poem filled with the rain of many, many beautiful images. “You have found my root you are the rain,” she says. Today, I found myself caught in a rainstorm, took shelter under a tree, but it came with such a different kind of a feeling that even though my mind went back to Swenson, it seems more fitting to go somewhere new.
Billy Collins’ “Litany” is another poem that’s similar in its saturated nature, where almost every line includes a new metaphor. However, Collins, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, takes a different tack in producing his list of comparisons for his lover. Unlike Jacques Crickillon, whose lines are cited briefly in the epigraph of “Litany,” Collins does not take himself so seriously, and a slightly mocking tone is present throughout his work—a tone that makes it a bit hard to take him seriously while reading the poem, to be perfectly honest. A video of him reading invites friendly laughter from the audience as well:
Even the title of the poem is irreverent: litany can refer to either types of religious prayers involving petitions or to a long and tedious listing of items. Either seems to fit, as Collins may very well be petitioning his lover with his plaintive and sometimes appeasing comparisons or demonstrating to the reader that a recitation of several metaphors in a row is an overused and ineffective poetic technique.
The very first stanza of “Litany” draws directly from Crickillon’s poem, comparing the poet’s beloved to quotidian and sometimes beautiful objects. It is flattering and serves as an example of typical usage of metaphors in love poems; the person is described as “the dew on the morning grass / and the burning wheel of the sun,” in reference to beauty, radiance, and all that is lovely about the natural world (3-4). In particular, the first two lines take on additional meaning because they have been borrowed and because they occur at the conclusion of the work. Says Collins’ speaker to his beloved, “You are the bread and the knife / the crystal goblet and the wine” (1-2). The images, all of comestibles and tableware, are clearly of the household, reducing the addressed person to a symbol of home and its comforts. There appears to be a special emphasis on the kitchen, in fact, as the speaker also says “You are the white apron of the baker,” in another suggestion that his beloved reminds him of not only the “marsh birds” and the rest of the natural world outside, but also of the warmth of a household (5, 6). All of the metaphors selected are not too far out of the norm, and the poem thus far appears to be standard: it is complimentary and loving. What is important to keep in mind throughout the poem, however, is the fact that these metaphors do little to create more than a skeleton of a depiction of the addressee—it is difficult to visualize exactly what she might look like and be like, and the metaphors are thereby rendered impotent.
Beginning from the second stanza, these notions are turned back: it is the first indication that “Litany” is not quite a traditional love poem. Following the list of metaphors, there is a forbidding “However,” followed by a list of what the speaker’s lover is not. Thus, Collins begins his satire of all poetry that is overly dependent on metaphor. Instead of continuing with his comparisons, he shifts moods; instead of flattery, he addresses his lover sternly: “And you are certainly not the pine-scented air. / There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air” (10-11). The repetition crystallizes the speaker’s conviction that his lover does not smell as lovely like pine-scented air, making it all the more unromantic. There are few who might dare to say their paramour is not as fragrant as a flower. In the next stanza, he makes a slight concession that his companion might be “the fish under the bridge” and “maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head” (12-13). Neither image is ideal: Collins seems to be comparing his loved one to a cold, unfeeling fish and a dun, unattractive bird sitting on a statue of someone far more important—and these objects represent best case scenarios, for the addressee is “not even close / to being the field of cornflowers at dusk,” a picture far more pleasing to the average person (14-15). The speaker then shifts and probes deeper, insinuating that his beloved may not even be attractive, for “a quick look in the mirror will show” that his addressee is neither a pair of useful boots or boat, personified as sleeping and content (16-18). Against tradition, Collins pokes fun at poems focused on beauty, with women being described as having golden hair, starry eyes, and rose-red lips.
It is toward the end of the poem, as the poet describes himself, when it is made most clear that Collins is re-imagining familiar metaphor-heavy poetry even as he displays his own tenderness. He writes that, as he is “speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,” he has selected certain traits for himself (20). Instead of selecting overtly boastful or modest traits, as a more traditional poet might, he selects that which is everyday: he is “the sound of rain on the roof,” something calming yet quite common (21). It is an image that is heartfelt, for one could imagine Collins thinking of all the metaphors available to him and attempting to pick the one that is accurate and appealing, just so he can best present himself to his lover who he has praised and now slightly insulted. The criticism relates to choosing trite and stock images, some of which are included in the rest of the poet’s own self-description. These are not, perhaps, his first choice: he is “also” represented by things such as “the shooting star” or “the moon in the trees,” but the first image of rain on a roof is the most important—just as his lover’s first comparison to “the bread and the knife” becomes the one that dominates descriptions of her through the poem and is the one repeated the most frequently (22, 25, 1). Additional images are more transient and matter less, though they may represent aspects of the speaker’s personality or physicality; instead, they serve as more examples in the list of metaphors Collins builds up.
The close of the poem combines Collins’ commentary on metaphor-reliant poems and his address to his beloved. He brings the reader back to the initial image by repeating it at the end, with the reader no more enlightened as to what the two items could represent. At the conclusion of everything, the metaphors have not revealed much about the two individuals; rather, it is the speaker’s tone that is the most revealing. The phrases that do not include metaphors are the ones that best convey how he speaks to his beloved, as well as how she reacts. After the long litany of what she is not—undoubtedly meant to be insulting—he consoles her, telling her: “But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife. / You are still the bread and the knife. / You will always be the bread and the knife, / not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine” (27-30). He reassures her, repeating the same phrase over and over, in a sort of petition that she forgive him—a reference to the more spiritual aspect of “Litany’s” title. There is tenderness in his comforting, as he seems to be explaining that, though he has described her with the most mundane of objects, she is special to him. When Collins writes that his lover is “somehow” the wine, there is a sense of wonder in his tone, and the poet brings the poem to a conclusion that is loving and romantic using phrasing and repetition, not ornate and clichéd imagery.
Both “Untitled” and “Litany” are replete with metaphors, and the poets employ the comparisons to describe themselves and their loved ones to varying effect and for disparate purposes. Where “Untitled” effectively uses the literary device to depict two individuals growing closer and more passionate, “Litany” mocks excessive use of metaphor. Where Swenson’s speaker is consistent in her desire for her lover and the dynamics of the relationship are fairly constant, the poetic voice of “Litany” is at times loving, abrasive, disparaging, and comforting. The set of love poems that are largely dominated by metaphor runs the gamut of human emotions, storylines, and conclusions, and do indeed reflect the “plentiful imagery of the world”—but, having so recently been around rain dripping to the roots of great trees, hearing the sound of rain on the roof, would you blame me for partiality to these two images in particular?
Monday, October 03, 2016
Gaston Bachelard’s New Scientific Spirit
by Aasem Bakhshi
Of all the critiques of Descartes (d.1650), Bachelard’s stands out, as he has selected those principles of Cartesian method which were passed on in silence by other critics, presumably for their seeming innocence. With most of the detractors of the father of modern philosophy, it has either been the principle of universal doubt, the alienated and privileged ego, some step in the logic of the Meditations, some substantive philosophical or scientific doctrine, or the very quest for foundations. For Gaston Bachelard (d. 1962), on the other hand, it was the reductive nature of Cartesian method and resulting epistemology which rendered his philosophy “too narrow to accommodate the phenomena of physics.” (New Scientific Spirit, p. 138) In more particular terms, Bachelard attacks the following rule which according to Descartes summarized his whole method:
The whole method consists entirely in ordering and arranging of the objects on which we must concentrate our eye if we are to discover some truth. We shall be following this method exactly if we first reduce complicated and obscure propositions step by step to simpler ones and then starting with the intuition of the simplest ones of all, try to ascend through the same steps to a knowledge of all the rest.” (Descartes, Rules for the Direction of Mind, Rule 5).
Bachelard objects to the reductive nature of Cartesian method and complains that it fails to regain the unified and synthetic reality once analyzed under the demands of method. It seems that Bachelard here has a point in view of the fact that it was this analytical tendency which lends Descartes the unbridgeable Dualism of Mind and Body. On the Cartesian advice to reduce the complicated to the simple, Bachelard accuses Descartes of having neglected the reality of complexity and neglecting that there are certain qualities which only emerge in the wholes and are not there in the parts.
Even some qualities of the parts or simple realities are not noticeable unless one first understand the complex ones. (Ibid. p. 142) This is illustrated with reference to the fact that the doubling of lines in Hydrogen atomic spectrum would not have been noticed if we had not understood the spectra of Alkaline metals first, while it had been presumed, on Cartesian lines, that the latter complex phenomena are to be understood after the pattern of hydrogen model. (Ibid. pp. 148) Taking a step even higher, Bachelard claims that “there are no simple phenomena; every phenomenon is a fabric of relations. There is no such thing as a simple nature, a simple substance; a substance is a web of attributes.” (Ibid. pp. 147-148) Thus, “no idea can be understood until it has been incorporated into a complex system of thoughts and experiences.” (Ibid.) This attack on even the existence of simple natures once again manifests Bachelard’s desire to criticize nothing less than what is essential to Cartesian method.
The concept of “Simple natures” was introduced by Descartes in his explanation for Rule 6 which according to Descartes, contained the whole secret of his method and the most valuable insight of his treaties (i.e. Regulae). Here Descartes says: “I call ‘absolute’ whatever has within it the pure and simple nature in question” and in Rule 12 further explains the nature of simplicity of simple natures by saying: we term ‘simple’ only those things which we know so clearly and distinctly that they cannot be divided by the mind into others which are more distinctly known.” Moreover, these simple natures are directly intuited by the intellect and are thus self-evident.
