Does Moving Poor People Work?


Thomas B. Edsall in the NYT:

Under the aegis of the “Moving to Opportunity” program, begun during the first administration of Bill Clinton, the Department of Housing and Urban Development randomly selected a large pool of low-income families with children living in public housing in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. Ninety-eight percent of the families were headed by women; 63 percent were black, 32 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent white; 26 percent were employed, 76 percent were receiving welfare, and families had an average income of $12,709 in 2009 dollars.

These families, 4604 of them, to be exact, were then divided into three groups. An experimental group of 1,819 families was offered “Section 8 rental assistance certificates or vouchers that they could use only in census tracts with 1990 poverty rates below 10 percent”; 855 accepted the offer and became part of the study. A second group of 1,346 families was offered more traditional “Section 8” rent subsidy vouchers that could be used in anyneighborhood; 848 accepted.

A control group composed of 1,439 families stayed in public housing and became part of the study. The purpose of the relocation initiative, according to Department of Housing and Urban Development, was to test the “long-term effects of access to low-poverty neighborhoods on the housing, employment and educational achievements of the assisted households.” Researchers also studied how relocation affected the health of those who accepted vouchers.

A paper published in the May 2013 issue of the American Economic Review, “Long-Term Neighborhood Effects on Low-Income Families: Evidence From Moving to Opportunity,” found that after 10 to 15 years, moving out of high-poverty public housing through the M.T.O. program showed mixed results.

There were some positive developments, according to the primary author of the paper, Jens Ludwig, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and the project director for a final assessment of the M.T.O. program. Ludwig and his six co-authors found improvement in “several key adult mental and physical health outcomes.” These included significantly lowered risk of diabetes and obesity, as well an improved level of “subjective well-being.”

But the Ludwig study also found that “changing neighborhoods alone may not be sufficient to improve labor market or schooling outcomes for very disadvantaged families.” Ludwig reported that this particular form of assistance from HUD –a housing voucher that allowed recipients to move into a “low poverty” area – had “no consistent detectable impacts on adult economic self-sufficiency or children’s educational achievement outcomes, even for children who were too young to have enrolled in school at baseline.”

More here.

Wednesday Poem

With a Pen

A child will come to understand the meaning in their name
A tribe will retrace their pathway to the beginning of their totem
A people might preserve their culture for tomorrow’s generations
A simple prophecy in graffiti on a city wall, some rock paintings. . .
In a songbook a poet might begin an existence
Injustice will begin to see his nemesis in the distance
The simplest words might inspire a mother’s strength for her children
When love and laughter are prescribed for a family as their medicine
Planets in rotation in a cypher will write life a hook
Didn’t Ayi Kwei preserve our history in the pages of unpublished books?
Matigari told of the wisdom alive in one’s reading of the modern stars
The tales of freedom in this hunger that houses burning butterflies
Bantu liked our beauty and consciousness in the depth of apartheid
Oa Magogodi mic’d it in our first language, spoken word
We recite it on stages and pages upon which the unspoken will be heard
If in the beginning was the word, then someone must have understood that with a pen
A lonely heart will dwell in remembrance, the beauty of life with a loved one
A politician will authorize the massacre of protestors taking a father from a daughter and son
A starved soul will protest silently against that which has made him weak
A writer will alter the language a people’s consciousness speaks
An oppressive system will draw up title deeds depriving people of their ancestral home
I will write all night to inspire you and go back home all alone
An officer will incarcerate a man that refuses to bribe him and
A sick mind will stab to death another life with a pen
An artist will dwell in solitude with a pen
Politicians will steal many ballot boxes with a pen
Voices will not be silenced by violence with a pen
Ideas won’t die unseen
Recorded for tomorrow with a pen
Retrieved from yesterday with a pen
Yet today some will be too afraid to hold a pen in their hand

by Tswarelo Mothobe
publisher Poetry International, 2014

Independent Journalism in Egypt Today, and the Case of Mahmoud Abu Zeid


Patrick Keddie in the LA Review of Books (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam):

JAMMES AND SHAWKAN were in trouble. A police officer was standing on Jammes’s toes and a line of police trucks had arrived. The officer stared into Jammes’s face for several minutes. He slapped him when he tried to speak. Jammes was advised to keep looking down at his feet, half obscured by the officer’s boots. His friend Shawkan, just behind him, endured the same treatment.

