Monday, December 31, 2012

The House Files Has Returned!

Readers of themacinator may have forgotten all about it, but there used to be a sister blog- The House Files- of ugly houses. Yesterday the blog was resurrected with a new motif: House Portraits, a hashtag/meme from Instagram. Please check it out!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Amy Sonnie and James Tracy: Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power

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The story of black nationalism and civil rights isn't usually the story of poor white people. Maybe better, the story of poor white people in the late '60s and early '70s isn't usually the story of civil rights, or even class struggle. Today the story of poor whites, especially in the South, and blacks is often told in the vein of racial resentment. Amy Sonnie and James Tracy problematize this relationship with their history of five community groups that organized poor whites alongside black nationalists for economic and social justice and would today be called anti-racist groups: JOIN Community Union, the Young Patriots, Rising Up Angry, October 4th Organization (O4O) and White Lightening. As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes in the forward, poor, especially rural, whites are a problem for the ruling class of America and easy for those of us in cities to ignore: "They are evidence of the failure of the 'American Dream.' The mythology that they have some rights, some prominence in the national story buys the population's loyalty to the state, even though they have no say in its affairs... All along, they have made up the majority of the military, still cannon fodder, but feeling righteous and 'patriotic.'" Harnessing this patriotism while keeping poor whites from feeling disenfranchised often requires emphasizing racial tensions and us/them mentalities.

Amy Sonnie and James Tracy revive the stories of people who struggled to overcome that mentality and situate poor whites in the struggle for a more just America. According to Sonnie and Tracy, the organizers of poor whites operated on two radical principles: first, that poor whites weren't necessarily any more racist than rich racists (those who tended to be the ones working alongside blacks in the civil rights movement) and second, that, since poor whites "experience the benefits of institutional racism differently," it was key to include class struggle and race in any organizing efforts. Sonnie and Tracy highlight both successes and failures along the way, which is one of the unique parts of "Hillbilly Nationalists," along with the early discussions of the pros and cons of organizing along with or separate from black groups. These poor white organizations recognized and grappled their privilege as whites, as well as their disadvantages as poor people when working with student groups, and negotiated with this identity as they navigated in their communities and work. They sought to work as partners "in class-based coalition with communities of color" without being leaders or agenda setters. Rather, they attempted to "address racism at its core," as the Black Panthers suggested to them. Although this book is case studies, its most powerful moments come with the potential for prescription or advice: how can organizers today think about race and class in their own movements, rather than paying lip service to it? What kind of organizing can be done in poor white communities that might mobilize them to think of the struggle as their own? Rather than talking about "them"- the poor, the obese, the veterans, the high school dropouts, etc- "Hillbilly Nationalists" provides examples of how groups generally thought of as unorganized and unorganizable and maybe even apathetic have actually done the hard work and succeeded.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Airing of Grievances (Personal and Political)

I have never been and never plan to be a Seinfeld fan. I get it- it's funny, dry, Jewish, even. I'm all of those things and can get behind all of those things. But not Seinfeld. But tonight I'd like to honor Seinfeld: It is, after all, the very important holiday of Festivus, which is the annual occasion of The Airing of Grievances. I complain a lot. I have a lot of #firstworldproblems. If you know me in person or follow me on twitter, you know that themacinator sometimes doth protest too much. So I'm going to take advantage of tonight to do some officially sanctioned airing. (In the spirit of the AoG, I give you permission to air away in the comments. Agreeing with themacinator on the amount of complaints she submits throughout the year is, however, strictly forbidden.)

Let's start with the personal slash #firstworldproblems and get those out of the way. My back hurts. I'm thirtysomething going on 94. Some days I wake up and feel like I understand how my 94 year old grandfather feels. My wonderful house is freezing. Seriously cold. I have already broken the "no heat until January" rule instilled in my by THB at least 5 times this month. Rollie is not Mac. Great, funny, warm (see above), but Not Mac, and therollinator has no ring to it at all, to add to the list of grievances that I want to air every time I see him. None of the last five books I have read have been worth reading. I've been suffering from writer's block for months.

Now onto the slightly more important topics. I'm very sick of the Lake Merritt Dog Park Issue. Let me insert a video that will express to those not interested in Oakland politics what this means.

Why Won't You Die, dog park? Okay, I don't really want the dog park to die, but the truth is that this project has been under discussion for ELEVEN years. I've lost count of how many times it's been in front of City Council this year. The dog park near Astro Park was voted down this summer for what was supposed to be the very last time, then, not surprisingly if you've ever worked with dog people or watched an Oakland City Council meeting was allowed to come back for a final appeal. It has since been voted on again twice more- the first time ending in a tie, and Mayor Jean Quan wasn't there to break the tie, and the second time tying again with Mayor Quan unwilling to break the tie and deferring the decision till next year in the hopes that a solution could be found. Because the 12th year is the charm, I heard.

If I had to pick a side, I'd side with the people now seen as NIMBYs- those who want the park somewhere else. Since this is the official themacinator Airing of Grievances, I will admit that part of me might do this just to play the contrarian. There are reasons, though, and they include things like parking, irresponsible ownership of both dogs and children, lack of enforcement capabilities, and, more importantly, better placement options. Other options do exist, and since it seems pretty clear that this pissing match is not doing much of anything besides wasting time (the last two city council meetings each lasted over 6 hours, much of which was devoted to this farce) and money, it could not possibly be worse to discuss other possibilities.

I will now air a very serious grievance. I don't think I have enough information or writerly prowess tonight to do this issue justice tonight, but I haven't figured out why this doesn't seem to bother more people. So there's serious issue part a, and then part b: no one cares! Part A: Alameda County (my county, folks, maybe yours) wants to buy drones. I've known this since mid-October. Seriously. And they only cost 50,000 to 100,000 dollars, which is in the same range as that dog park, just to put things in perspective. Maybe you don't know a lot about drones, or why people who like them like them: check out this rah-rah-type article from the respectable and mainstream magazine Wired that makes drones sound like something even the blue county of Alameda could get behind. They're just a remotely controlled device with a spot to carry something, it's cool! We can all have them! So what if the police want them?