This Cartesian notion of intuition is subjected to critique by Bachelard which is comparable to that made by Charles S. Peirce (d. 1914) according to whom “ we have no power of intuition but every cognition is determined logically by previous cognitions.” (“Some consequences of four incapacities” Philosophical Writings, ed. Justus Buchler p.230) Although Bachelard is not that loud in the denial of very possibility of intuition, the conditions he imposes upon it end up at the same destination: “ Intuitive ideas are made clear in a discursive manner, by progressive illumination, by illustration in a series of examples that bringone or another notion into clearer focus.” Thus according to Bachlardian philosophy of science, science does not develop by accumulation and this implication makes Bachelard one of the heralds of contemporary trend in history and philosophy of science started by Thomas Kuhn.[i] He has quoted Dupreel with approval that “ Once an axiom is posited, a second act is always necessary to establish its application.” (ibid. p. 144) Our initial intuition is completed by clarification through induction and synthesis. Furthermore immediacy, the basic ingredient of the concept of intuition is denied in a manner which brings Bachelard very close to Peirce: “Intuition is no longer direct and prior to understanding; rather it is preceded by extended study.” Two more points in connection with intuition are the following. 1) we are warned against ‘positivism in the first sight’ that is assuming that the most apparent features of something are its most characteristic features. 2) the counter intuitive nature of modern science: “nothing can be more anti-Cartesian then the slow change that has been brought in our thinking by the progress of empirical science, which has revealed a wealth of information never suspected in our first intuition.” (Ibid. p. 142)
This second point draws upon the nature of modern science which tends to augment the notion of mathematical intuition with empirical intuition, if not completely replace it. Pointing towards the works of Poncelet, Chasles, Laguerre and Poincare, Bachelard argues that modern scientific spirit, through 'mathematization' of the problem, emphasizes more on discovery rather than solution, Thus what we are experiencing is an end of Cartesian thought in mathematics: “the way to rationalize the world is to complete it”. Mathematics, as Bachelard notes, has moved beyond the order of measure (as in geometry, algebra and arithmetic in Cartesian age) to a tool for progressive scientific objectification. A metaphysician, therefore, brooding over the nature of reality through primarily subjective means is now transformed into a mathematician who is actively indulged in designing controlled experiments in his laboratory. Knowing well that he is confronted with a complex reality, he proceeds by mathematically modelling the phenomenon in the light of available empirical knowledge. He may choose to move from simple models — what might have been comparable to simple natures in order not to rebel from Cartesian spirit — which are only as simple as the choice of keeping some inherent parameters constants for designing more realistic experiments, or for some specific objectives to examine partial reality. Thus, it’s a spiral involving progressive experimentation, models fitting the data, more data arriving from experimentation, and mathematically intensive fresh models best fitting these new datasets. In this sense, modern scientific belief is in discovering the trends which best depict the reality, rather than the reality itself. This is a completely novel spirit, which Bachelard terms as 'progressive objectification'.
In order to illustrate “Cartesian partiality in favor of subjective experience” Bachelard discusses the famous wax example given by Descartes and shows what anti-Cartesian implication can be of using latest experimental techniques on wax. For Descartes the ball of wax was, says Bachelard, a symbol of the fleeting character of material properties.” After describing in detail how a modern physicist would conduct an experiment with the piece of wax using careful purification techniques, controlling the rate of melting and solidification by using an electric oven and even exposing the surface of the wax, he makes the following claim: “what is fleeting is not, as Descartes thought, the properties of the wax but the haphazard circumstances surrounding his observation of it.” (Ibid. 170) It is difficult to disagree with Bachelard’s conclusion from all this discussion that “scientific work is essentially complex,” (p. 171) and that science “rather than rely on whatever clear truths happen to lie ready at hand, actively seek its complex truths by artificial means.” What is unclear is the fact that Descartes would have been impressed with all these details of new technological development and we can imagine him retorting that what is new is not the nature of things but is only a matter of degrees: he himself has pointed out the fact that the extension of the piece of wax “increases if the wax melts, increases again if it boils and greater still if heat is increased” (Second Meditation, Philosophical Works, vo. II. p. 21). What difference does it make from the point of view of Descartes if nowadays one can “regulate the temperature by adjusting the supply of power” or “precisely controlling the shape and surface composition of a wax droplet”? The whole point of the wax example was to problematize shape, surface and other empirically knowable qualities in order to show that these cannot represent reality and to argue for the existence of substance “which is grasped solely by the faculty of judgement which is in my mind.” (Descartes. Ibid.) Bachelard is right that modern scientific and experimental techniques do give some order to the conditions of observation which are confused as given by nature, but the question Descartes was raising through the wax example was not a scientific question but a philosophical one: can we identify the wax-in-itself with the observable qualities? This question might be rejected as absurd or answered in a different way than Descartes[ii] but we fail to see any important implication of the new technological developments for Cartesian question regarding the mutability of qualities and existence of an immutable substance knowable only by the mind. In fact Descartes has mentioned in passing another example for his purpose as well: “… if I look out of the window and see men crossing the square… I normally say that I see the men themselves, just as I say that I see wax. Yet do I see any more than hats and coats which could conceal automatons. I judge that they are men.” (Ibid.) Has experimental science shown that qualities do not change or it has simply gained more control over the process of their change? It could have been logically relevant to the Cartesian argument only if it had done the former, which it is not clear that it has.
[i] Kuhn himself says , “I did read some Bachelard. But it was so close to my own thought that I did not feel I had to read lots and lots more.” “Paradigms of Scientific Evolutions: Thomas S. Kuhn” in The American Philosopher: Conversations, ed. Giovanna Borradori, (Chicago, 1994), p. 160.
[ii] One example of this is Pierre Gassendi who took Descartes to task on this issue: “ I am amazed at how you can say that once forms have been stripped off like clothes, you perceive more perfectly and evidently what the wax is. (Meditations, Fifth Set of Objections, pp. 190-191)
- Gaston Bachelard, The New Scientific Spirit (Beacon Press, 1984).
- Rene Descartes, Rules for the Direction of Mind; Discourse on Method; Meditations on First Philosophy in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes Volumes 1& 2, eds. Cottingham, Stoothoff and Murdoch(Cambridge University Press, 1984).
- Charles Sanders Peirce, “Some Consequences of Four Incapacities,” in Philosophical Writings of Peirce, ed. Justus Buchler (Dover Publications, 1965), pp.228-251.
For Further Reading.
- Mary Tiles, Bachelard: Science and Objectivity (Cambridge University Press, 1985)
- Mary Tiles, “Technology, Science and Inexact Knowledge,” in Continental Philosophy of Science ed. Gary Gutting (Blackwell, 2005), pp. 157-176.
Guido van Helten. Heroes, OK Foods Feedmill Triptych. 2016.
"Painted over the course of two weeks in September, prior and during The Unexpected Project: 2016, the triptych sponsored by OK Foods prominently feature a company legend, Gene “Beck” Beckham, and two other locals: Kristina Jones and Edward Paradela."
The Little Engine(ering School) That Could
by Carol A. Westbrook
Fall is here and so are the college freshmen, bright-eyed and full of dreams of their future. I remember my own freshman days, looking forward to four fun years, followed by medical school and career. College in 1968 was a straight path to professional or graduate school, and a secure career.
It's different today. Life after graduation is not at all certain. Today's graduates expect to be saddled with debt, going from one low paid (or unpaid) internship to another, delaying professional school or a higher degree while they pay off their debts. Combine the skyrocketing cost of college, the shortage of jobs in our sluggish economy, with the fact that college degrees often do not provide the skills needed for the jobs of today, and the reality is that college grads may not be settled in a career until they are close to forty!
The students in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania will soon have another option. King's College, a Catholic, liberal-arts college, will be offering a new degree in 2017--a bachelor's degree in engineering. Many local folks feel that this small town, with a population of only 40,000, does not need another engineering program. Nearby Wilkes University offers engineering, and there are excellent state college programs, albeit none nearby. But Wilkes-Barre has a very high proportion of Catholics (43.5% compared to 19% nationally), and these parents prefer to send their children to a Catholic college; furthermore, some students are just drawn to engineering. If these kids have to leave home to study engineering, then the brightest ones will do so, and chances are they won't return, contributing to the drain of talent from the area. If the college's successful pre-engineering program is any indication, there are likely to be more than enough students to fill this program.
But the real question is, are there jobs for engineering graduates in Wilkes-Barre?
In Northeast Pennsylvania, the industries which employ the most people are health care and business. Health care is strong because almost one-third of the population is on some form of medical assistance (Medicare, disability or veterans' benefits). To meet this industry's needs, all the local colleges offer programs in medical fields such as nursing or pharmacy, while King's itself has a strong Physician Assistant program. To meet the region's needs in businesses, degree programs in business or accounting are also offered at all the area colleges. Yet even in these non-technical jobs, graduates with some knowledge of science, technology, engineering or math--so-called STEM skills--are more competitive for jobs. Today, "every job is a tech job," as Selingo points out in his book, There IS Life After College, because "every major company today has been transformed into a technology company." Nowadays, even a factory worker in a modern manufacturing plant needs some programming or digital skills.
Engineering jobs are fewer in Wilkes-Barre, with its sluggish economy and high unemployment, so many graduates may have to relocate for their first jobs--but they will have a higher chance of returning to the area. And job prospects will almost certainly increase if there is a ready supply of manpower. For example, there is a growing shale fracking industry, and a developing wind power industry. Manufacturing is sluggish, but there is tremendous potential for development, as Wilkes-Barres only two hours drive to New York or Philadelphia, with a good interstate and rail freight capacity. An influx of STEM graduates will help to fuel entrepreneurship, providing a much-needed growth of the economy. Keep in mind, too, that engineering students have excellent training in project development and design, and can do well in business, teaching and management jobs. These are skills for the jobs of today; it is predicted that the jobs of the future will have an even greater need for STEM skills.
King's College is taking on a big commitment with this plan. Engineering programs are expensive. A bachelor's degree requires a minimum of one year of college level math and basic science, including lab courses; one and a half years of engineering topics including basic design experience; and another year and a half dedicated to general education, including humanities and liberal arts. This will require hiring engineering faculty and building more labs, and putting additional demands on already-strained humanities and science departments.
I asked Father Jack Ryan, the president of Kings' College, how his college intends to leverage this. He answered that they have already purchased an empty utility building adjacent to the campus, which is now being renovated for offices and labs. The owners were happy to unload it, and the community is happy to see it occupied and put to use. As for funds, Father Ryan answered obliquely, pointing me in the direction of a podcast, "My Little $100 Million," by Malcolm Gladwell (author of Tipping Point). In this narrative, Gladwell describes how Hank Rowan donated $100 million to a small and impoverished public college in Glassboro New Jersey, to start a college of engineering which is now highly-regarded. The college, renamed Rowan University, now has a very successful and highly-regarded engineering program, thanks to the donation that started it all.
Wishful thinking and all prayers aside, a $100 million donation is not likely to happen for King's College. More likely, King's will start up their program as other colleges do, using tuition dollars, and looking to alumni and local businesses for smaller endowments. And hopefully in the future, one of the Kings' engineering graduates will do well enough to endow his or her Alma Mater with $100 million. Miracles do happen!
