Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tabs About Ferguson and More

Sooooo many tabs. Not surprising, given what's been happening in recent weeks. Here's a wrap-up.

First there are several from Paul Thomas's Radical Scholarship blog:

Confessions of an Outlier in the Aftershock of Ferguson. Thomas deconstructs Malcolm Gladwell's concept of the outlier through his own experience with putting in the "10,000 hours of practice" without success in basketball, while he gained success at academic success without trying nearly so much. "As the late and complicated Kurt Vonnegut would explain, we as Americans could do with a huge dose of humility (especially from the outliers), a renewed commitment to kindness (especially to children and those who are not finding life equitable or easy), and a serious reconsideration of whether or not we wish to be a democracy (a people who embrace the ethics of community) or a consumer-based oligarchy."

Denying White Privilege Has an Evidence Problem.

Diagramming Sentences and the Art of Misguided Nostalgia. "If we seek to teach young people to write, and thus to think, in complex and original ways, we remain confronted by the need to see that writing is learned by writing.... Naming correctly the parts of the bicycle, taking apart and putting together a bicycle—these have not made me a better cyclist. For students as writers, blueprints, still, are not houses, diagramming is not composing."

And then others on topics relevant in the recent weeks of unrest in Ferguson:

What my bike has taught me about white privilege by a blogger who started using a bicycle as a main transportation method five years ago. "I can imagine that for people of color, life in a white-majority context feels a bit like being on a bicycle in midst of traffic. They have the right to be on the road, and laws on the books to make it equitable, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are on a bike in a world made for cars. Remembering this when I’m on my bike in traffic has helped me to understand what privilege talk is really about."

From vox.com, Did the St. Louis police have to shoot Kajieme Powell? On the too-often-deadly encounters between police and the mentally ill. "This man needed help. He had a knife, but he also, clearly, had an illness. After watching the video, Vox's Amanda Taub said, 'I keep thinking about the times when I have called 911 because I have encountered a mentally ill person in public who seems unsafe. I don't know how I would live with it if this had been the result.' There has to have been a way that police could have protected Kajieme Powell rather than killed him."

Also from vox.com, Matt Yglesias wonders Have the cops gotten too good at catching criminals? He's talking about nonviolent crime. It makes me think of the problem with edge cases.

The myth of the black-on-black crime epidemic from Demos. 

The fire this time by Bob Herbert, also writing for Demos.
I will never forget traveling to Avon Park, Florida, a few years ago to cover the case of an African-American girl in kindergarten who was arrested by the police, handcuffed and taken to the police station in the back seat of a patrol car because she had thrown a tantrum in the classroom. When I interviewed the police chief, I expressed amazement that this had happened to a six-year-old. His reply came in an instant: “Do you think this is the first six-year-old we’ve arrested?”

Handcuffing the child had proved difficult. “You can’t handcuff them on their wrists because their wrists are too small,” the chief explained, “so you have to handcuff them up by their biceps.”
If you need some examples of how privilege operates in protecting white people from the criminal justice system, you can't do much better than these two articles. First, there's I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look Inside the Justice System from the Atlantic. In this piece, a white former prosecutor did his damnedest to get arrested for graffiti in Brooklyn and Manhattan while wearing a business suit. He goes to absurdist lengths before anyone even pays attention to what he's doing. I laughed out loud, painfully, while reading it. He finally ends up paying more than the usual price for his "crime," but only because he embarrassed the system. Then there's Different Rules Apply by Matt Zoller Seitz, editor of Roger Ebert's website. Seitz tells the story of an earlier point in his life when he drunkenly picked a fight with a Latino guy. Guess who ends up getting blamed for it? Guess who walks away with a pat on the back from the cops?

On a somewhat different tack, Charles Marohn of Strong Towns describes what he calls the Suburban Ponzi Scheme and how Ferguson, Missouri, is a good example of it. As I pointed out earlier, Ferguson is not made for human scale. But Marohn goes beyond my simple thoughts to point out that when suburban buildings are built all at the same time, their maintenance comes due all at the same time as well, which is a financially nonviable reality that leads to situations like Ferguson's, where their budget is disproportionately derived from fining the town's mostly black residents:
Decline isn’t a result of poverty. The converse is actually true: poverty is the result of decline. Once you understand that decline is baked into the process of building auto-oriented places, the poverty aspect of it becomes fairly predictable. The streets, the sidewalks, the houses and even the appliances were all built in the same time window. They all are going to go bad at roughly the same time. Because there is a delay of decades between when things are new and when they need to be fixed, maintaining stuff is not part of the initial financial equation. Cities are unprepared to fix things -- the tax base just isn't there -- and so, to keep it all going, they try to get more easy growth while they take on lots of debt....