Even Berkeley decided that they weren't going to add "Drone Free" to their "Nuclear Free" signs. And it turns out that the AlCo Sherriff wasn't even on the up and up about how he was going to obtain or use this drone. From the ALCU:
Controversy has erupted in Alameda County in recent weeks after Sheriff Greg Ahern announced his intent to acquire a drone. We filed a public records act request that produced documents revealing Ahern intends to use a drone for surveillance and intelligence gathering purposes despite his claims to the contrary, and appeared with local advocates before the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Without an open and democratic process and privacy safeguards, we noted, the sheriff would be free to engage in dragnet, suspicionless surveillance of area residents. On Nov. 6, the Board agreed to hold an open hearing to address those concerns, but this week we learned of a hidden agenda item seeking the approval of a grant award to the sheriff from the California Emergency Management Agency. We acted quickly and asked the Board to remove the agenda item so that no blanket approval would be given for a drone purchase without public debate. The sheriff then voluntarily withdrew his request. This change of course is good news, but it also highlights the need for continued public engagement with local government when law enforcement seeks out surveillance technology.

Controversy? I'll say. Shenanigans? Bullshit? GRIEVANCE? Yes. And folks, why aren't we on this? Why aren't we at the Oakland City Council meetings telling them to join Berkeley in their entirely symbolic letter to (per Inside Bay Area) Alameda County and its sheriff's office asking them not to take any action regarding drones until Berkeley resolves its drone issue." Unfortunately, it's time for my final grievance. We aren't on this because we're busy fighting over a dog park. City Council is busy allowing Oakland to fight over a dog park.

Happy Holidays, folks. That ham you're eating looks delicious, and the Festivus pole? Genius! I still celebrate Hanukkah, and that drone momma gave me last week has really given me a fabulous view into your living room. Don't worry, I can't see your bedroom, and medicinal marijuana is legal here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Paul Berman: Power and the Idealists

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Somehow I ended up reading another book by Paul Berman. I'm fairly sure I didn't put it on my list after reading the first, "The Flight of the Idealists," which I found fascinating but entirely esoteric and somewhat maddening, and I've never heard of the man in the subtitle, Joschka Fischer. I'm also fairly certain that I didn't put this book on my list because of the subject matter, because in the same way as I was hard-pressed to find the point of "Flight of the Idealists," I'm not quite sure I can nail down what exactly Paul Berman is on about in "Power and the Idealists: Or, The Passion of Joschka Fischer and its Aftermath." I will consider this a note-to-self not to read another of Berman's books unless I have a Very Good Reason.

 As far as I can tell, "Power and the Idealists" (whoever titles Berman's works is a genius and should be employed by any publisher who aims to succeed, by the way), is a narrative of Berman's belief of what he thinks got us to the second Iraq war, at least from a European standpoint. He traces the movements and beliefs of a few influential "68ers" like the eponymous Fischer, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Bernard Kouchner, various protesters cum politicians/intellectuals, and how their post-WWII rebellions shaped their political views. Turns out that a lot of modern leaders in Europe had histories either directly or tangentially involved with that time of upheaval, and, according to Berman, that these 68ers, by aiming to distinguish themselves from the Nazis and totalitarianism, often found themselves on the side of movements that were actually directly descended from the Nazis. This is totally confusing, right? Yes, in fact, it is, even more so when told with all these complicated characters that you've never heard of, and in Berman's beautiful but florid prose. Here's the first step in the story I think that Berman is trying to tell:
What was New Leftism, then? It was-it pictured itself as-Nazism's opposite and nemesis: the enemy of the real Nazism, the Nazism that had survived Nazism, the Nazism that was built into the foundations of Western life.
The problem is that along the way, while fighting Nazism, sometimes the New Left, now run by the 68ers-turned-politicians, got in bed with the wrong people or made the wrong choices in the name of fighting Nazis. Here's where Joschka Fischer comes in, although I'm going to make it much more explicit than Berman ever does. Joschka Fischer was a part of the New Left, threw sticks, hated Nazis, wasn't into intervention, and eventually became a powerful and popular member of the German government via the Green party, a pacifist group. Most Greens "still insisted on interpreting anti-Nazism to mean anti-imperialism in the left-wing style. Didn't American hegemony pose a terrible danger to Europe and to the world, perhaps the greatest danger of all?" So, when the massacres were going on in the Balkans, the Germans (sorry about this) balked, and the Greens along with everyone else were surprised when Fischer wanted to send troops. Hitler had sent troops to Bosnia: how could the New Left do the same? He chose according to Berman, "antitotalitarianism, humanitarian action, [and] NATO."

By the way, my inclusion of quotations and direct explanations is medal-worthy: like "Flight of the Intellectuals," "Power and the Idealists" includes neither bibliography, footnotes, nor index. And since I'm still trying to read from the library, I've resorted to sticky tabs where I think something might be important, which means I'm paging through 50 noted pages to find this stuff. A publisher who has a good title-writer and no indexer comes out on the negative side. Berman dillies and dallies around the main theme (I think it's the main theme) of what these New Left guys think is worth giving up their pacifist ideals for- massacres? death? nothing?- for 300 pages, and spends the last few on "the Tragedy of Iraq." This chapter is exceptionally thought provoking. Essentially, he proposes the argument that Bush botched the reasons for the war (duh), the war itself (duh), but was possibly not wrong that Saddam Hussein needed to be overthrown, and that Fischer and others would have helped Bush, had he gone about it correctly. By the time Berman gets to this point, it's hard to avoid the fact that the idea that people under totalitarian regimes should take care of business themselves, that it's Wrong for powerful countries to standby. The repulsiveness of the Nazis, and even of the modern Americans, does not make standing by while Saddam or Kim Jong Un does his thing acceptable. As Bernard Kouchner said after attending a peace march in Boston, "I found myself in the middle of a crowd of Democrats, sympathetic types, and not idiots. But when they demanded that America not intervene, they were doing exactly what Saddam wanted them to do... And then, there was this scandalous statistic, this poll- 33 percent of the French preferred Saddam's victory to Bush's!"