Louis Jammes, a French photographer, and “Shawkan,” the nickname for Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, had arrived early that morning, August 14, 2013, at the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in of mostly pro-Muslim Brotherhood supporters. The Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi had been ousted by the military in early July, following huge protests against him. Rabaa square, east Cairo, had become an encampment of at least80,000 overwhelmingly peaceful protesters calling for Morsi’s reinstatement. The authorities had lost patience with the six-week old sit-in; most people knew that it would soon be cleared and that it was likely to happen at the end of Ramadan.

When Jammes and Shawkan arrived that morning, they watched the camp awaken. There were many families there — men, women, and children. The photographers were shown a new field hospital that had been set up to care for the anticipated casualties of the coming clearance. It was not long afterward that the security forces made their advance into the camp.

Jammes wanted to stay with the sit-in but Shawkan preferred to be behind military lines. “Shawkan was a little afraid of the Brotherhood,” recalls Jammes. “I was really afraid of the military myself but Shawkan trusted them.” Jammes asked Shawkan a couple of times if he was certain it was the right decision; he was sure the armed forces would not allow them to photograph the clearance.

When the security forces began to fire on the sit-in, Jammes and Shawkan crossed behind them. They were perhaps 10 or 20 meters behind the frontline, crouching behind cars, running between armored vehicles and taking photos alongside the military as they pushed forward against the ranks of protesters defending the camp.

More here.

The Calculus of Contagion


Adam Kucharski in Aeon (Photo by Dominique Faget/Afp/Getty):

There are several ways to estimate the reproduction number of an infection. If we know how long people are infectious for – and hence the average time between each ‘generation’ of disease cases – we can estimate the reproduction number by looking at how quickly the epidemic grows. Alternatively, we can estimate it by calculating the average age at which people experience their first infection. The more infectious a disease is, the sooner a person will become infected.

By calculating reproduction numbers, we can quantify and compare different infections. Measles is at the wildfire end of the scale. In an unvaccinated population, it has a reproduction number that lies somewhere between 12 and 18. This explains why measles has always been a childhood disease; a high reproduction number drives down the average age of infection. In contrast, the 1918 pandemic influenza strain – the infamous ‘Spanish flu’ – had a reproduction number of around 2 or 3. Because the disease came with a high fatality rate, even this relatively low reproduction number was enough to create widespread devastation. In the middle, we have infections such as polio (5 to 7) and mumps (4 to 7).

Although the reproduction number does not tell us how fast an infection will spread from person to person, it does show how much effort is required to eradicate a disease through vaccination. For a disease such as measles, we need to vaccinate a lot of the population to reduce the average number of secondary cases, and hence get the reproduction number below that crucial value of 1. But the reproduction number isn’t just useful for studying familiar infections. It can also help us deal with new disease threats.

More here.

Marguerite Yourcenar’s Coup de Grâce is a great World War I book, except it isn’t about World War I

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

IC_MEIS_COUPDE_AP_001It is a heart-wrenching love story. That alone would put it in the category of “good summer read.” It is a short book, clocking in at one hundred and fifty-one pages in my edition. It’s thus an easy book to stick into a beach bag or to carry on the train.

It is also highly appropriate to read in the dying days of this summer, the summer of 2014. That’s because this summer is the hundred-year anniversary of the beginning of World War I. The guns started firing on June 28, 1914. By mid-August, young European men were dying by the tens of thousands, victims of a war that redefined organized, industrial killing for the modern age.

The book I am speaking of, Coup de Grâce by Marguerite Yourcenar, does not actually take place during WWI. It takes place during the Baltic wars (1918-20) that emerged directly out of WWI. The Soviets attacked Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, taking advantage of the chaos left by the Great War. The Germans got involved – defending their own damaged imperial interests – as did the Brits. The Baltic wars quickly turned into a nice, vicious and now largely forgotten little series of wars.