ABET, Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs, Oct. 16, 2015
There IS Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know About Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow, Jeffrey J. Selingo (William Morrow, April 12, 2016).
to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities (MIT Press, February 2013), Richard A. DeMillo.
My Little Hundred Million, podcast, episode 6 of series "Revisionist History," Malcolm Gladwell, July 20, 2016.
The Nikab'd and the Naked
by Maniza Naqvi
The inclusion of a hijabi, her photo somewhat snarling, in between the covers of this October's issue of the Playboy magazine is a delicious illustration of our times. Playboy, much defended by men for the heft of its ‘articles', is not known for its penchant for contraptions of modesty and demure unless they heighten the libido of individuals engaged with themselves in their solitary pursuit of release. So, I am impressed that Playboy has settled the issue, of what the hijab is in the west. What is it about? The titillation of having dominated and crushed and won. Sex. And packaging it just right, fresh, clean, just a bit dirty, oh yeah. The symbol of the crushed, inviting domination.
The French, of course had figured this out way before everyone else did, after all, the French are known for their superior sense of all things au contraire and colonized. The French should know a thing or two about the turn-on of a veiled Muslim. Ah the colonies of Algiers, Tangier, and so forth. Alexandria. the Levant. After all French artists led the pack (Henri Adrien Tanoux, Georges Jules Victor Clairin, Auguste Adolphe, Eugene Delacroix and so many more) in Europe who imagined the harem and and committed their imaginary inmates to paintings.
The nikab'd and the naked. Naked and unnaked can they serve the same purpose? To provoke? It is interesting that it is in France that Muslim women are being forced to take off their cover. The country which prides itself on its wardrobes, is forcing Muslim women to disrobe. Well not surprising this, since it has always imagined Muslim women as naked.
France demand's this of Muslim women because it is the country where cultural consciousness has imagined them only as naked and as sex objects. And as this imagination of naked sex objects it demands they remain as culturally French as France has imagined them to be: In harems and in them, naked. So they must be forever inside the impenetrable ‘harem', or within a covering that makes them unseen by the public but naked within. The niqab ensures that this culturally French vision of Muslim women in harems, remains intact.
And it is equally interesting that it is in France that women in niqab, fancy themselves as proclaiming themselves Muslim in the public space. But by doing so they are in fact, in the very French cultural context insisting on remaining naked, in that very French fetish and fantasy of its own creation ‘the Orient'. In a world now quite outwardly naked, these women are keeping themselves intact in the French imagination, staying exactly as the Frenchmen had imagined them to be three centuries ago, and in doing so placed them, tagged them as the titillating tool for sexual fantasy. Women in France and the rest of Europe walking around in a Niqab are imagining themselves, presenting themselves exactly how France's savants imagined the Orient to be—the other, that must be unveiled and dominated.
Think about that!
Sometimes I would leave the office late in Addis Ababa after 11.00 p.m. The office was on the main Bole Avenue--a main artery of the city. By 11.00 p.m. the road I walked on was lined by sex workers---waiting for guys in cars to drive by, stop and pick them up. I noticed a few of the women getting ready for the night--putting on their costumes and make up while waiting for their clients A few put on hijabs. I stopped and asked one woman why she had put on the hijab. "It is the latest thing ---Our fereng--(i.e. white foreigners) customers prefer it." What about the Arab customers I asked. "Yes they do too." I asked a few more questions which led me to the conclusion that in an enviroment where there is a perception of sexually transmitted diseases--a hijab clad sex worker was packaging herself to a customer as a clean, unused, dependable product. They reminded me of hotels in Pakistan preferred by the foreigners where late at night, a burka clad woman or two were a fixture round about 11.00 p.m.
Edward Said, discusses in great detail in his seminal book Orientalism and in his book Culture and Imperialism, Napoleon's invasion of Egypt on July 1, 1798. Napoleon landed his fleet in Alexandria and brought with him not only invading soldiers but also 167 ‘savants' as the key to conquest. These 167 savants or intellectuals and scholars who became the Egyptologists who collected and recorded ancient Egypt and defined its history as well as the present time that they encountered. They occupied not only the present, but also the past and the future based on their perspective. This included defining Muslim Egypt and its practices through their political ambition, imperative, objectives and lens. These Egyptologists, in the importance they placed on religion, emphasized public importance to religion when in fact is was an aspect which had remained private. The French recorded Egypt and its religions and people as they perceived them or wanted to perceive it. Napoleon created the Institut d'Egypte whose work resulted in the twenty-three volume Description de I 'Egypte which redefined the study of Egypt and Egyptology.
France in its conquest of North Africa and in particular Egypt, Morocco or Tunis and Lebanon brought in anthropologists and scholars who then presented in their scholarship of this region as the "other" as a place that never existed called the "Orient" and presented these cultures to themselves and to the citizens of France and Europe as caricatures of themselves, or cartoons if you will.
"The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity ‘a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences."----- --------"The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe's greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the other. In addition, the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience."----- "Orientalism expresses and represents that part culturally and even ideologically as a mode of discourse with supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies and colonial styles."-----"Taking the late eighteenth century as a very roughly defined starting point Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating restructuring, and having authority over the Orient."-----"My contention is that without examining Orientalism as a discourse one cannot possibly understand the enormously systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage-and even produce-the Orient politically , sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period." Edward Said, Orientalism.
And so now here it is. This sums up that orientation from 1798 onwards: That same France of creating the "Orient' as the ‘other' orientation unmasked itself—not on the sands of Libya which it bombed, cheered on by the philosopher charlatan Bernard Levy, not in the villages and forests of Brazzaville, or Congo, or Benin or Burundi—Not in Iraq or from the skies of Syria with its weaponry or in Afghanistan, not in Algiers, or Tunis, or Lebanon or Morocco of the last century, but right there in France in 2016, in the summer holidays of idyllic innocence in front of its complicit colonizing citizenry, on its own beaches—of Nice, Corsica and so forth, by playing out its orientalist fetish. The State armed to the teeth, makes a woman disrobe exposes her against her will. Robes which she perceives as her defense. Because she is forced by armed police to take off clothing that she considers covers her modesty, the State makes her naked. The state using armed force, to remove her clothing is in fact tearing it off of her, making her naked. Because it can. Because it wants to. Because it is its culture to do so, because it is its culture to fantasize about this. Because it is France's cultural heritage to have dreamt up the niqabed and the naked in the first place, in the salons of Paris and the art studios of its artists.
The arm of the State, heavily armed, forcing a woman to bare her arms, making a woman naked against her will. What's next? This is what misogyny looks like. This is what war looks like. This is what colonialism looks like and now it is on the French beaches instead of in France's colonies of a century ago. This is what authoritarianism looks like. This is what 'isms' look like. This is what injustice looks like. And this is what democracy does not look like.
It is indeed grotesque and criminal that the police forced a woman on the beach in France to take off any part of her garments. In doing so the State sent her the message that it has the right at any time whatsoever, without any provocation, it has the right to make her naked. What next? Is it the Mayor of Nice and his cohorts who decide how much flesh a woman should expose? Or is it the right of the whole society collectively to do this? No. Neither's. It is only, and only a woman's personal choice. A ban is horrible enough. To enforce it this way? Misogyny remains central to violence and its by-products of racism, war, control and authoritarianism, colonialism. Name your isms.
France should ask itself how it views a woman. And why is it the symbol of a woman that is used for subjugation and occupation. France has portrayed its colonies as weak and as women. And as exotic. It is so even when France uses a woman to symbolize liberty. She must be bare breasted. Made naked. By the State. Why does France insist on humiliating women?
The State, does violence, makes the victim the threat. Makes her defense, an offence. Makes her humiliation its art, its culture its way of life. Makes her subjugation the purpose of its industry, its economy, its politics, its every ‘ism'. Makes her subjugations, its liberty and its freedom and its feminism.
Covering of hair is not a symbol of Islam. Sikh men do it. So do Jewish women. Hindu widows shave off their hair, others do it because they believe it appeases and pleases many gods or just the one. Some orthodox Jewish married women shave off their hair and wear a wig instead while others cover their own hair with a wig. The wigs are made of hair, cut and shaved off of the heads of poor Indian women—who sell it to exporters who make the wigs for the women who are told that they should shave off their hair. The poor women's abundance of hair is also sold as extensions to create the illusion of long silky tresses, for those unhappy with their own hair and lack of its length. And who dictates all of this? What does it symbolize?
Native informant is the term used for the one who confirms the colonizer's narrative. I'll coin a new term: native conformant, the one who imitates the caricature created by that narrative. A caricature of the caricature, the native conformant. That narrative is first and foremost subjugating, violent and misogynist. These are key components for occupation. Those who are born imbibing this narrative, the progeny of the colonized and the colonizers are steeped in these notions. And we must beware of them and aware of them for how they are manipulated, exploited and used today and to what end.
Winter is coming to the Northern Hemisphere and soon we will all cover ourselves from head to toe. In the West, where there will be artic temperatures, the State will not ban us from covering our heads, to keep in the heat when we step out. We, men, women and children will be encouraged to cover our heads, our faces. The weather will demand it of us. Just as it does in the sands of the deserts, cover every orifice in a desert storm. It keeps the sand out, keeps it from getting into all our orifices including our nostrils, into our lungs, our eyes, our ears. And yes from ruining our hair and our constitutions. Even on the beaches of Normandy, then, fascism will take a pause from forcing a woman (equally fascistic) to uncover herself, in the name of France.
Who really wears a burka in Europe? Andrew Brown of the Guardian tells us that it's actually quite hard to find one in western Europe. He wrote back in 2010:
"One of the joys of online journalism is that you can include links to your sources, and this pleasure is never keener than when the source is a 75 page PDF of an academic report in Danish. This one contains some very useful perspective on the debate about banning burkas, to be precise, Niqabs. The Danish government thought to ask how many people such a ban would affect: the answer was something between 100 and 200. An article on the interesting Swedish site islamologi.se picks the story up: In France, where there is an inflamed debate on the matter right now, the first investigation carried out by the police last year found that there were 367 women in France who wore burka or Niqab – 0.015% of the population. This was so low that the secret service was told to count again, and came up with a figure of 2,000; in Holland there seem to be about 400, and in Sweden a respectable guess suggests 100. The most fascinating figure of all, though, came from the Danish researchers, who actually interviewed some of the covered women. Most were young, or at least under forty, and half of them were white converts. I think this makes it entirely clear that in modern Europe the burka is not an atavistic hangover, but a very modern gesture of disaffection from and rejection of society, which appeals to a certain kind of extreme temperament. This isn't to say that nutters can't cause society real problems. The arrest of seven people in Ireland yesterday, charged with a conspiracy to murder a Swedish cartoonist for drawing a cartoon of Muhammed, should be proof enough of that. But the burka debate is not so much about religious obligation, as about the public rejection of the surrounding society, and society's tolerance for that."