I never thought I would think of it that way. It sounds a lot like "if you're not with us, you're against us." But as Berman puts it, perhaps the best test of where the moral authority for military intervention lies "with the victims." (Actually, Berman doesn't put it this way, he ascribes that to Kouchner. Berman leaves a lot of his opinions to the imagination.) Kouchner was a man who had worked to get resolutions passed in the UN that established legal precedents for humanitarian intervention, (again, Berman ascribing to Kouchner,) "expression in international law... of a victim's right to be represented by someone other than his own government." This is the punchline of Berman's book: a bunch of people variously labeled as socialists, communists, anarchists, New Left, 68ers, etc, realizing that perhaps intervention and/or violence could be used for good.  Berman again: "Maybe the strength of the strong was not, by definition, a crime against the weak. Maybe power was a tool that, decently employed, could do a world off good for the most oppressed of the oppressed, just as, in the past, the power of the big Western countries had all too systematically done worlds of harm. Maybe Western strength and imperialist oppression did not have to be synonymous."  Maybe.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger: A Nuclear Family Vacation

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In 2006, 15 years after the end of the Cold War, according to "A Nuclear Family Vacation," and I have no reason to doubt their numbers, the United States spent essentially the same amount of money- $6.61 billion dollars- on the nuclear complex as in 1984, during the height of the Cold War.  Part of that money funds "missileers": Air Force officers who sit underground awaiting orders to launch nuclear weapons. Two at a time, they sit strapped into chairs awaiting orders to follow a procedure and simultaneously turn two keys that, when turned, "launch their missiles toward enemy targets." In other words, there is no red button for the president or any other government official to press. They give an order, which travels down a chain of command to two lowly, and apparently young, officers do the deed. These officers rotate in shifts underground, and as Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger write, "It was hard to imagine that keeping young, educated, and highly trained Air Force personnel locked underground was really the best use of resources. If nothing else, it struck us as terribly unimaginative. Nuclear deterrence did not always exist, and it seemed somehow odd to think that it always would."

"A Nuclear Family Vacation" is a journey through an entire system that seems both unimaginative and odd. Hodge and Weinberger, a married couple, decided to spend their vacation time over the course of two years doing something rather imaginative: going somewhere they both of them wanted to go, which turned out to be "key nuclear weapons sites." Some of these were more accessible than others, and it seems that almost all of them were made slightly more accessible by the author's journalism credentials, and as the vacations piled up, Hodge and Weinberger realized they were learning more about the nuclear complex than they thought they would at the outset: the Cold War might be over, but as the numbers I gave at the start prove, the nukes aren't gone. Entire labs, even mini-cities, are devoted to the general upkeep and storage of nuclear weapons: both their maintenance and safety, and ensuring that they still work, without testing them. I learned more about the Bikini Islands than I have ever heard before, but only in the most literal, physical sense. "A Nuclear Family Vacation" is a travelogue, which is a slightly strange way to present the information in the book, but it really is possible that Hodge and Weinberger didn't set out to write a book, and it really is a readable, if slightly motley book. On the other hand, for dorks like me with a true pacifist, anti-nuke bent, the information falls slightly short: I kept waiting for More, and the travelogue genre doesn't really allow for that. Perhaps the book is most successful in this way, as a travelogue with a twist that leaves you searching for more.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Steven Goldman: Baseball Prospectus, Extra innings"

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If you haven't noticed, live in a bubble, and haven't been reading themacinator, it's the baseball offseason, also known as hibernation, or the Worst Season of the Year. I have, until recently, not found a cure for no-baseball-itis. That was until I discovered Nerdy Baseball Books like "Baseball Prospectus: Extra Innings." This hard-to-put-down book answers many questions and attempts to answer many others with complicated numbers- sabermetrics- in an accessible way. Sabermerics, editor Steven Goldman explains, "is concerned with the pursuit of fact," but the mainstream media hasn't caught up yet, and "is often hostile to sabermetrics because facts impinge upon their ability to pass of myth as knowledge and claim it as fact."

The Baseball Prospectus guys deal with this right away in their discussion of steroids. I'll admit, I haven't quite swallowed their argument that perhaps there was more to it than just steroids: historical swings in home run rates, new ballparks and changes to the ball might also have led to juiced numbers. I'm old-fashioned and not a fan of cheating, but the sabermetric breakdown is pretty convincing, as is the follow up layout of which steroid-era players should and shouldn't make the Hall of Fame. For example: Barry Bonds, yes- one of the best players of all time in terms of WARP (wins above replacement player), Sammy Sosa, no- he rates well below other right fielders and really is known for his homeruns that came at the peak of the steroid era. It's a fascinating and thought-provoking argument.

The book also deals with scouting and development, including a journey through a hypothetical prospect's career. Robert Elias's "The Empire Strikes Out" touched on scouting in a race/economics way and peaked my interest in MLB's (ab)use of the Caribbean, Central and South America as talent breeding/poaching grounds. Jason Parks guides readers through what it is and how it works, and I have no reason not to believe the guy, just because he doesn't talk much about the ethical implications. Combining his work and Elias's, along with some more reading I plan to do should keep me busy for more of the off-season. I will say that Parks gives some credence when he speaks of Latin America like this: "The region is stacked with natural athletes... The talent is superior, from a physical standpoint, to our domestic product: the athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster than talent found in other markets, and available earlier." Have you heard the one about Africans being better at basketball? Sabermetrics seem to go out the window for a minute when racist arguments are available. Fortunately this kind of thinking doesn't pop up much, and this book is as readable as a baseball book gets. I mean, how can you say no to a book with a chapter called "Is it Possible to Accurately Measure Fielding without Shoving a GPS Device Up Derek Jeter's Ass?" In fact, "Extra Innings" takes aim at Jeter pretty much every time they can, which is fine with me. The book also talks a lot about the A's, without glorifying them- another bonus point for a local girl. Read it, preferably in the offseason.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Mitt Romney Style

If you haven't seen the original, you'll probably want to do so first.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Baratunde Thurston: How to Be Black

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I have one and only one complaint about Baratunde Thurston's otherwise perfect "How to Be Black": even after reading cover-to-cover I have no idea how to re-pigmentize myself. There is no science in this book, and everyone knows I love complicated scientific things. Sure, the second sentence of the book is a disclaimer and the third sentence reads: "This book is not 'How to Become a Black Person If You Are Not Already Black,'" but the book was so good that by the last sentence I forgot about all that and wanted the magic potion he said that I couldn't have in sentence number four. Unfortunately sentence number six even says that I can't have a refund, and Thurston had no way of knowing I got the book at the library, so I guess I no have to take back this complaint.

"How to Be Black" is a phenomenal, satirical look at "blackness" that uses humor to get at very deep issues. For example, Thurston includes a token white person in "Black Panel," so I felt my voice adequately represented when he surveys a group of people he feels "do blackness well." Including one white voice (and the way he does it) is clearly beyond tongue and cheek, it's ludicrous, which, each time, points to the ways black voices are included and silenced. In Thurston's words, "the ideas of blackness that make it into mainstream thought exclude too much of the full range of who black people are. Whether it's musical taste, dancing proficiency, occupation, or intellectual interest, all nuance is ignored for a simpler, often more sellable blackness." Thurston "re-complicates" this picture in an eminently readable, thought-provoking way.