Still, Coup de Grâce is, at its heart, a WWI book. It explores what happens to individual lives as those lives came up against historical forces of massive destruction. It shows us the remnants of an older, pre-war European sensibility in its dying gasps. WWI killed off what was left of the 19th century and ushered in the modern world to come. That’s been repeated so often it has become a truism, a cliché. So how do you tell a real story of the traumas of the WWI era without being trite and abstract?

More here.

Universalizing Settler Liberty

Nikhil Pal Singh in Jacobin:

Indian-land-for-saleOver the last decade, interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere have led academics and activists to question the prerogatives of American empire. At the same time, the global financial crisis has created space for a renewed discussion not just about inequality and redistribution, but capitalism itself.

Yet recent conversations about empire and capitalism have tended to operate in isolation, with little attention paid to how they are bound together and what these interconnections might mean for projects of social change.

Aziz Rana’s book, The Two Faces of American Freedom, now out in paperback, embodies a sustained attempt to link these two conversations. It presents a historical account of the relationship between external projections of power and internal judgments of economic liberty in the United States.

Rana, an associate professor of law at Cornell University, argues that the American experience is best understood as one of “settler empire.” English colonists, along with their descendants, viewed society as grounded in an ideal of freedom that emphasized continuous popular mobilization and direct economic decision-making.

However, this ideal was politically bound to territorial conquest and to the dispossession and control of marginalized groups. These practices of liberty and subordination were not separate currents, but rather two sides of the same coin. Even today, he argues, the legacies of settler empire shape and sustain the twin dynamics of racial exclusion and economic exploitation.

More here.

Blinding them with science: Is development of a banned laser weapon continuing?

Dan Drollette Jr in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

LasergunThe subject gets little publicity nowadays, but until the mid-1990s, the US Air Force openly funded research on how to destroy human eyeballs at a distance with lasers. At the time, the justification was that such a technology—causing permanent blindness—was no worse than burning people with napalm, irradiating them, or blasting them to bits with bombs.

The research got quite far along; in 1995, Human Rights Watch identified at least 10 different laser blinding programs of concern, which the military ran under the names “laser countermeasure system,” BOSS, Persuader, LX-5, Saber 203, TLOS, Green Laser, Nighthawk, and Y-Blue, among others. In that same year a treaty, the New Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, was adopted by the United Nations; it banned such weaponry, and Bulletin contributing editor William Arkin penned a full-page story applauding the ban. He wrote: “The humanitarian considerations of this potentially horrific new chapter in warfare far outweighed the minor—and redundant—military benefit.”

But while the weapon itself was banned, research into laser weaponry was not, so work on it continued, under other rubrics.

More here.

How the curtains came down on Calcutta’s professional theatre

The-ashes-of-pleasure_courtesy-bangla-natyakosh-parishad_caravan-magazine_september-2014_01Saikat Majumdar at Caravan:

THE 1980S WERE A BLEAK TIME in the Communist-ruled state of West Bengal, with the economy a strangled mess of unemployment and industrial lock-outs. Being an intellectual in Bengal very much overlapped with being on the left, if not in fact being a Marxist. And theatre had been a touchstone for leftist politics ever since the Indian People’s Theatre Association was set up in 1942, under the cultural wing of the Communist Party of India. A revolutionary politics called for a revolutionary aesthetic. For example, third theatre, a radical, experimental movement pioneered by the visionary playwright and director Badal Sircar in the late 1960s, completely eschewed the proscenium in favour of the street. By the 1980s, theatre was closely allied with the protest marches that choked Calcutta’s roads every other day. It was a vehicle to advance the political conscience of the nation-state, and of radical, left-leaning groups within it.

It is this story of twentieth-century Bengali theatre that is most prominently archived in academic and public memory. Indeed, the story of left-leaning, experimental theatre is the one most often told about the pan-Indian stage. Minerva, however, was one of several venues for a kind of theatre that, in the 1980s, had just about another decade of flickering life left in the city of labour unrest and street demonstrations. This was the commercial theatre of pleasure and entertainment, also known as “professional” or “board” theatre, which was confined to a cluster of north-Calcutta playhouses, none of them very far from Sonagachi.

more here.

in donetsk

UrlKeith Gessen at The London Review of Books:

I decided to leave Donetsk after seeing a man getting shoved into the trunk of a car by a group of armed men in fatigues. ‘Get the fuck in there, blyad’!’ one of them shouted at him. The man was blindfolded and had his hands bound behind his back. He was unsteady on his feet, either because he was drunk or they’d beaten him, or both. This was going on a few paces from the headquarters of the DNR, where Mishin was working on an organisation chart for his proposed ministry of sports.