When places like this hit the decline phase – which they inevitably do – they become absolutely despotic. This type of development doesn’t create wealth; it destroys it. The illusion of prosperity that it had early on fades away and we are left with places that can’t be maintained and a concentration of impoverished people poorly suited to live with such isolation.
Marohn's article covers so many angles on the problem in Ferguson and other suburbs that it's making my head feel a bit explosive. He touches on the problems of franchise businesses as the only kind of opportunity available, the widths of sidewalks, and the general problem of needing a car to get anywhere. Whew. Highly recommended reading.

And then there are articles on other topics not as closely aligned to the recent news, but often making up part of the underlying causes.

Despite all the problems in our world today, I take heart from the Pinkerian premise (well supported in The Better Angels of Our Nature) that – on average – people are lucky to be alive today rather than any other time in history. I still think that's true, but a recent article by Susan Perry on MinnPost gave me pause: Why this is the worst time ever to have a severe mental illness (in the U.S.). Summarizing the research of psychiatrist Allen Frances, Perry describes the failure of both pharmaceutical treatment and closing of institutions in the past 40 years. "If you had a severe mental illness requiring hospital care in 1900, you’d be better looked after than you are today. Despite a flurry of media hand-waving about new technologies in psychiatry, the average severely ill patient probably does less well now, despite the new drugs, than the average several ill patient a century ago...."

Gentrification, the Contract with the Community and 50-50-20-15 by Umar Lee. "Instead of unemployed liberal-arts grads from places like the suburbs of Kansas City getting hired at new businesses in places like Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, you will see those from the Marcy Projects getting hired." Lee's proposal is that business that gentrify a neighborhood should hire 50% from the neighborhood, 50% people of color or under the poverty line, and 20% ex-offenders and pay a $15 minimum wage.

Increased child poverty rates disproportionately impact the nation's youngest learners. Reporting from the annual Kids Count study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Where slavery thrived, inequality rules today, from the Boston Globe.
[Researchers] observed that regions where sugar could be profitably grown invariably gave rise to societies defined by extreme inequality. The reason, they speculated, had to do with the fact that large-scale sugar plantations made intensive use of slave labor, generating institutions that privileged a small elite of white planters over a majority of black slaves. These institutions, their later work suggested, could encompass everything from property rights regimes to tax structures to public schools....
...how exactly did slavery have this effect on contemporary inequality? Soares and his colleagues speculated that limited political rights for slaves and their descendants played a role, as did negligible access to credit and capital. Racial discrimination, too, would have played a part, though this would not explain why whites born in former slaveholding regions might find themselves subject to higher levels of inequality. Nunn, though, advanced an additional explanation, pointing to an idea advanced by Stanford economic historian Gavin Wright in 2006.

In lands turned over to slavery, Wright had observed, there was little incentive to provide so-called public goods—schools, libraries, and other institutions—that attract migrants. In the North, by contrast, the need to attract and retain free labor in areas resulted in a far greater investment in public goods—institutions that would, over the succeeding decades, offer far greater opportunities for social mobility and lay the foundation for sustained, superior economic growth.
Why I let my children walk to the corner store — and why other parents should, too. From the Washington Post. "Yes. There are scary people out there. It is always a risk to let your children out of your sight. But truthfully, the most dangerous thing you do every day is drive anywhere with a child. About 300 kids are hurt daily in car accidents; an average of three are killed that way every day." More from the post:
Since 1993, the number of children 14 and under who were murdered is down by 36 percent. For children 14 to 17, murders are down 60 percent. Only one-hundreth of 1 percent of missing children are abducted by strangers or even slight acquaintances, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children....

According to Justice Department statistics analyzed by the Free Range Kids organization, 3 percent of children murdered from 1976 to 2005 were killed by strangers.

Statistically, our children’s biggest enemies are the people we know.... But instead of focusing on ways to address child abuse, poverty and the mental illness that is at the root of most of the horrible things that happen to kids, we’ve chosen to criminalize parents in a massive, cultural shift that damages the normal, natural development of our children.
The problem with using personality tests for hiring from the Harvard Business Review. In short: They're ineffective at predicting job performance. The only thing worse than a personality test was... previous job experience!

Not far afield, there's this HR advice from New York magazine's the Science of Us: Kill the resume and cover letter. The article raised a question that had never occurred to me: Why do resumes include the job applicant's name and address? What use is that information to HR departments, other than to create an opportunity for discrimination based on perceived race, gender, and economic situation?


Note: I have read fairly widely on the various schools of thought about whether to use accents in the word "resume" (the noun, often rendered as résumé or resumé). While it is a bit confusing to spell it identically to the verb "resume," that is true of many other homonyms. I think the practice of dropping accents from French-derived words is a good standard to stick to.

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