He starts by skewering Black History Month, giving readers ten activities one can follow in order to participate appropriately in February and then handing out points and awards for number of activities completed (ex: Negro Lover or Official Friend of Black America). Tell me none of these activities ring true: Avoid being explicitly racist, Watch BET, Hum a negro spiritual, read "The Autobiography of Malcom X." It rings true.  He also calls out the ludicrous nature of "Black History Month," those 28 days a year when black people have history. Baratunde also discusses naming, and language, through the lens of his name: "For non-blacks, it marks me as absolutely, positively black. However, most of the vocal Nigerians I've met (which is to say, most of the Nigerians I've met) use my name to remind me that I'm not that black." And then, just when he's softened me up, he hits below the belt. He talks about my favorite show ever, The Wire. His childhood neighborhood was just like the Baltimore hood depicted in The Wire: "We had the drug dealing, the police brutality, the murders." But something wasn't just the same, and here's where it hurts: "We had everything The Wire had except for universal critical acclaim and the undying love of white people who saw it. Of course, eventually white people would fall in love with my old neighborhood as development and gentrification have led to its supporting a subway station, wine bars, and even a Target." He's right: he lived it, I loved it. Wow. That's powerful there.

There is absolutely no reason not to go read this book. It's coming out in paperback now, or maybe it has, and it's at your library. It's short, it's funny, it's hard hitting, and you will come out the same color you went in, so don't worry.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

John Marsh: Class Dismissed

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People are speaking up about why education might not be the answer to every problem, and maybe, just maybe, that not every person needs to go to college. Professor X felt he couldn't tell his personal story without hiding behind a nom de plume, but took the stance last year that maybe not every American needed to go to college. College is expensive and leaves individuals saddled with debt forever, many of whom aren't even qualified for what American colleges purport to teach. The "college premium"- some college, a two year degree, or bachelor's degree required- was helping no one, since many of these jobs didn't actually need degrees at all, and students and institutions were going (back) to school unnecessarily. He asked for a change in the discussion: do we really need to send Americans to school? Is college really college if it's remedial at its very core? Who is college serving?

I enjoyed "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower" and the questions it raised, while wondering why Professor X couldn't tell us his name or answer his own questions with possible solutions. The book was powerful enough, because thinking new thoughts on education in a climate where *everyone* agrees that *everyone* needs to go to college is kind of groundbreaking.  But John Marsh has done even better in "Class Dismissed: Why We Cannot Teach or Learn Our Way Out of Inequality." This book is all of the things, while slightly different in focus, is all of the things that I missed in "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower": analytical, evidence-based, and proposes solutions (even if author John Marsh feels these solutions are unlikely to happen soon.)  Where Professor X argues that perhaps education is not for every individual, John Marsh argues that education is perhaps not the answer to every individual problem: "I conclude that education bears far too much of the burden of our hopes for economic justice, and, moreover, that we ask education to accomplish things it simply cannot accomplish."

There's probably a joke in here somewhere, but Marsh reminds us that the only thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on is that everyone needs an education, and that education can get people, generally, out of poverty, and change the dire situation of our country. Marsh quotes Bush saying that inequality in the US is growing, and that "The reason is clear. We have an economy that increasingly rewards education and skills because of that education," and Obama has been pushing all kinds of education programs, specifically saying that this will "Provid[e] greater pathways for students to enter into and succeed in higher education is in the interest of all Americans, and is critical to developing a highly educated, highly skilled economy and workforce that will attract business and lead to lower unemployment" (from the White House website.) But Marsh argues, convincingly and with the stats to back it up, that this isn't the case. Education is great, but it doesn't solve inequality. The argument that education leads to the end of inequality is backwards: "Only by first decreasing inequality and poverty might we then improve edcuational outcomes," he writes.

Education is the best possible Trojan horse. All politicians and lay people can agree that education is wonderful. What's not to like? Even people who don't like poor people or people of color can agree that education is a good thing. It's a problem that Americans don't get educated, a problem that maybe even the government has some responsiblity to fix (the degree depends on your political views). But poverty and inequality? That's an individual problem, one that no one really wants to deal with, or talk about, or tackle. If education can solve everything, then it's much easier to deal with education.  Marsh traces the history of how education became the only way Americans felt they could have "opportunity," and then reminds us that just because you are have a college education does not mean that there is a job for you. Education does not produce jobs. Further, the socioeconomic and racial position you are born into is the key determining factor of where you will end up: education may provide a few individuals an opportunity to move up in their economic position, but not very many individuals. So talking about education, and uplifting is an easy out: Get a degree, you might make it! Well, you might, but you might not. Only much bigger solutions than an individual poor person going to school will help poverty in the US, and really, dealing with inequality is the major solution. Education as it stands is currently increasing US inequality.

It's a big idea to swallow, but it's hard to walk away from "Class Dismissed" without believing it, or at least some of it. Marsh knows the steps in the right direction will be hard, and unlikely. President Obama's initiatives are powerful and have popular support. Who doesn't want opportunity for themselves or their child? Strong labor, in the form of unions, is on the way out, and Marsh knows it, but argues that it is one key to lessening economic inequality. A tax revolution would help, too, and even Obama is campaigning on lowering taxes on the middle class. The chances of a "tax revolution" are also slim (note that in the 1940s and 1950s taxes on the top brackets were in the high 80 and 90 percents).  Marsh is not anti-education. His point is rather that
We ought to acknowledge the limited but nevertheless real role education plays in providing individual economic opportunity and may play in generating national economic growth. At the same time, we should seek to make education more of an end in itself and less of a means toward some other en, whether that something else is opportunity, economic security, or national prosperity. Above all, we need to do a better job of securing hte right to a good education, but in doing so we must keep in mind that individuals have more economic rights, and perhaps more important economic rights, than the right to a good education.
 This book is a must read for those interested in education or inequality. It's eye-opening and thought-provoking. Marsh is an English professor and makes even the dullest of statistics and graphs (and there are plenty) readable. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jim Haskins: Power to the People

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It's embarrassing to admit how little I know about the Black Panthers. I live in Oakland, was raised by liberals at liberal private schools, and, if prodded, might have been able to name Huey Newton. I read "The Autobiography of Malcom X" in high school, and probably that was as close as we came to learning about anything less politically correct than Dr Martin Luther King. My education was whitewashed: I got the Booker T. Washington version, all dreams and peace, no guns and infighting. In the politically correct version, civil rights were won, cops didn't die, and there were no drug addicted leaders who went to prison and came out power hungry.  But it didn't all go down like that, and in erasing the Black Panthers and sanitizing the version of the fight for Civil Rights that kids are getting, or cleaning up local history, we're losing a lot.