I got on the train and travelled to Kramatorsk and Slovyansk, where the war had begun. Slovyansk, in particular, was a revelation. I had seen photos and videos of it under occupation, when people were being shot in the street. A month after the rebels had left, people were walking around eating ice cream. There were still plenty of ruined buildings, but the atmosphere was almost festive. I saw a group of children who were so cute and happy I wanted to take a photo. I asked their mothers if this was all right, and they said yes, except, they added, they weren’t from Slovyansk. They had come from Yenakievo, Yanukovych’s hometown, where the fighting between government forces and the rebels was fierce. Slovyansk, once a byword for the war, had become a place where people took refuge from it.

more here.

William S Burroughs and the hallucinogenic vine yagé

LeesAndrew Lees at The Dublin Review of Books:

In 1953, two years after he had shot Joan Vollmer, his common-law wife, in a drunken William Tell routine at the Bounty Bar in Mexico City, William Seward Burroughs embarked on a South American quest in search of yagé, a hallucinogenic vine used by the shamans of the Upper Amazon for healing and divination. In Puerto Limon, under its hallucinogenic influence, he saw neon blue flashes, a diaspora of multi-racial travellers; and he caught his first glimpse of the “Composite City”. In letters written to Allen Ginsberg from Pucallpa on the Ucayali River he reported yagé’s capacity to extend consciousness, induce automatic obedience and alter mindset. He also warned his friend of its propensity to derange the senses and bring about acute states of sensitivity that were beyond description.

I must give up the attempt to explain, to seek any answer in terms of cause and effect and prediction, leave behind the entire structure of pragmatic, result seeking, use seeking, question asking Western thought.

I first heard about yagé as a sixteen-year-old reader of Richard Spruce’s Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and the Andes, compiled between 1849 and 1864 and posthumously published by his friend Alfred Russel Wallace in 1908. It was five years later that I first began reading Burroughs and resolved to become a neurologist. Reading Spruce convinced me that the natural world and its plant kingdom held most of the secrets to understanding and manipulating the chemical systems of the human brain.

more here.

Tuesday Poem

To understand war you have to understand that war is a political tool
meant to terrorize as well as kill. It's an insanity always claiming some
god's sanction—Anon.

To Just Nothing

This is what the war ended up being about:
we would find a V.C. village,
and if we could not capture it
or clear it of Cong,
we called for jets.
The jets would come in, low and terrible,
sweeping down, and screaming,
in their first pass over the village.
Then they would return, dropping their first bombs
that flattened the huts to rubble and debris.
And then the jets would sweep back again
and drop more bombs
that blew the rubble and debris
to dust and ashes.
And then the jets would come back once again,
in a last pass, this time to drop napalm
that burned the dust and ashes to just nothing.
Then the village
that was not a village any more
was our village.

by Corporal Charles Chungtu, U.S.M.C.
from Unaccustomed Mercy
Texas Tech University Press, 1989

Civil War

by Gerald Dworkin

By some strange coincidence, the Chancellors of the two Universities at which I spent the longest periods of my career– University of California and University of Illinois–have turned into poster children for current administrative cant about free speech and its limits.

Chancellor Wise and the Salaita decision were the subject of my blog piece last week. Since then the Board of Trustees at UIUC has affirmed her decision by a vote of 8 to 1. Salaita's only recourse now is a law-suit or accepting the inevitable settlement offer of the University. For our sake, I would hope that there is a lawsuit which would enable his lawyers to uncover more about donor pressures which were certainly focused on his viewpoint and not just their mode of expression. For his sake, I would hope for a suitably large settlement which not only would, to some extent, mitigate his losses but might convince the business-oriented administrators of our universities that it is too expensive to treat faculty in this fashion.