Uff Allah! Ya Allah! Ohhalla, Oh la la. All equally employable for ecstasy when beauty or its opposite is beheld. Or fact. Same words? Probably. Brought from North Africa to Spain and France. Oh Allah! Yallah, Ya Allah. Centuries ago. Wouldn't some French just explode if they were to learn that Oh la la comes from Uff Allah? By way of North Africa--inshallah and moving north to becoming ohala to further north oh la la. You know what? I'm going to follow the 18th Century French tradition of Egyptologists and just imagine that it is so. I submit it is and so it is.
Monday, September 19, 2016
An Open Letter to Trump Supporters
by Akim Reinhardt
Let’s be honest. 3 Quarks Daily isn’t the type of website that attracts many Trump supporters.
But that’s not just a 3QD thing. It turns out that online or off, most Clinton supporters have minimal contact with Trump supporters and visa versa. It’s a national phenomenon that speaks to the profound geographic and social segregation of partisan America.
Indeed, it’s probably a bit pointless for me to post an open letter to Trump supporters here. But honestly, I’m not sure where else to turn. After all, I don’t get to hoist monthly essays onto any Republican-leaning websites, and what follows is bound to be a bit too long for that modern day version of a Letter to the Editor, the beastly maelstrom known as a Comment Section.
So if you happen to be among that slim minority of Clintonistas who has real and meaningful interactions with Trumpatistas, feel free to share this with them, he said, like a pen pal in want of a postman.
Dear Trump Supporter:
I get it. Clinton supporters can be insufferable, condescending elitists.
I understand this on a personal level, just like you do. You see, even though I’m a kind of a lefty and kind of a liberal, I’m not actually a registered Democrat. So if they see you Republicans as the enemy, then they see people like me, who agree with them on many issues but don’t always vote Democrat, as apostates.
In their world view, it’s like we’re all living in that ghastly, disease-infested stink pot that was Medieval Europe. And in their super violent, smelly little fantasy land, they’re the Christians, you’re the Muslims, and I’m part of a tiny schismatic reform group. They’d love nothing more than to permanently take the entire Holy Land back from you and kill or convert every single Mohammadean. But it ain’t gonna happen. And they realize that no matter how much they hate you, and no matter how many murderous crusades they send to massacre your brethren, on some level they simply have to accept you and your ilk as the savage enemies they can never fully vanquish. So they’ll find a purpose for you. They’ll turn you into the permanent villains they can pour their hatred onto, the heathens they can use to define themselves as civilized.
It’s like you’re each other’s Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner.
You know, the same way some of you wanna stone Gary Johnson’s supporters to death.
So, Trump supporter, our situations aren’t exactly the same. But I at least understand why you’re hesitant to engage Clinton supporters. I too find myself holding back, even though I actually agree with them on many, maybe even most issues. Who actually wants to talk to these people, right? Ugh.
So fear not. This letter is not a finger-wagging lecture about why Trump’s an asshole and how you’re ruining America. You’ve had to put up with that kind of venom even when you’re supporting someone reasonable like John Kasich or old man George Bush, both of whom are practically Democrats, quite frankly.
Instead of spewing hate, I’d like to take it upon myself to talk about where we are at this historical moment. As a historian, I tend to take a long-view. And it seems to me that this is one of those elections they’ll still be writing about in textbooks a hundred years from now.
Most elections don’t make the cut. No one today remembers who won in 1880 (it was former Union general James Garfield, who got shot not long after being elected and was succeeded by a dapper dandy from New York named Chester Arthur).
However, there are a handful of turning point elections. Not only do all U.S. historians know a lot about these select few ballot battles, but we also insist on boring our students with the details, because they’re just more important, or at least more meaningful than the rest. Here’s quick rundown of some really momentous presidential elections.
1828: Andrew Jackson defeats John Quincy Adams in an epic rematch with shades of Ali-Frazier (Adams had won in 1824). Jackson’s victory is made possible by the advent of universal white male suffrage, and with help from a savvy machine politician from New York named Martin Van Buren. And it ushers in both, the era of modern political parties, and populist campaigning.
1860: Abraham Lincoln loses every Southern state, but still gains enough electoral votes in the North and West to earn a majority and best three other candidates. The rest of the story kinda writes itself.
1876: An otherwise uninspiring showdown between Republican Rutherford Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden erupts into mayhem when the results of three Southern states are disputed. A prelude of 2000's Bush/Gore tilt, each side claims victory, and a special commission of congressmen, senators, and Supreme Court justices hammers out a negotiated settlement, voters be damned. Hayes gets the White House, Union troops finally pull out of the South, and boy is it gonna suck for black people for another century or so.
1896: The People’s Party, also known as the Populists, represents Southern and Midwestern farmers pissed off about the screw job they’re getting from the nation’s new big businesses: banks and railroads. The Populists are poised to launch a major third party challenge, but the Democrats steal their thunder by nominating Nebraska’s William Jennings Bryan. The good news is, Bryan has co-opted many Populist issues, bringing them to the mainstream. The bad news is, Bryan has co-opted many Populist issues, thereby marginalizing the party as a fringe group. Confused and desperate, the People’s Party also nominates Bryan, in absentia. But Bryan is a loyal Democrat and distances himself from them. He then loses the election to William McKinley, who really likes banks and railroads. But eventually, many Populists positions will actually become the law of the land, such as the direct election of U.S. Senators and secret ballots, so you can tell all your friends that you voted the same way they did, but deep down you know you did what was right.
1928: The Republicans nominate Iowa orphan Herbert Hoover, a Protestant prohibitionist. The Democrats nominate New York Tammany Hall politician Al Smith, a wet Catholic and the son of Irish immigrants. This will turn into the ultimate “Your Guy Is Evil!” showdown. The election becomes a way for the nation to grapple with its rural/urban split and a bevy of cultural divisions flowing from it. In the end, Smith is too foreign for most Americans. Also, the economy seems to be doing really well, and Hoover promises there will be a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. Doesn’t sound like much now, but back then it was like promising people a McMansion and a Porsche. And they believe you. Hoover wins in a romp of historic proportions. Although not given to smiling much, he’s very happy for a few months. Then the Great Depression happens.
1932: Hoover has spent three and a half years making one PR gaffe after another as the rate of full time craters out at 50%. The Democrats could nominate a chimp and win this election. Instead they choose New York governor Franklin Roosevelt. He has a plan. It’s called the New Deal. It still shapes your life in too many ways to list here. He’s so beloved he wins four elections. Can you even imagine? Afterwards, shell shocked Republicans are so distraught they help push through a constitutional amendment limiting presidents to two terms. Which is the only reason Trump is not going to lose to Obama by 25 points. Believe me. That would be happening.
1980: Ronald Reagan punches incumbent Jimmy Carter so hard that the Georgia peanut farmer feels the need to spend the next four decades trying to repair his public image. This is a very important election. I don’t need to explain why to Republicans. I’ll just let you have a few moments alone to savor it.
2016: Regardless of who wins this election, it probably actually will be written about for a very long time, even though some of the reasons are as of yet unknown. Perhaps one of these nincompoops will start a major war or destroy the economy. Each side seems to believe that’s what will happen if they lose. But even without knowing what awaits us over the next four years, this election will still be one for the ages.
Why? Because if you look at the above list, it’s not just about the concrete consequences of a given election such as the Civil War or the New Deal. It’s also because all of those elections represented something. In each instance, the nation was very highly divided, and the election crystalized those divisions. And right now, in this highly divided nation, larger issues are being filtered through this election. Historians will likely talk about it with regards to national anxieties over long simmering racial tensions, and demographic changes resulting from immigration and the political rise and peak of Millennials and Baby Boomers respectively.
So now, dear Trump supporter, I’d like to talk to you about your role in history. And that in no way means I’m going to sing Hilary Clinton’s praises, much less ask you to vote for her.
Remember, I don’t like Hillary Clinton either. I think she’s a liar and war monger. I wasn’t the least bit surprised by how Colin Powell described her in his leaked emails. He characterized her as overly ambitious and full of hubris. He said she creates her own problems and “comes across as sleazy . . . for good reasons.” He even went so far as to admit he’d rather not have to vote for her.
That sounds about right. But you know what? He also said Trump is a racist, a “disaster,” a “national disgrace and an international pariah.”
Can we let our partisan guards down, and be honest and open with each other for just a moment?
We both know in our hearts that Powell’s probably right on both counts. The retired general and registered Republican who has served presidents in both parties, nailed it: Clinton’s pretty bad and Trump’s much, much worse.
Let’s start with the racist part.
Trump is a racist. He says racist things. He advocates racist policies. It really is pretty straightforward. That’s why, even though neither candidate can muster support from a majority of voters, 60% believe that Trump is “biased against women and minorities.” Hell, even 7% of his own supporters go a step further and admit that he’s he’s outright racist and sexist. Don’t stick your head in the sand on this one.
Of course, just because you vote for a racist, it doesn’t mean that you’re a racist. And if you support Trump, I’ll never call you a racist on that count.
But you are in fact supporting a racist, and you have to take responsibility for that.
Donald Trump frequently says racist things. Not just coded racist things, like claiming Obama wasn’t born in America, but clearly racist things that are beyond dispute. Don’t believe me? How about Fortune Magazine? They, for one, have absolutely no qualms admitting Trump’s a racist, and they even list a whole bunch of examples from the 1980s to the present.
Voting for Donald Trump won’t make you racist. But down the road, when history has its say, you’re going to have to explain to your kids and grandkids why exactly you did vote for a blatant racist. In the year 2016.
Aside from Trump’s racism, there’s also the question of qualifications.
Let’s begin by acknowledging that Democrats have this really ugly habit of trying to paint Republicans as stupid. Back in the 1950s, they even tried to smear Dwight Eisenhower as being dopey. You know. The guy who had just been in charge of the European theater during World War II. Utterly shameless. Democrats later did the same thing to George H.W. Bush, who had previously run the CIA.