I think I started my hunt for a book on the Black Panthers after reading about the Party's trip to Sacramento and the Capitol building with their guns when they went to make their statement about the right to bear arms. It's hard to find a good book about the Black Panthers. There are several books by former Party members, but it's hard to know which to pick: the Party split up fairly quickly, and partially due to infighting- even I know that- so any book by a particular member is going to be skewed in that way. There are lots of books about black history or civil rights history or race that include pieces about the Panthers. But I ended up with "Power to the People: The Rise and Fall of the Black Panther Party," by Jim Haskins, even though it was written for young adults, and as far as I can tell, it's one of the few overviews out there. It's a good read, especially for novices like me.

Jim Haskins highlights the very Oakland-ness of the Black Panthers: from the very beginning acknowledging that the Party would have turned out different if Huey Newton had stayed home. He didn't stay home, though, and the Oakland that the Panthers developed in is very recognizable to me: alive with people determined to make a difference, seething with hatred for police, and a government both well-meaning and disastrously incompetent. It became more and more obvious reading "Power to the People" that history really does repeat itself, and that we fail to learn from our mistakes. For example, in 1969, after shootouts between the Panthers and the police, Haskins writes that the Party "would cease to exist altogether if it persisted in challenging the authorities by carrying guns and 'patrolling the pigs.'" From jail, Huey Newton ordered a change in tactics, and the Party moved to some of the other things they were famous for: education, food security, etc. This is very telling: the Panthers were falling apart, leaders were in jail, and nothing was working, so they switched tactics. Certainly, some factions were displeased, but it was an important moment in the Party history. I think about the antagonistic relationship between Occupy Oakland and wonder what could be learned on all sides from this moment, and when the baiting will stop. In the late 1970s, near the end of the movement, violence and financial fraud finished the Panthers off (some names are familiar to Oakland-ers), and even this history is still revealing: funds being siphoned from one place to another, including the use of city contracts, nepotism in hiring practices, and playing politics with the police department.

The Black Panther Party is part of national history, and Oakland history. City Center was made possible by negotiated with (first time) Governor Jerry Brown and the Panthers. Black voter registration, education, and political participation was revolutionized in Oakland and beyond. Erasing it is both racist and historically untenable. For now, "Power to the People" is an accessible step in the remembering direction.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Robert Elias: The Empire Strikes Out

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If you haven't noticed a pattern, I have: baseball and politics take up a large portion of my life. Maybe politics isn't the best way to describe it- perhaps "the system" is a better way, or "the big picture." The idea that nothing exists in a vacuum, including my favorite things- baseball, photography, dogs. I like to take things too far, or at least to the lengths that I think they should be taken, which means way past first glance. Which is why I was eager to pick up "The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold US Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad." If ever a title could sell a girl on a book, this was it. I've always suspected baseball of being intimately connected with nationalism, and here is Robert Elias demonstrating the actual links between the two.

Sadly, I was disappointed. The truth is, Elias did just what I was hoping he would do: discussed baseball and imperialism, baseball and masculinity, baseball and nationalism. But he also wrote a pretty boring book. Although some people might think that baseball and nationalism are intrinsically boring subjects, they don't have to be. And maybe I'm not being fair: Elias has probably written a very interesting history book, but I'm not really a fan of history, and was expecting something else. Three-quarters of Elias' book is devoted to the history America's use of baseball in spreading The Word, and it really reads like a history book: "then the army took baseball here, and after that they did the same thing in this country and the country responded like this and the other country responded like that." Every possible historical reference to baseball and imperialsim, or baseball in the context of US foreign policy is in this book.

On the other hand, I feel like handing this book to everyone who thinks that baseball is "just a game." As a small child, my dad sat through the national anthem- I can't quite remember when he started standing, or when I started feeling uncomfortable sitting along with him, but there was something to this: why is it somehow necessary to stand up for the US (literally) at a baseball game? Robert Elias knows the answer to this: turns out not only was "The Star Spangled Banner" not the official anthem until 1916, in 1918, the anthem was played at a World Series game where wounded WWI soldiers were honored. It was a big hit, partially due to the dramatic performance of the Cubs and Red Sox players who "snapped to attention and faced the flag flying over center field." Players were required to train for war- MLB and the government worked hand and hand- and the spectacle got fans singing along. After that, the anthem, and signing along, became much more common at ballgames, and at the anthem's Congressional ratification in 1931, "its public familiarity at baseball games was given most of the credit." Baseball and America, well, they just go together, and it's by design. 

Taking this a little further, and starting with this example, baseball and war go together. "The Star Spangled Banner," sung at the beginning of every baseball game, is martial to its very core:
Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Elias talks about the war built into baseball: "The batting team pursues a constant war of maneuver." He sees batters as attempting to get the ball by the enemies, who in turn are trying to try to keep their troops in position. If it sounds like a stretch, only even in 1889, near the beginning of the prevalence of the sport in the US sportswriter Henry Chadwick was using these terms in his book, "How to Play Base Ball." From then on, baseball was used in foreign policy: the US brought it along on imperial missions to help pacify and convert the conquered, and the US sought to convert people to baseball in order to prove the US dominance in the sport. This, of course, makes themacinator squeamish: baseball appeals to the pacifist, nonviolent streak in me. I love the balletic, noncontact nature of baseball, especially compared to the modern American sport, football. But, if I'm consistent with my previous thoughts about baseball being an arena (war metaphor anyone?) for Americans to work/play out their stuff, then baseball as an area for playing out war games makes sense, too.

Elias also weaves in the story of baseball's exploitative labor practices, in terms of how they fit into the history of foreign policy. He's not quite as strong on this, but it's not the main focus of the book. He traces the integration of baseball, and how, as the Negro Leagues were absorbed/disbanded, MLB needed somewhere else to find cheap labor. Fortunately for MLB, all of their advance work in nation-building paid off, especially in the Carribbean and certain Central American cultures: where baseball had taken hold, cheap labor in the form of potential athletic prowess was easy to come by. He touches on the current exploitative practices in baseball academies, which I didn't know about, that are deeply concerning: this is something to look into further.