In mitten drinnen, as my people would say, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, of the University of California Berkeley (where I got my Ph.d in 1966) issued a statement about academic civility to mark the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement. Although I was in London writing my thesis when FSM occurred I was an active participant in the various protests which led up to it — including the famous May 1960 San Francisco City Hall anti-House Un-American Activities Committee protests which ended in mass arrests.

For those of you who do not know much about FSM this is informative.

This is the text of the Chancellor's remarks:

Dear Campus Community,

This Fall marks the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, which made the right to free expression of ideas a signature issue for our campus, and indeed for universities around the world. Free speech is the cornerstone of our nation and society – which is precisely why the founders of the country made it the First Amendment to the Constitution. For a half century now, our University has been a symbol and embodiment of that ideal

As we honor this turning point in our history, it is important that we recognize the broader social context required in order for free speech to thrive. For free speech to have meaning it must not just be tolerated, it must also be heard, listened to, engaged and debated. Yet this is easier said than done, for the boundaries between protected and unprotected speech, between free speech and political advocacy, between the campus and the classroom, between debate and demagoguery, between freedom and responsibility, have never been fully settled. As a consequence, when issues are inherently divisive, controversial and capable of arousing strong feelings, the commitment to free speech and expression can lead to division and divisiveness that undermine a community's foundation. This fall, like every fall, there will be no shortage of issues to animate and engage us all. Our capacity to maintain that delicate balance between communal interests and free expression, between openness of thought and the requirements and disciplines of academic knowledge, will be tested anew.

Specifically, we can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected in doing so, and this in turn requires that people treat each other with civility. Simply put, courteousness and respect in words and deeds are basic preconditions to any meaningful exchange of ideas. In this sense, free speech and civility are two sides of a single coin – the coin of open, democratic society.

Insofar as we wish to honor the ideal of Free Speech, therefore, we should do so by exercising it graciously. This is true not just of political speech on Sproul Plaza, but also in our everyday interactions with each other – in the classroom, in the office, and in the lab.

This is not a completely idiotic statement but it contains enough mistakes and confusions to throw into doubt the rather hopeful outlook of many Berkeley faculty when they heard of his appointment. The most egregious sentence is this one:

…for the boundaries between protected and unprotected speech, between free speech and political advocacy, between the campus and the classroom, between debate and demagoguery, between freedom and responsibility, have never been fully settled.

His claim is true with respect to “protected and unprotected speech”, nonsensical with respect to “free speech and political advocacy”, infelicitous with respect to “campus and the classroom”, irrelevant with respect to “debate and demagoguery,” and confused with respect to “freedom and responsibility”.

Read more »

A Mathematician Plays Battleship and Saves Lives

by Jon Kujawa

Emmanuel Candes of Stanford University was a plenary speaker at the recent International Congress of Mathematicians. By chance I saw Candes speak several years ago at an American Mathematical Society meeting. Truthfully, Candes work is miles away from my own and I might not have seen him speak if it weren't for the wine reception scheduled immediately after his talk! That was my great fortune: Candes is an excellent speaker and is doing truly remarkable mathematics.

Indeed Candes and his collaborators are doing something very exciting which has immediate practical applications and endless future ones.

Here is the essence of the problem:

Imagine you have an array of data. That is, imagine you have a spreadsheet in which you have a series of rows of numbers with one number per column. Now imagine that some of those numbers are missing. Perhaps the data has been lost or perhaps you never had the data in the first place. Can you recover the missing data?

Put like that, the answer is certainly no. If the numbers are random, then even knowing all but one of them it will be impossible to recover the last missing number. Candes and his collaborators have shown, however, that the real world isn't random and in fact we can often reconstruct the missing data.


Candes creates data from thin air! [1]

Let me give an example where you can see that recovering real world data is sometimes possible. Imagine that you have a huge data set in which each row of numbers is the biometric data for a single person. The first number is their weight, the second their height, the third their age, the fourth their blood cholesterol level, the fifth their shoe size, and so on. If you accidently delete the weight of the 2,381,773rd person in your data set, you can certainly make an accurate estimate of the missing weight by comparing person number 2,381,773 with others who have similar heights, ages, etc.