Democrats, especially the dumb, self-satisfied ones, love to pretend they’re smarter than Republicans; they’re brilliant, urbane sophisticates, while Republicans are a bunch of slack-jawed, mouth-breathing neanderthals. And Dems are so arrogant about it, they don’t even know why you hate them.
I’m with you on this one. I really am. I don’t think Donald Trump is stupid. I think he’s very smart. But here’s the thing: he’s also patently unqualified to be president.
I don’t say that because he’s not a politician. I’d be happy to see someone with little or no experience as an elected politician find their way to the White House. Hell, I might end up voting for Green candidate Jill Stein, and boy is she not a politician. Or very qualified. But unlike Trump, she has zero chance of winning.
So I’m not warning you off Trump because he’s an outsider. I love outsiders. And I agree with you that insiders are a huge part of the problem. However, being an outsider, in and of itself, is not enough to be a good politician. And Trump is authentically unqualified to be President of the United Sates for several reasons.
First, there’s the whole racism thing. I’m sorry, but that really does count. As does the sexism.
Second, he doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing. It’s one thing to not have experience. It’s another thing to not have the relevant skills. And being a good businessman isn’t by itself a relevant skill for being president. You need to translate those skills into politics. And to do that, you have to understand the basics of how government works, both on domestic issues and foreign policy. But Trump has shown time and time again that he does not have a sound understanding of either. He simply does not have the skill sets to be successful.
Third, and I know you’ve heard this many times and are probably dismissive of it, but Trump does not have the temperament to be president. It sounds like a copout, but it’s a real thing. And it’s not just that he pops off and says outrageous tings. Yay! That’s fun! More importantly, he can’t seem to stay focused. He loses interest and moves on to the next thing. He also seems completely incapable of understanding any issue from anyone else’s point of view. He seems to be driven primarily by ego instead of a coherent set of beliefs. And he’s so lacking in self-discipline and empathy as to make you wonder if he’s mentally ill. At the very least, he’s selfish, narcissistic, and impulsive to the point of being reckless, and the thought of him having access to the nuclear codes should give you serious pause.
For all of these reasons, Donald Trump is almost certainly the most unqualified major party presidential candidate of the last hundred years, if not all time, and if elected, may prove to be history’s least effective and most dangerous president.
Now, none of that means Hillary Clinton will be a good president. In fact, I think she will probably be a bad president in the mold of progressive, interventionist Democrats like Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon Johnson. But she’ll be bad in all the conventional, regular ways. Nothing you can’t predict. She’ll develop a flawed agenda and make poor decisions. Her good accomplishments will be overshadowed by her mistakes.
But Trump does not even have what it takes to be just plain old bad.
I don’t think he’s going to start World War III. But I do believe that if Trump moves into the White House, he will embarrass you on a near daily basis. I mean, I won’t be embarrassed, because I won’t have to admit having voted for him. But this isn’t like voting for Reagan or a Bush. This isn’t just about policy differences, which in this case aren’t even that stark in many respects. They’re dramatic (Build a wall!). But even though most people won’t admit it, Trump and Clinton aren’t nearly as far apart on the issues as, say, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz. Clinton’s barely liberal and Trump’s barely conservative.
Rather, this is about recognizing that the Republican presidential candidate is fundamentally unqualified to be president, and that if he wins, he may very well end up as the worst president of all time. Which is precisely why, even in this era of hyper-partisan party loyalty, scores of the nation’s top Republicans are NOT supporting Trump. Dozens are abstaining. Many are even actively campaigning against him. And not a single living former president from either party is supporting Trump, which really ought to tell you something. I don’t care how much you hate all of those former presidents. They’re the only people in the world who really understand what the job entails, and not a one of them, including fellow Republicans, believe Trump has what it takes, which is really quit stunning and completely unprecedented.
Look, I’m not asking you to vote for Hillary Clinton. I would never do that. Shit, I’m probably not voting for Hillary Clinton either.
Instead, I’m just asking you to think long and hard before you punch the screen for Trump. Figure out an alternative.
Vote for Gary Johnson. Write in Ted Cruz. Trade your vote with someone in another state. Stay home. But think twice, and then a third time before you vote for Donald Trump.
The 2016 election is probably going in the history books. And a hundred years from now, when we’re all dead, and absolutely nobody has any skin in this election, when it’s all been reduced to an odd puzzle from the past, Americans will look back in amazement while historians do their darndest to explain why so many people did something so incomprehensible as voting for Donald Trump.
Which page of the history book do you want to be on?
Akim Reinhardt's website is ThePublicProfessor.com
Romance of the Red Dictionaries
by Leanne Ogasawara
Maybe that's why the absence of a shared language never seemed to slow us down much.
Arriving in Tokyo on Easter Sunday 1991, I was a recent college graduate and spoke no Japanese at all.
And Tetsuya spoke not a word of English.
In those days before smart phones and the internet (and with neither of us having enough money to buy an electronic device to help), we were stuck with his old student dictionaries to facilitate communication. He said they were from his 10th grade English class in high school. With their red leatherette jackets, one was Japanese to English and the other English to Japanese. We took them everywhere! In the early years, we hauled them in our bags all around Tokyo, placing them right in front of us at the table in restaurants and cafes; almost as if marking off the two worlds: English here and Japanese there.
We were endlessly looking things up. Too hard to read the foreign words out loud; one pointed to a definition, and the other read the translation, smiling and nodding— understanding at last.
Our romance with the red dictionaries lasted for ten years into our marriage; despite the fact that within a few weeks, we came up with our own means of communicating to supplement the dictionary definitions. Speaking a kind of made-up language, we disregarded grammar and often dumped the verbs (preferring to act those out in mime); he avoiding all pronouns, in the style of spoken Japanese, and me (having Italian blood) doing a lot of arm gesturing and pantomiming. We made do communicating in this manner, and the two red dictionaries became colorful accessories to all of our outfits—from formal gear to pajamas. And, although communication between us involved some physical effort, it was rare that one of us would feel frustrated at the inability to communicate something. Onlookers would laugh and shake their heads—perhaps attributing our ability to communicate without a shared language to young love.
In later years, after we were married and living in the Japanese countryside, we spoke exclusively in Japanese. Tetsuya came to prefer it, as he claimed that listening to my English made him tired. I often wondered if he didn’t prefer to have me restrained by all those polite forms of speech demanded in Japanese. So often, rather than speak my mind or try and make my point, I would concede to a point and avoiding conflict and the hardship of getting it right without being abrasive, just keep quiet.
And so I often thought back on the early days fondly. Our early conversations reminded me of one of my favorite stories by Italo Calvino; in which Marco Polo and the Great Kublai Khan also engaged in mutually unintelligible conversations. Calvino described the two as whiling away their afternoons together, where one imagined asking a question that the other would imagine answering. In this way, without a language, we too imagined ourselves talking of ancient empires or the color of the sky after a monsoon shower. Sometimes we would even talk of death.
(At least I think we talked of those things. I will never really know if he understood what I was trying to say and vice versa-it took many, many years of studying the language before I could be sure of anything).
It’s like opening one’s mouth and hearing someone else’s voice emerge, said Iris Murdoch about speaking a foreign language.
It's true. And, it's not just the mental somersaults of speaking and thinking in a language so linguistically different from English that made thinking about things in Japanese so stimulating. Living with verbs at the end of the sentences opened up many possibilities for playing around or for being ambiguous--but what was really mind expanding was to see myself over time transformed by the language itself; to discover that my mind has so many other chambers in it, and that I am capable of being so different --and yet remain the same person.
I mean, I definitely think I am a funnier person in Japanese. My friend Sachiko once complained that she disliked seeing me speak in English because I looked so different; older and more serious, she said. At that time, I thought she was teasing me for being sillier in Japanese, sounding like a child. But, now I think I see what she meant. I do think I am much more humorless and less apt to be conversationally generous in English. Of course, I no longer have to worry about female forms or polite language and can just say whatever I am thinking in English—but in the end, I wonder if I am as considerate and kind-hearted?
I have a friend who is proficient in multiple languages and one day he up and decided that he no longer wanted to think in English. One thinks different thoughts in different languages, he said, and he preferred thinking in French.
I do miss talking about the weather and the seasons. Of course, one can do that in English but people don't. Japanese has many poetic ways of talking about the changing seasons and it is a topic that people enjoy. I have heard British friends say as much, though, so maybe this is less about language than culture. I also miss shared allusions to poetry. I miss lighthearted joking and the ever-present imperative not to be unpleasant or cause any discomfort in whoever was on the other side of the conversation.
One of my Japanese teachers way back when implored that we keep in mind that less important than what we are saying is how we say it! It was in a class full of fluent kids of Japanese parents. They were fluent in the language but not knowledgeable about its use. She said, “You are all speaking Japanese as in translation. Japanese is not like English. You can’t just plug in the words. We think and say different things in different language so it is never a matter of just plugging in words, like some sort of machine translation.” She paused and then tried to explain some more, “When we speak Japanese it is like catch ball. Someone tosses the ball up and the other person needs to catch it and toss it back.” That means, no take downs and no in your face arguments. Whenever possible, find the common ground. Seek harmony in conversation and always aim to please!!
The LA Review of Books published an essay by Ilan Stavans in which the writer and translator reminisces about his Memoir of Language: On Borrowed Words.Born in Mexico to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Stavans was raised with two native languages: Yiddish and Spanish. When he was a young man, hes left Mexico to work on a kibbutz in Israel; later he married an American and moved to New York. Reflecting on his lives in Spanish, Yiddish, Hebrew and English--- the translator engages self- translation:
I firmly believe that how one perceives the world in any given moment depends on the language in which that moment is experienced. Take Yiddish, which is, at its root, a Germanic language, but is strongly influenced by Hebrew. It also features Slavic inclusions. These distinct elements give the language a taste, an idiosyncrasy. The life I lived in Yiddish was defined by the rhyme, the cadence of the sentences I used to process and describe it. But this wasn’t my only life. I was born in 1961 in Mexico City into an immigrant enclave of Eastern European Jews, and so began speaking Spanish right alongside Yiddish. I have two mother tongues — di mame loshn and la lengua materna. Both shape my viewpoint. Eating in Spanish — dreaming, loving, and deriving meaning from life in that language — all these actions differ from their counterparts in Yiddish. The taste of things is determined by the words used to express it.