Lastly, my boyfriend made a stunning, and unwelcome guest appearance in "The Empire Strikes Out." Describing modern shows of nationalism, Elias describes how Major League teams have trotted out support for the Armed Forces since the (new) war in Iraq. Back in 2005, when Barry Zito was still on the A's, he founded the "Strikeouts for Troops" program, along with MLB's endorsement. For each regular season strikeout (you've probably heard the commercials), the pitchers donated $100 for every strikeout to funds for war-wounded troops. (As of the publishing of the book, the program was still going on with Zito at the Giants.) Elias continues to talk about this program in the context of the conservative foundation that handles the funds: the Freedom Alliance. Among the players asked to tour US naval bases by the Freedom Alliance? Joe Blanton.

Baseball is a complicated game. It's got all kinds of numbers and statistics and emotions and other things. And it's inseparable from its fans, the money involved, or its history. "The Empire Strikes Out" is weak, but a necessary read for true students of the game.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


As far as I can tell, the number One Hundred and Sixty-Two has exactly no significance to anyone except baseball fans. One hundred and sixty-two is perhaps the most important number to baseball fans- one laden with meaning- the magical number of games in a season. Non-baseball fans are quick to say that the season is too long, that it lasts forever, that they can barely sit through one game, let alone 162. Non-baseball fans just don't understand the magic of 162.

This year the A's sucked. Last year the A's sucked. The year before that the A's sucked. One hundred and sixty-two games was a lot of games- but I wouldn't have traded them for anything. I've written a little about this in 2009 and 2011: addiction to baseball is not just about joy, it's also about suffering. The suffering, the bitching and moaning that friends of baseball fans know so well, is all part of the package, of the fun. We get away from real life by living baseball. And then the 162 games are over, and we have to deal with real life, and that is really tough.  At least we had that magical season.

But sometimes something amazing happens during those 162 games: a rookie turns into a superstar. A trade works out. Or the crappiest team in baseball somehow is in contention when the season is halfway over. And that crappy teams happens to be YOUR crappy team- your Oakland Athletics. That's what happened this year, and to make a long (162 games long) story short, it all came down, improbably, to that last game of the year. Somehow my roommate had the prescience to know this was going to happen, and bought us amazing tickets. The A's had to do things that there was no way that they could do to win their division, and they did them. And I. Was. There.

I was born in Oakland to a baseball fanatic. I've been going to games since I can remember, and had partial season tickets since I can remember. I remember attending the 1990 World Series with my grandfather, in the back row in the second to last section of Right Field. But I don't remember any game more exciting than Game 162 of 2012.  In the 4th inning, the A's were down 5-1. In baseball, this can be a huge deficit, especially in a "pitcher's park" like the coliseum. The A's were about to go down in the bottom of the 4th, and I was about to leave to go to the bathroom when Josh Hamilton, one of baseball's pretty boys dropped the most routine of pop-ups. After that, it was over. The A's couldn't help themselves- they had to win, and the fans had the best time, EVER. I stood up for 3 straight hours, I'm pretty sure. We had fight in spite of Lew Woolf refusing to open the tarps. We had fun even though I'm pretty sure Lew Woolf didn't want us to, even though he wanted to A's to lose so that MLB and everyone else would let them move to San Jose. We had fun because the A's had fun. So I give you some of game 162. Feel the Coliseum rocking. Savor 162.

Crowd begins to anticipate a sweep, and a division title.

Grant Balfour, the mad Aussie, madly puts away the Rangers.

crowd goes wild
The Crowd Goes Wild!

The A's take a victory lap.

Division Champions
Division Champions, baby.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Fiction? Why Yes!

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Occasionally themacinator reads fiction. It's not easy to review fiction, so I have a backlog of three books, and I'll sum them up all together here.  First was "The O'Briens," by Peter Behrens. This is Behrens' most recent book, the sequel to "The Law of Dreams," which I just read. It worked just fine to read the books backwards, because they work equally well as stand-alones. Saga-like, "The O'Briens" is the story of a few generations (I've forgotten now) of Irish immigrants and their families in Quebec and the United States as they succeed and almost-succeed. Not surprisingly for the book that came before, "The Law of Dreams" is the story of a previous generation, in Ireland, during the famine. Presumably it's the story of the male predecessor, as he goes through a series of lady friends, and ends up traveling to Quebec with a woman who one assumes becomes the matriarch of the O'Brien clan.  The first book, which I read second, is the better book, if slightly more fantastical.  Both books are easy, fast reads, sometimes welcome for a serious reader like yours truly. One has to wonder, though: why are so many books about Ireland and Irish immigrants? What makes this story so fascinating? (I have no answers.)

The third book, and the best by far, was Thomas Mallon's "Watergate." This book came highly recommended by THB, who a) is also not a huge fiction reader, b) knows his history, and c) lived through Watergate. He liked it, so this is a ringing endorsement, and "Watergate" really was fabulous. Literally my only complaint was that the four page cast of character list at the start of the book wasn't somehow repeated throughout the book. Readable, informative, humanizing- it's really good. Okay, I guess I have another minor complaint: I don't know if it's true or not. I mean, I don't have THB's qualifications: I don't know my history, especially my Watergate history, and I didn't live through it. I had never heard of one of the main characters in the book, Fred LaRue, so I don't know if Mallon's account via LaRue was particularly credible. On the other hand, I'm not sure it mattered. If you like fiction, and like sort of scandalous historical fiction, this is a great read.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Clotaire Rapaille: The Culture Code

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If you haven't figured it out already, themacinator is an intellectual snob. While I pretend to be somewhat of an anti-intellectual, I only do it in the snobby way: I speak my own little version of bad English while knowing grammatical and spelling rules, I "only" have a bachelor's and question the value higher education as in my discussion of "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower," etc, but when it comes down to it, this is all a form of snobbery. I don't watch (much) TV, I never read magazines, and I scorn people (like those Americans I read about today who don't believe humans are the cause of global warming- less than half of us/them!) who don't believe in inconvenient facts. So pop psychology is right up there on things that I'm likely to look down on.