That was easy, of course, because you have nearly all the data at hand for working out the missing bit. Candes does something much more remarkable, though. He shows that under reasonable assumptions you can actually usually recover the entire array of data even if nearly half of it is missing! Not only this, but he and his collaborators give us the tools to calculate how much data can be missing and how close we can get to a perfect reconstruction.

Does this so far imaginary problem actually occur in real life? You bet! Once you start you'll find it everywhere you look. Let me mention a couple of examples.

Read more »

Monday Poem

Add 30 Seconds

add 30 seconds to anytime,
what’s that interval?

hell, double it
what’s that?

have you ever had a day that lasts three
or one that goes so fast it’s past —instantly?

are those durations short or long,
if hours mean anything?

subtract 5 hours from anytime
do we really think we’ve minced minutes?
as we tick them off are they really not there?

there’s a continuum called now
outside of which is guesswork
because our instruments only work here
slice it anyway you want
it remains still,
our clocks do not
affect it

now is never what it was before
because things change
and will change again, now,
not yesterday or tomorrow
it only happens now

now is the only thing we have to work with
now only knocks now

by Jim Culleny

Divine Hiding?

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

Dividing_Light_from_DarknessThe case for God's existence is unsuccessful. Theistic arguments either beg the question, or involve deductive fallacies, or don't really prove what they promised to. Furthermore, the atheistic arguments all seem decisive – there's no morally acceptable solution to the problem of evil, and there is no need for God in a naturalistic universe. Current theistic replies are mostly rear-guard actions in reaction to the atheist – more apology than apologetics. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the thesis that God doesn't exist. And this is good news, too. God is just a cosmic bully. Such a being might provide the universe with meaning, but in so doing, makes it all pointless, especially human autonomy — which, by hypothesis, would have to resolve itself into God's will. God's existence would be a moral tragedy, so good riddance to bad rubbish.

Call the view expressed above Positive Evidential Atheism (PEA). It is the two-part thesis composed of an evidential claim and a positive assessment: (1) our overall available evidence supports belief that there is no God and (2) God's non-existence is a good thing. We endorse PEA. Paul Moser challenges PEA in his book The Severity of God (2013). Moser argues that if God exists, He would be silent; moreover, He would be particularly silent to those who accept PEA. This “divine hiddenness” explains why PEA's advocates think they have no evidence for God's existence. Given that God hides, the evidence is misleading. In response to Moser, we defend PEA along two lines: (1) PEA needn't be undercut in the fashion Moser takes it to be, and (2) divine hiding can be rendered as supporting PEA.

Let's begin by considering the divine hiddenness view in a little more detail. It runs like this: Even though the problem of evil may seem unanswerable, we humans are not in a position to know that God would not allow severe evils in the world. Moreover, we do not know if God intervenes in this universe with individuals engaged in proper relationships with Him. Access to evidence of God is not a matter of looking and seeing, but a matter of searching, yearning, and then being transformed. God, in fact, wants relationships with us, not just our assent to claims of His existence. And so He hides from us until we are ready for His presence.

Notice that the divine hiddenness view reconciles the fact of widespread disbelief with God's capacity and goodness. God is silent until we are ready to hear. Were He to reveal himself when we are not ready, the relationship He desires and we need would be perverted. God's ways, in short, are not our ways; to expect otherwise is nothing short of idolatry. Divine hiding, so the reasoning goes, is something we should positively expect of a God truly worthy of worship.

God's motivation to hide is especially pronounced in the case of the positive atheist. As Moser has it, “God typically would hide God's existence from people ill-disposed toward it”; as they are ill-disposed toward God, “their lacking evidence for God's existence is not by itself the basis of a case for atheism”(2013:200). Thus positive atheists should expect that their evidence regarding God's existence is misleading, since they are precisely those for whom God's presence will be elusive. Hence PEA's positive assessment undercuts its evidential claim. Moser calls this the “undermining case” against PEA. Yet, as we will argue, the undermining case is not decisive.