In Spanish, he feels unconstrained. He says he waves his arms more but the lyrical quality of the language grates on him. English, being much more “rigid and logical,” is preferably to think in, he says. But, he always prefers joking in Yiddish. He says the rhythm of the language lends itself to joking around. While liturgical and metaphysical, Hebrew is the language for praying…And I love his words that The taste of things is determined by the words used to express it.
After my marriage fell apart, and I returned to the US, I was not just returning to my country but was returning back to thinking and living life in my native language again after two decades. At first, I thought I would be so much more efficient in English.
Linguistically finally back ahead of the power curve, I no longer had to endlessly worry if I was being polite or using female forms of Japanese (this latter being one of my biggest fears in Japanese since I heard so much male Japanese at home and if I wasn't very careful, I was liable to stun people by using the verbs or vocabulary not associated with women). Back to thinking in English, I had high hopes about how much easier it would be to communicate with my new lover.
And surely being married to a man who speaks the same native language ought to make life easier, right…?
You would think it would and yet-- as the years pass, I find that I miss myself in Japanese. Like Sachiko used to say about her discomfort in seeing me speak in English, my mom used to tease me as well, wondering how it was that her feisty and outspoken American daughter had become so polite and sweet? In Japanese consideration of the feelings and position of the other person is woven into the language and the innumerable choices one is forced to make expressing every thought. To speak true Japanese is to speak with empathy, mutuality, and community. Somehow the Japanese language, maddeningly simple in structure but complex in meaning, light and lovely in the ear and mouth, with it’s beautiful characters and rich seasonal vocabulary, reflects the people’s appreciation for the beauty and poetry of everyday life, the deeply observed passing of the seasons, and the variety and solace found in the natural world. Of course, it is possible to all of the above in English, as it is possible in any language, but for me speaking in Japanese lent itself perfectly to these things.
And so I wonder, what new possibilities might be open in thinking in a different language. Maybe in a different language I could become something else entirely yet?
But what language to learn?
Perhaps a dead language; for it would be a form of time travel. In the same way that the Japanese worldview was embedded in the language itself, I imagine the languages of cultures long past would open more archaic and timeless ways of being in the world. Think of all the metaphysical vocabulary in Sanskrit or the the way Ann Patty in her memoir, Living with a Dead Language describes reading ancient Roman poetry with its concepts of empire and paganism. Like learning a stringed instrument, the older one gets the more challenging language learning becomes, and Ann Patty decides to stay mentally fit by taking up Latin at the age of 57. Language learning, she concedes, is an activity for young people with their more plastic minds….. and yet, the allure of this idea (evoked so beautifully by Stavans in his memoir and Patty in hers) of the existence, in various languages, of different versions of ourselves, remains strong.
Sughra Raza. Narcissus at The Bus Stop. September, 2016
Making the world a nicer place, one Virtual Reality at a time
by Sarah Firisen
People are awful. You only need read the daily headlines to realize how awful so many of us are to each other. Intolerance, prejudice, ignorance, sit behind so many of the evils that men (and women) do to each other. But as bad as things are, they are mostly so much better than they ever have been. You don’t need to go back far in history to realize how much more tolerant and open minded we have tended to become as a species. The further back you go, the worse it is. What has made things, relatively speaking better? Well, not surprisingly, exposure and engagement tend to breed tolerance. We fear and suspect the unknown.
The more one knows and thinks about other living things, the harder it is to privilege one's own interests over theirs. The empathy escalator may also be powered by cosmopolitanism, in which journalism, memoir, and realistic fiction make the inner lives of other people, and the precariousness of one's own lot in life, more palpable—the feeling that "there but for fortune go I." —Michael Tomasky
And for the most part, what has brought us increasing exposure and engagement with each other has been advances in technology; from better boats, to planes, to computers and the Internet, it seems that while exposure to “the other” often aggravates fears, eventually, the ever adaptable human being learns that other people are far more similar to us than they are different. As we become exposed to people of different religions, cultures, beliefs, sexual orientation, it becomes harder and hard to see them as “the other”. There’s nothing radical or surprising about this. While there were clearly many complex issues at play, there seems to be real evidence that one of the major factors in the radical change in attitudes towards homosexuality in the US can be put down to the TV show Will and Grace, which, if nothing else, exposed gays to be much like the rest of us: self-absorbed, looking for love and acceptance and really in need of best friends who get us no matter how self-absorbed we become.
I was talking with another mother of teen girls this weekend and she lamented what technology has wrought and what it will continue to do to the social skills of our kids. I pointed out that people two hundred years ago, who had nothing else to do with their evenings other than to sit around a hearth and tell stories and sing songs, would probably have been pretty appalled at my childhood 30 odd years ago that involved sitting around a TV set with my family watching sitcoms. Wringing our hands about Snapchat, Instagram and the like is not only pointless but also probably not necessary; technology advances bring good and evil. Always have, always will. Society changes, people change, their interactions change, but we ultimately move forward. I read a great fictional account of the printing of the Gutenberg bible recently where a character bemoans the obvious lowering of standards that the printing press will bring over books written by scribes and the attendant evils.
Perhaps no technology trends bring the dreams of sci-fi writers and enthusiasts to life more than Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). Wearing even one of the many moderately priced headsets, you could be “standing” on the edge of a skyscraper with the immersive experience so realistic that you may find yourself experiencing very real vertigo. As such, it can be easy to dismiss these technologies as geeky toys. And while they clearly do have huge applications for gaming and entertainment, the potential goes much, much further. Even as the technologies stand today, they could fundamentally change the way we interact with the world and with each other. But once you experience them, you begin to realize that at the speed the technologies are moving, it will not be long until they change everything in much the same way that the Internet changed everything.
This technology is very much in its infancy; in 5 years we’ll look back at the Microsoft HoloLens and the Oculus Rift much as we now look at flip phones, maybe even more dismissively; technological advances are moving exponentially quickly. I remember the first Internet browser (yes I’m that old). I remember using my dial-up modem to browse to the Vatican website. It was one of the early very graphical websites. I could sit in New York and look at the art of the Vatican. I remember being amazed. It’s sometimes hard to recall how revolutionary the Internet was back in the day. I worked for an investment bank back then. And this was an investment bank that was heavily involved in media and technology related companies. And when it came out that I was using a company modem and phone line to connect to the Internet I was told to stop and that the company would not be doing anything with the Internet anytime in the foreseeable future. This was around 1993/94. Just think about the money that investment bank lost by not paying just a little bit of attention to what I was doing.
I mention this because I think that Virtual and Augmented Reality is poised to be as huge (and as discounted today) as the Internet was back then. It’s very easy to see what’s available today as sitting squarely in the realm of gaming and entertainment, with particularly interesting potential for porn. But put on a headset and you begin to see the real potential. Recently, I tried on an Oculus Rift and “played” a game that was set on an asteroid somewhere in the galaxy. I have no idea what I was supposed to be doing in the game and what the objective was, but I do know that I was standing on an “asteroid” with rocks around me gradually being blown away. I have a really terrible, sometimes crippling fear of heights. At some point I found myself huddling next to a “rock” on this asteroid, it being the only thing standing between me and the black depths of the galaxy. Suddenly my rock safety got blown away and I was standing alone with nothing between me and oblivion. Suddenly, my heart was racing and I had to take off the headset. Every physical reaction I have to standing at the edge of a tall building looking down was in play. Yes, my rational self knew none of it was real. I knew I was wearing a headset and was in a virtual world, but it FELT so real.
The potential of Virtual and Augmented Reality haven’t even begun to be tapped. Just playing with the technology the way it is now is thrilling. If you have any imagination you can feel the potential. Could this technology help us take the next big step as a race towards greater empathy and tolerance? Maybe. I know that sounds like a grandiose expectation, but why not? If being exposed to people not like us eventually tends to produce greater tolerance, why do those people have to be actually physically engaging with us? Why can’t they be virtual? Or real, but not really in the same space as us?
Already, virtual reality is being used to help people work through their fears and paranoia. If I’d had the opportunity, could I have put that headset on and worked through some of the irrationality of my fear of heights? Maybe. If my fear had been about other people who aren’t like me, could an extremely realistic and positive experience of interacting with them have reduced those fears? There’s already research being done in how these technologies can help increase electronic empathy, “Immersive technology creates empathy by putting the individual at the centre of every experience, and it has broadened its reach from gaming and entertainment to news, documentaries, education and healthcare. “
Like all technology, this also could encourage violence and disengagement from actual human experience; clearly the potential to experience huge violence in a consequence free manner could encourage real world impulses and incite real world violence, but it could also be a harmless way to indulge such impulses.
One thing is clear, we have only started to scratch the surface of what this technology could do and the advances in human social interaction it could herald.
Martha Mills: Lawyer, Activist, Judge
Martha Mills came to Mississippi as a young civil rights lawyer, looked racists judges, lawyers, and Ku Kluxers in the eye, and never backed down–in court or out. Small in stature, huge in guts, as far as I was concerned she was the smartest, bravest, and just plain toughest of that corporal’s guard of dedicated lawyers committed to giving life to the law.
—W. Hodding Carter III
The 1960s were tumultuous years in American politics. The nation blundered into a disastrous war in Vietnam that sparked years of protest and deprived Lyndon Johnson of a second full term as president. His boss, John F. Kennedy, and been assassinated in November of 1963, leaving Johnson to pursue that terrible war, but also to work with Kennedy’s brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy. They brought the civil rights movement to fruition with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, when Robert was a U.S. Senator. Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June, 1968, only two months after Martin Luther King was assassinated. King’s assassination fulminated race riots across the nation.
On February 7, 1969, The New York Times ran a story on page 20:
Woman Lawyer, 27, Jailed on Contempt In Grenada, Miss.
Special to the New York Times
GRENADA, Miss., Feb. 6–A 27-year-old woman lawyer was jailed for three hours here today after being held in contempt of court by Circuit Judge Marshall Perry when she attempted to file a bill of exceptions to a case involving a Negro civil rights worker.
Miss Martha M. Wood, an attorney for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, based in Jackson, was released under $300 bail.
An offense that merits release after only three hours in jail and with bail at $300 can’t have been much of an offense. And it wasn’t. But it involves a kind of
intricate legal obfuscation that defies easy summary and that is characteristic of race relations in the United States, then and alas now. If the prospect of summarizing it brings me to the edge of extreme annoyance you can imagine what it did to those who suffered through and by it, day after day.