But there's this problem: sometimes it rings true.  Clotaire Rapaille developed a system of cultural "Codes" for everyday things: "the unconscious meaning we apply to any given thing- a car, a type of food, a relationship, even a country- via the culture in which we are raised." "The Culture Code" talks about focus groups he does for various large companies interested in product developing and better marketing, and how he has coded various things- love and sex, home and dinner, money, alcohol, shopping, and America, for Americans. He explains that these "codes" won't work for everyone, of course, but that based on the resulting sales for the companies who use his codes, they're pretty reliable. Rapaille admits toward the end of the book that he basically left his native France because he didn't fit with the French code of French people: "idea." "French children," he writes, "imprint the value of ideas as paramount and refinement of the mind as the highest goals." This has something to do with French philosophers and thinkers. But Rapaille had bigger ideas: he wanted to turn these big ideas into a big company, and French people thought this made him a "megalomaniac," which fit right into the American code for Americans: "dream." So we've got pop psychology that actually sounds pretty accurate, created by someone who left his country because people thought he was off his rocker, or at least out of line.

So where does that leave me? In the case of "The Culture Code," kind of put off. Rapaille spends a lot of time talking about the "reptilian brain." He holds "discovery sessions" with his focus groups that he holds for companies seeking his marketing expertise which access the same feeling that we have right after we wake up after sleeping when we can remember our dreams. In this relaxed state, participants "can access this state and in so doing ... bypass their cortexes to reconnect with their reptilian brains. People regularly report that memories come back to them during these sessions that they had forgotten for years." No footnotes, no citations, no explanation about where this theory comes from or who but Rapaille believes it. It's great and seems to work, but it sounds a little like hocus pocus. In the third hour of his discovery sessions, Rapaille figures out how people across cultures imprint the things he's studying onto their brains. Impressive, if you believe it, and it's tempting. I like the idea that each culture views concepts differently, and agree with it. However, I think there are entire academic fields devoted to this: sociology, anthropology, and even psychology (probably more), that have real research to back it up. Further, it feels tainted to have these well researched phenomena used in the name of selling cars. I know it happens, but my academic snobbery is showing again: Rapaille figures out how Americans sees sex, calls it a "discovery," and uses it to sell us shit. No thanks.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Joyce Carol Oates: On Boxing

Joyce Carol Oates is a prolific writer, a well-known writer, and a writer of epic fiction. "On Boxing" is a tiny little book- an essay on boxing (right?)- an essay with pictures- that defies categorization. It's a look into boxing for a person like me, I think, who knows nothing about the sport, but likes to think about sports in a deeper way, more of a lingering, why we do what we do kind of way. Oates grew up watching boxing with her father and one quickly gets the feeling that she is as deeply immersed in boxing as I am in baseball, only one can't call her a "student of the game," since she doesn't see boxing as a sport. "There is nothing fundamentally playful about it," she writes when discussing how boxing is categorically different from other sports, "nothing that seems to belong to daylight, to pleasure... Boxing is life, and hardly a mere game... One plays football, one doesn't play boxing." Other sports might be a metaphor for life: one might "play out" (my words) life on a field or court, but Oates rules out boxing as "a metaphor for something else." Rather "life is like boxing in many unsettling respects. But boxing is only like boxing." She describes the clinching, the punching, the crowd: this is life mirroring boxing, not the other way around. Even more, boxing is not symbolic, it is what it is.

I've never seen a boxing match. I've seen movies about boxing, though the younger me wouldn't have dreamed of it: gross, gratuitous violence. Now I can watch, because I know in the movies, the violence is fake. Boxers have to overcome one human instinct: to keep fighting even when they can't fight anymore (fight or flight) and chose another, much more primitive: the aggression of smashing someone until they're dead. They must do this to someone who they really have nothing against. And then thousands of people pay to see two people (almost always men) to do this to each other. I opt out, because I don't like violence, but maybe there' something else: "To watch boxing closely, and seriously, is to risk moments of what might be called animal panic- a sense not only that something very ugly is happening but that, by watching it, one is an accomplice." Oates nails it here: there's something about watching men pound each other to possible death, intentionally, that is as ugly as participating. And yet we do it. I opt out, but we do it. And does boxing then become a metaphor for other things- war? capitalism?- or is it still life that mimics boxing?  "The spectacle of human beings fighting each other," she continues
is enormously disturbing because it violates a taboo of our civilization.  Many men and women, however they steel themselves, cannot watch a boxing match because they cannot allow themselves to see what it is they are seeing. One thinks helplessly, This can't be happening, even as, and usually quite routinely, it is happening. In this way boxing as a public spectacle is akin to pornography: in each case the spectator is made a voyeur, distanced, yet presumably intimately involved, in an event that is not supposed to be happening as it is happening. The pornographic "drama," though as fraudulent as professional wrestling, makes a claim for being about something absolutely serious, if not humanly profound: it is not so much about itself as about the violation of a taboo.
I opt out of pornography, as well. By opting out, I also opt out of facing reality: these taboos exist, but I won't violate them. Pornography is theatrical and staged, Oates reminds us, but boxing and the violence is real. Are those who don't opt out somehow facing the reality of violence in a more authentic way, if one follows Oates' logic about life being boxing?

This little book by Oates is a good one. She touches on masculinity and feminism and how race and poverty play into the non-sport, discusses the obvious homoeroticism of boxing. She addresses the fundamental racism in the anti-boxing folks, though I'm not sure I agree with what she comes up with (boxing is a way out for poor people of color). Oates sees a connection between artists and writers and boxers and boxing in a way that is beautiful. She asks big questions: "What is sport?- and why is a man, in sport, not the man he is or is expected to be at other times?" Who do athletes (on the field or in the ring) stand in for? The book operates in and out of the theoretical and the chronological- almost the history of boxing melding in and out with a boxing match itself, following a path that is easy to follow while hard to describe. The accompanying pictures, while dated, are powerful. "On Boxing" is an odd little book, but worth a read for any student of sport, whether you want to call it that or not.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Professor X: In the Basement of the Ivory Tower

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I have a couple of theories about why Professor X chose to write a book about the problems with the American belief in the transformative power of higher education. The first and most obvious is that he is scared of professional repercussions, or of repercussions for the institutions where he works and came up with his theories about the failure of the system. The second theory is that after testing the waters with his article in the Atlantic Monthly, Professor X realized that his ideas were really too out there and that he was not going to win any favors with anyone, and it just might not work to use his name. Then we get into more cynical theories. One: Professor X truly believes in his ideas, but realizes he'll have a bigger splash as an anonymous writer than as a no-name adjunct professor at a no-name third tier school. I mean, who writes a treatise on education anonymously? That's quite a shtick, and it worked- got lots of attention. Two: Professor X found a good editor/PR person first with Atlantic Monthly and then with Penguin who said "you've got a seller here, let's really make it a seller." This is the interlude between ideas one and three. Three: Professor X is done teaching and done worrying about money (relevant if you read the book), and has no name recognition. Professor X is an awesome name. He never has to worry about money again, whether he believes what he wrote or not.