Read more »

A Rank River Ran Through It

by Liam Heneghan

LiffeyIt says something about a city, I suppose, when there is heated debate over who first labeled it a dirty place. The phrase “dear dirty Dublin”, used as a badge of defiant honor in Ireland’s capital to this day, is often erroneously attributed to James Joyce. Joyce used the term in Dubliners (1914) a series of linked short stories about that city and its denizens. But the phase goes back at least to early nineteenth century and the literary circle surrounding Irish novelist Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan) who remains best known for her novel The Wild Irish Girl (1806) which extols the virtues of wild Irish landscapes, and the wild, though naturally dignified, princess who lived there. Compared to the fresh wilderness of the Irish West, Dublin would have seemed dirty indeed.

The city into which I was born more than a century later was still a rough and tumble place. It was also heavily polluted. This was Dublin of the 1970s.

My earliest memories of the city center come from trips I took to my father’s office in Marlborough St, just north of the River Liffey which bisects the city. My father would take an eccentric route into the city, the “back ways” as he would call them, which though not getting us to the destination as promptly as he advertised, had the benefit of bringing us on a short tour of the city and its more unkempt quarters.

My father’s cars themselves were masterpieces of dereliction. Purchased when they were already in an advanced stage of decay, he would nurse them aggressively till their often fairly prompt demise. One car that he was especially proud of, a Volkswagen Type III fastback, which had its engine to the rear, developed transmission problems and its clutch failed. His repair consisted of a chord dangling over his shoulder and crossing the back seat into the engine. A tug at a precisely timed moment would shift the gears. A shoe, attached to the end of the chord and resting on my father’s shoulder, aided the convenient operation of this system. That car, like most the others in those less regulated times, was also a marvel of pollution generation, farting out clouds of blue-black exhaust which added to the billowy haze of leaded fumes issuing from the other disastrously maintained vehicles, all shuddering in and out of the city’s congested center at the beginning at end of each work day.

A route into the city that I especially liked took us west of the city center, and as we approached Christ Church Cathedral I would open the window to smell the roasting of the barley which emanated from the Guinness brewery in Liberties region of the city, down by the Liffey. Very promptly I would wind up the window again as we crossed over the bridge, since the reek of that river was legendarily bad.
The Irish playwright Brendan Behan wrote in his memoir Confessions of an Irish Rebel (1965), “Somebody once said that ‘Joyce has made of this river the Ganges of the literary world,’ but sometimes the smell of the Ganges of the literary world is not all that literary.”

Read more »


by Tamuira Reid

“My daddy stays in that building? Not a house?”

I'm glad it looks more like an office building and less like a hospital. My son has lived in a city long enough to know what a hospital looks like. This is a slate rectangle, with a line of tinted windows overlooking the parking lot. I imagine faces behind those windows, smashed up against the glass. I imagine his face among them and stop looking at the windows.

Oliver dangles his feet from a carseat in the back. He's nervous. I'm nervous. The Los Angeles evening glitters outside our car.

“It's like Dadland.


Dadland. Like Disneyland but no rides. Just daddies.”

It has been two years since he's seen his father. He's four. Exactly half of his life has gone by.

We wait for him to come out. When he does, we'll get an hour to play family before we return him to the nurse who will dole out his nightly meds, now open your mouth and lift your tongue, please. Good.

I wonder what he'll be wearing. I've scrubbed Oliver down and we both look nice. New jeans. Clean shoes. Like we're going to church not war.


I share a bed with my sister. Cute when you're ten, but not when you're my age. Oliver doesn't have a room, he has a corner. In front of a closet. It's New York, which means every square inch of our apartment is an experiment in strategic furniture placement. But we are teaching the kid to have grit. To appreciate a minimalist approach. The beauty in paper plates and pirated cable television. The mouse in the kitchen doubling as a first pet.

A mother and an auntie. Two women who love him to death and show up at every open house and music class and playdate in the park. Two women who Instagram every haircut, gummy smile, new pair of glasses. But we are no dad. There's a placeholder where dad should be. An ellipsis. To be continued. It's kind of like watching the weather report – and today with a side of dad.

“He's at the store.”

“He's been there a long time,” I say.

“It's a big store.”

And this is the story he has been telling himself. When his preschool teacher or well-meaning neighbors ask. When his best friend points it out. Where's your daddy?

At the store. Works for me.

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