Such is the texture of the story that Martha Mills recounts in a memoir of her years as a civil rights attorney, Lawyer, Activist, Judge: Fighting for Civil and Voting Rights in Mississippi and Illinois (2015). In this particular case the obfuscation was also the occasion of a little theatrical detail in the manner of arrest: “The deputy grabbed my arm roughly and hauled me out of the courtroom. As soon as we were out of the courtroom, however, he dropped my arm, apologized, and said he had to do that for the judge” (p. 277). You gotta’ love it, the delicate egos of those racist judges. The Lord does indeed move in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.
After an undergraduate education at Macalester College and a law degree from the University of Minnesota, Martha A. Mills became the first woman lawyer at White & Case, a prestigious Wall Street firm. As members of that firm had been involved in the 1963 formation of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Mills was aware of the committee’s volunteer program (p. 21):
In hindsight, there were few women trial lawyers anywhere in the United States in those days, and trial lawyers were what the Lawyers’ Committee in Mississippi desperately needed. White & Case was definitely very white, very male, and much imbued with status quo ideas about what women lawyers should or could do.
But they approved and Mills arrived in Jackson, state capital of Mississippi, on March 1, 1967. That same evening she accompanied another staff attorney, Barbara Shapiro, to attend a mass meeting in Natchez following the death of Wharlest Jackson, who had been murdered because he had taken a $7-an-hour job formerly held by a white man.
This meeting was held in a church, as many such meetings were, for the church has traditionally been the center of African-American community. As Barack Obama said in his eulogy for Clementa Pinckney:
Over the course of centuries, black churches served as “hush harbors” where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah, rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement.
And now Mills was one of those foot soldiers and was hunkered down in her first meeting deep behind enemy lines (pp. 100-101).
The mass meeting went from one hour to two and then three. It was interrupted several times by phone calls of reported threats on the lives of NAACP people in the community. After each phone call, the threat would be announced, in part so that everyone knew the danger that skulked outside, and in part to poke fun at attempted threats. After each announcement both murmurs and soft laughter ran through the crowd, so that I could see that people took the warnings seriously but that it was recognized as “white business as usual.” Given the history of the Klan and many whites in the area, the dual reaction was the only sensible response. […]
The atmosphere, in spite of the context, was positive. People sang hymns between speeches that called on everyone to stand strong and fight for the equality they deserved. The message was that together they could overcome all the years of degradation and abuse. It was not a somber event. Dogs barked outside, people responded from all parts of the crowd, “Yes,” That’s it,” “You’re right, brother,” “You tell ‘em!” Everyone, especially me, seemed so caught up in everything that the heat, the overcrowding, and the long hours were not even noticed.
After the meeting Mills was introduced to Charles Evers, brother to Medgar Evers, the civil rights activist who had been assassinated in 1963.
They soon became fast friends and allies. Mills bought a home catty-corner from Evers’ and met and played with his children, Nicie especially, his youngest: “We talked, told stories, played music, baked cookies, and made a papier-mâché hippopotamus and painted it purple.” In 1969 Evers decided to run for mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, a small city of less than 2000. He registered 450 additional voters and won, 433 to 264, over “Turnip Green” Allen, who was asked to but refused to swear Evers in as mayor. Evers hired Mills as city attorney. She resigned her position with the Lawyers’ Committee to take the job and set about training city officials and straightening out the budget, which had been deliberately left in a mess. Then they got word of a plot to assassinate Evers, something about an ex Imperial Wizard of the Knights of the Green Forest and a former Exalted Cyclops of the United Klans of America (294-297).
And so it goes.
There is the law, in all its majesty and eloquence, albeit often embroidered with intricate traceries of technical detail, and there is the practical business of making it work. People make it work, or not. And so Martha’s book–full disclosure, she’s a friend, so I’m entitled to the informality–is full of people and stories about them, little stories, big stories, but stories.
Did you see Mississippi Burning, the 1988 film starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe? It was based on the 1964 murders of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. Well Martha had extensive dealings with William Harold Cox, the real-life judge in that case. It seems that pretty near anyone involved in civil rights in Mississippi had dealings with Judge Cox, who once rendered a decision in which he said: “Who is telling these people [black applicants for registration] they can get in line and push people around, acting like a bunch of chimpanzees?” (222). Guess what? Martha was able to manage things so that Judge Cox was the one who had to admit her to the federal bar of Mississippi (197):
I suppose I wanted him to suffer through having to swear me in. My attitude was a bit petulant, but I figured that I was entitled to something for the anguish Judge Cox and his court regularly put as all through.
Like I said, people. How’s the song go? “People who need people/ Are the luckiest people in the world.” Hmmm…
One more story:
Lynn and Larry Ross hosted the Seder and invited me, others from the office, and some black friends. The text we used was the “radical Seder” [that had been published in Ramparts magazine in 1969], which used both the traditional and familiar questions and answers as well as the expanded recognition of the universality of the desire for freedom. It acknowledged leaders other than Moses, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We had the traditional accouterments, including the empty wine cup and empty seat at the dinner table for Elijah. The Seder hope was that a stranger would appear, and perhaps the stranger would be Elijah to lead us all to freedom and better things.
My friends having the Seder lived in the same neighborhood I did, with winding streets in which it was easy to get lost, or at least not find what you are looking for. An about-to-be-very-surprised black couple stopped at the house to ask directions. They were not only confronted with a mixed race dinner gathering in a black neighborhood, but also being hailed as Elijah and welcomed in to participate in the dinner! And they did stay awhile and have a glass of wine. We were all delighted.
Preclearance and the Return of Obfuscatory Nonsense
Mills devotes a substantial part of the book, five chapters (pp. 25-92) to explaining the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, what they are and how they came about. In particular she details the many ways Mississippi had devised to keep Africa-Americans from voting, tactics that were given a new life in June of 2013 when in a Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder (Wikipedia), the Roberts court decided that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was unconstitutional. That, in turn, rendered Section 5 toothless. Section 5 “requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practice.” Section 4(b) “contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting.”
What’s this about? It’s about poll taxes, reading tests, oaths, where you live, when you moved, the distinction between municipal and state elections, the publication of lists of voter applicants, and who knows what else. It’s all intricate obfuscatory nonsense designed to provide legal cover for denying black people the right to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 said If you want to change the requirements for voting you have to get our (the federal government) permission to do so. That’s preclearance and the objective is to eliminate one particular variety (among many) of obfuscatory nonsense. The Roberts court decided the times they have been changed and, in effect, nullified that requirement.
The result? The return of obfuscatory nonsense. For example: Michael Wines, writing in The New York Times, “Critics See Efforts by Counties and Towns to Purge Minority Voters From Rolls” (July 31, 2016):
Three years ago, the Supreme Court declared the preclearance mandate unconstitutional, saying the blatant discrimination it was meant to prevent was largely a thing of the past.
But since the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling in the voting-rights case, Shelby County v. Holder, critics argue, the blatant efforts to keep minorities from voting have been supplanted by a blizzard of more subtle changes. Most conspicuous have been state efforts like voter ID laws or cutbacks in early voting periods, which critics say disproportionately affect minorities and the poor. Less apparent, but often just as contentious, have been numerous voting changes enacted in counties and towns across the South and elsewhere around the country.
They appear as Republican legislatures and election officials in the South and elsewhere have imposed statewide restrictions on voting that could depress turnout by minorities and other Democrat-leaning groups in a crucial presidential election year. Georgia and North Carolina, two states whose campaigns against so-called voter fraud have been cast by critics as aimed at black voters, could both be contested states in autumn’s presidential election.
And so it goes. Freud called it the return of the repressed. I call it nonsense. I call it evil.
A Million Dollar Win
And that’s what Martha Mills was up against. But she, and many others, did win some victories.
In 1966 Ben Chester White was murdered near Natchez. Criminal charges were brought against Claude Fuller, Ernest Avants, and James Lloyd Jones, to no avail. In 1968 Mills and her colleagues sued them, and five top officers of the KKK (199-217). The case was tried before Judge William Harold “Mississippi Burning” Cox and Mills and her colleagues won. The story involves a good measure of backwoods insanity, grandiose titles, beer and strawberry soda, male bonding through violence, torching a car, “religious conniptions”, and obfuscatory nonsense, of course. Would you believe, for example, that a disbarred Klansman was allowed to represent the defendants?
When the jury returned, they were asked if they had reached a verdict, and the foreman said yes. The verdict was passed to the clerk of the court to read. He read the first part finding the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and Jones, Fuller, and Avants liable for $21,500 in actual damages and then stopped. He paused and glanced at the judge. He continued. He read that the jury awarded $1 million as punitive damages. We were both ecstatic and a bit surprised. Later, when we thought about it, we felt the clerk looked at Judge Cox before reading that part of the verdict out of an excess of caution because the clerk too was surprised. (214)
Of course it is one thing to win a million dollar judgment and quite something else to collect on it. As Mills notes, their Klan bed sheets weren’t worth spit (my wording, not hers). Still, it was “the first major verdict since Reconstruction for a black person killed or harmed by whites” (215).
What a life.
In the span of four years, 1967-1971, at one and the same time both short and long, short in chronological time, long in the pace of events and the centuries of history encapsulated, Martha Mills made a difference. Not by herself, certainly, not by herself, for she worked closely with others, black and white, well educated and not, but strong in spirit, all dedicated to justice and to freedom. The struggle continues and will always continue. There are no final victories. Only accomplishments, hope, and promise.
If you are a student, read this book. If you are a citizen, read this book. If you care about truth and justice, freedom and dignity, read this book.
* * * * *
The book is also available for pre-order at Amazon.com for release, I kid you not, on April the first, 2017. The earlier link is to the American Bar Association, which publishes the book, and will sell it to you now for $60 simoleons, $48 if you're a "Sponsor Member". There is some hope that the price will become more reasonable at some time in the future.
Monday, September 12, 2016
Chris Burden. What My Dad Gave Me, Rockefeller Center, NY. 2008.
"I have always wanted to build a model skyscraper using Erector parts. The model skyscraper, built from a toy and 65 feet in height, takes on the dimensions of a full sized building. The circle of actual buildings inspiring a toy in 1909, which is then used to build a model skyscraper the size of an actual building..."
No Can Go
The Spectacle is not a collection of images,
but a social relation among people, mediated by images.
Now that Pokémon Go has had a few weeks to work its way through our collective psychosocial digestive tract, we can begin considering the effects of this latest, and by far most successful, manifestation of augmented reality (AR). Because it has been so successful, it's worth asking the big questions. Does Pokémon Go really make us more social? Does it make us better as individuals, or as a society? What gets amplified, and what gets obscured? (Hereis a brief overview of how Pokémon Go works.)
It's worth mentioning that augmented reality broke into the national consciousness in the form of a game. Educational tools have a limited audience and their effectiveness is difficult to measure. Workplace applications are either niche or still undercooked - for example, if we're to go by this recent video by AR darling Magic Leap, work seems to entail checking the weather and stock prices, at least until you're interrupted by your kid sharing his school report on Mt. Everest. After buying some spiffy orange boat shoes, there's not much left to do but look up and zone out to the jellyfish languidly passing across the ceiling. Clearly, this is a job that is safe from automation.
Games, on the other hand, are the perfect vessel for distributing a technology such as AR. Software is a contained system; it is built according to specifications and anticipates a gamut of interactions. There are rules - visible or invisible - that tell you what the system may or may not do. And engagement with the system is based on the fact that identity and progress can be established and measured, with performance compared and contrasted with other players.
All of this makes software ideal as the substrate for the gamification of, well, everything. If you've ever used Uber, you can see the available cars trundling along the streets in your vicinity. Once you complete your ride, you rate your driver. What's a rather lesser-known fact is that your driver rates you. Silicon Valley abhors a data vacuum, and a great way to get people to provide data about anything is to make a game out of it. The genius of this is that, consequently, people are really convinced that it's just a game.
So is Pokémon Go just a game? To be sure, there was much ridicule as gamers emerged from their darkened rooms, like refugees from Plato's cave, stumbling into the blinding sunlight in order to catch their little monsters. And any activity that seeks to weave the real world into its purview is bound to have odd consequences. To be sure, there are the heartwarming anecdotes of autistic teenagers gaining newfound social confidence. Or consider the (very dubious) account of a player who ran into "two sketchy black guys" in a park at 3am who - as it turns out! - were also catching Pokemon. When the cops come by to see what's up, they're persuaded to start doing the same. It's like that old Mr. Microphone commercial: Everyone wants a piece of the fun!
At the same time, there is a decidedly darker side to the proceedings. In Wiltshire, England, four teenagers had to be rescued from a cave complex by three fire engine units and two rope crews (how they had reception down in the caverns unfortunately went unexplained). A guy in New York got caught cheating on his girlfriend as a result of the traces the game left on his phone. Players have been "asked to refrain" from chasing virtual creatures through Arlington National Cemetery; nor have they been shy to play the game at funerals or at the 9/11 Memorial in downtown Manhattan. I mean, you're either going to catch them all, or you're not.
More gruesomely, in searching for virtual monsters, players have stumbled across real dead people. In Wyoming, a teenager found a corpse under a bridge. A player in Odense, Denmark found another one in a drainage canal. And a group of players made a similar discovery by a creek bed in a San Diego park. (I suspect the chiron from ABC's TV coverage of the event - "3 Women Find Dead Body Playing Pokémon Go" - is just crying out for a copy editor's cold, clammy hand.) This is just a casual survey, however, and I am sure there are other, similar cases. It's reasonable to conclude that cash-strapped local law enforcement might wish to consider previously uncontemplated virtues of crowdsourcing. Although the cops in Smithfield, Virginia, went one better and used the game to lure a player with an outstanding warrant into the police station itself, where she was promptly arrested. As Columbo used to say, "Sometimes the smartest thing to do is act stupid."
But truly tragic events have occurred as well, while others were only narrowly avoided. A couple of guys fell off a cliff while playing the game in Encinitas, California; despite this particular augmentation of their reality, they survived. People have been mugged, since anyone with the game can spot other players who may happen to be playing in out-of-the-way places. Even worse, in North Carolina, a teenager was shot to death by a 67-year-old widow after attempting to break into her house to claim a particularly rare Pokemon. Another was gunned down in an apparently random slaying while playing in San Francisco, and another along some railroad tracks in a small town in Guatemala. This too is a list compiled only through casual browsing and is by no means intended to be complete.
In addition to this awful catalogue, there are more accidents just waiting to happen. An NGO in Bosnia has warned players to avoid "areas littered with unexploded mines left over from the 1990s conflict" (as opposed to any other time, when avoidance would seem obvious). And one of the first posts I saw surface about Pokémon Go mused on the hazards of what might be called "playing Pokémon Go while black". Coming not long after the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, Omari Akil describes his epiphany while wandering around in a semi-oblivious play-state within the context of potential police violence: "When my brain started combining the complexity of being Black in America with the real world proposal of wandering and exploration that is designed into the gameplay of Pokémon Go, there was only one conclusion. I might die if I keep playing."
This almost came to pass in Iowa City, when a student at the University of Iowa was mistaken for a bank robber. Faith Ekakitie is a big guy - 6'3" and 290lbs - and plays as a defensive end for the school football team. He was also playing Pokémon Go in a park located a few minutes from the robbery that had just occurred, and his description somewhat matched the robber's. Thanks to the distraction of the game, plus the headphones that he was wearing, he didn't hear the police accost him, which led to four guns trained on him while he was stopped and searched. The fact that he emerged unscathed from this encounter is somewhat miraculous. It's my fervent hope that a game that memorializes the location of Tamir Rice's death doesn't eventually see an ironic consummation.
The memorialization of Rice's death at the hands of Ohio police leads to an interesting insight into how Pokémon Go constructs its world, which, in turn, is the world that its players see. Why are certain locations privileged over others? Why would you include places like minefields and national cemeteries? And simply from a logistical point of view, how do you launch an augmented reality game that is truly global in its scope?
In reality, Pokémon Go is a collaboration between two corporations. Nintendo is the owner of the Pokémon concept, which has been around in one form or another since 1995. But the technological enhancement - you might say the ‘Go' in Pokémon Go - was provided by Niantic, a former subsidiary of Google that was spun off in 2015. In 2012, Niantic released Ingress, a massively multiplayer online game.
The competition in Ingress is primarily between the two opposing factions (teams) rather than between individual players, and players never interact directly in the game or suffer any kind of damage other than temporarily running out of XM (the power that fuels all actions except movement and communication). The gameplay consists of capturing "portals" at places of cultural significance, such as public art, landmarks, monuments, etc., and linking them to create virtual triangular "control fields" over geographical areas.
This is pretty much Pokémon Go, without the branding. What's fascinating is how the "portals" came about: they were patched together from a number of different sources, including, perhaps most significantly, user-provided locations. Niantic first started with mining public databases as well as Google Maps for locations that were popular. Once Ingress started taking off, players were asked to "submit places they thought were worthy of being portals. There have been about 15 million submissions, and [Niantic] approved in the order of 5 million of these locations worldwide".
So we can immediately appreciate the notion that there is some arbitrariness at work here. Wherever there are more people, and the wealthier and more connected those people are, these are the places that become privileged, because these are the voices that get amplified and heard within cyberspace. All the usual lumpiness applies.
This is made especially resonant in a fantastic Medium essay published by Rob Walker, about catching Pokémon in his local neighborhood, which happens to be New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, the same place that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and essentially left for dead. Walker compares the area's desolation with its further desolation in the realm of augmented reality: there really aren't that many places that are marked for play in the game. Instead, what Walker sees is a lost opportunity to experience the lived and broken but real environment of a post-hurricane neighborhood.
Instead of focusing on landmarks as we understand them, he prefers "the idea of a kind of Bizarro-world version of Pokémon Go, leading players not to their geography's most laudable features, but rather to the ones they'd prefer to ignore, or avoid." For him, an abandoned house is an object worthy of attention. To catch a Pokémon behind a car that hasn't been moved for over a year requires us to acknowledge that this car is here, even though we may have passed by it a hundred times before, perhaps only half-noticing its ongoing deterioration. It renders the invisible visible; it generates acknowledgment. For Walker, this is real exploration. Indeed, it is a genuine flânerie.
It is this act of making the invisible visible that makes the Tamir Rice landmark so extraordinary. Known as the Cudell Gazebo, there is no official designation of the event at the site itself. However, if one approaches the gazebo with Pokémon Go in hand, the description reads "Community memorial for Tamir Rice, shot and killed by CPD officers who shot him in under 2s after breaking department policy regarding escalation of force." It doesn't get much more explicit than that. Moreover, this is in contrast to the official version of events, where the police responsible were exonerated by the county prosecutor, who agreed that they had acted in fear of their lives.
But how did this virtual memorialization come about? There is only one comment to the local article I just cited on the Cudell Gazebo. Someone by the name of Jamie wrote:
Well, this was a bit surreal. I wrote that not long after Tamir died, and never expected many people to read it…. Memorials are built in the hope people will remember. The events that ended Tamir Rice's life are something that I worry will be forgotten. It was difficult to see the gazebo pictured without context, and I added a bit without expecting it to be noticed by anyone else.
Nicolas Carr, in a recent Aeon essay, writes that "What I want from technology is not a new world. What I want from technology are tools for exploring…the world that comes to us thick with ‘things counter, original, spare, strange', as Gerard Manley Hopkins once described it." Even if those tools take the form of a transient video game - or perhaps especially if they take that form - somehow, in ways that are both lucky and lucid, these tools may yet lay within our power.
(All images from the fabulous web comic Apocamon: The Book Of Revelation)
Don W. in Manhattan
—eating the dust of 2001
Dining in Soho alone, a man
served by a girl with lip studs, nose ring,
and serpent tattoo uncoiling
from deep cleavage,
sees the new man of La Mancha,
in dim light across the room,
seated with his back to the street:
This new La Mancha man
topples a pepper mill with his fork
gesturing to his wife, Sancha,
vowing he'll avenge New York
Sancha smiles and re-sets the mill in place
among constellations of pepper stars
strewn across formica space
Between them supper's done:
spent dinnerware, filaments of flaked filo
circling half a buttered bun,
remnants of dense moussaka,
and that pepper mill now standing like a dustbowl silo
near languid cubes in tepid water
Don Doble U, enemy of disorder,
sweeps a hand through this small universe
upending the pepper mill once more
and plows a thousand minuscule black galaxies
into his cupped palm
and dumps them on the floor
He takes his tined baton
between forefinger and thumb
and sets a cadence in the atmosphere
thumping on his different drum
Then Don (el hombre fútil),
maestro of mishap,
conducts the ice and water glass
into long-suffering Sancha's lap....................
Jim Culleny; 2001