And you know what? I have no idea which of these ideas is true, because Professor X never tells us. In the big scheme of things, it's not a big deal, but as a cynical reader wanting to take in the Very Big Idea that Professor X has to offer, it's hard not to want the little credibility that a name gives. Hey, maybe Professor X has even written another book I'd like to read- he has a great style- but I'm pretty sure I'm not going to find it. And I can't register for any of his classes, either, and he's talked himself up like he's a pretty decent teacher. I'd like to refresh my sentence diagramming skills, and attend his writing workshops- Professor X will not be my man (assuming he's a man).

Okay, all knocking the anonymous thing aside, "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower" is a fascinating read with a challenging thesis: not every American needs to go to college. (I used thesis on purpose: Professor X teaches English 101 at various bottom-tier colleges and wants readers to know that very few students know how to find the main argument of a paragraph, let alone structure a paragraph around a main argument.) The Professor's argument is, of course, more nuanced than this and was, of course, written before last night's Democratic Convention, but he was speaking to exactly this type of mentality: "Help give two million workers the chance to learn skills at their community college that will lead directly to a job." Workers don't need college educations to get jobs, Professor argues, and worse, colleges are bad for many workers: they leave the student with debt and inflate job requirements in an unnecessary way. To wit:
American colleges would have us believe that the skills they purport to teach, the critical thinking and higher levels of reasoning and all that, are crucial to competent performance int he workplace. This is baloney, less a line of reasoning than a sales pitch rooted in academic snobbery- a naked appeal to our intellectual insecurities.
 Right in the preface the Professor lets us know where he stands. A college diploma is "a hand stamp that gains one entrance to a nightclub. They point to little more than a willingness to pay college tuition and complete degree requirements."

There's two (at least) sides to this. One is my track: the bachelor's education in the liberal arts at the prestigious institution. It looks good on paper, it sounds good when I say it aloud, and it probably has helped me get jobs. Jobs that have absolutely nothing to do with my fields of choice. It was unfathomable in my socioeconomic sphere growing up that I wouldn't go to one of these colleges. In a way, my life was preparation for college. I learned a lot in college, expanded my education in esoteric subjects and in writing essays and read books that I wouldn't have read and some that I would have and met other smart people. And then went on to a career in animal welfare. I can only think of one job that I did- teaching humane education- that even possibly needed a college degree. I'm not sorry that I have a BA, only acknowledging that I am one of the fortunate few that is not ridden with debt, and that if I were facing debt for the rest of my life, I might have sought something more practical.

The other side is the side that the Professor deals with: students in the "basement of the ivory tower," those striving to get better jobs, or make more money, or maybe catch up on the education they never got. The problem is, many of the students he ends up teaching aren't ready for college. They're done with high school or have their GEDs, but they're still doing high school work, or possibly below. "If you do ninth-grade work in a college classroom," he asks, "does it automatically become college work?" Year after year, he teaches students who not only can't find the thesis, they can't write a complete sentence. If I went to college to learn how to learn, or to learn to be a complete citizen, or some such baloney, what are students at these basement schools learning? The Professor describes aspiring nurses and cops taking required writing classes- they need to know how to write reports and charts. In theory, they also need the more grand goals that I was supposed to learn in my fancy school: intersections of race/gender/class, a stance on cultural relativism, and a love for learning. But the Professor finds that you can't instill this in the person who has never succeeded in school and is with him only for the credits.

Professor X knows what he's saying is controversial, and that no one is going to come out and agree with him, whether they do or not. It's considered snobby, classist, and racist to say that maybe some people should just go to vocational school, or that we're wasting money and causing another debt crisis by trying to send everyone to school. And although he doesn't touch on it, speeches like President Obama's last night touch on the jingoism of sending every American to school: we need to be The Most Educated country in the world if we The Americans are going to succeed. Do your part- go get a diploma! At times, Professor X is very convincing: he describes colleges as a successful business enterprise, which of course they are. "Of course the biggest winners in the game of credential inflation are the colleges themselves," whether they admit it or not. More pressure to go to college means more enrollments. Professor X admits this also means more teaching jobs for him.

He's also convincing in telling the reader just how poorly prepared his students are for college. This is also a pitfall in his argument: if his students really can barely write a sentence, don't they need education as much as I did? More than I did? Did I really need to write a hundred page thesis that no one will ever read? What did that prepare me for? I really do think everyone should be able to write a basic paragraph in their native language. If college isn't the right venue for this, and it probably isn't, then what is? Some sort of continuing education? Adult education? Professor X doesn't really go into this, and that is unfortunate. He also loses a few points by sticking with his program. Even though he says the system is broken, he likes being an adjunct (a system he also says is broken), he likes teaching at these poor institutions with these underprepared students with whom he only makes minor strides. It's hard to know exactly why he does this: where does the good anonymous professor stand? How much does he really believe in what he's arguing for? Not enough to put his money where his mouth is.

Monday, September 03, 2012

What You've Missed (and some testosterone)

I know you've missed it, because just look at these pictures: YOU WEREN'T THERE! (and neither was anyone else.)

August 19th, 2012

August 19th: Announced attendance: 20,130
Actual attendance: 10,000, maybe.

August 20, 2012

August 20th: Announced attendance: 10,274
Actual attendance: 4,000, at most.
August 22, 2012

August 22nd: Announced attendance: 16,557
Actual attendance: 10,000, maybe.

That's how it's been, even with the A's doing some crazy surging, has been pathetically in the attendance field. Yesterday's game, against the (pathetic) Red Sox who always draw a crowd, which was also breast cancer day, was announced at 25,314. I'd guess it was closer to 20,000. But that's ok, those of us that were there got to see this:

That's right, the A's swept the Red Sox. Yes they did. So the Red Sox suck this year. A sweep of the Sox is still a sweep.

Since it was boob day, a day I'd love to miss but always catch, I'll take this opportunity to talk about hormones. So far this year, five players have received suspensions for banned substances- read: steroids. Three of them were on teams I pay attention two: Freddy Galvis of the Phillies, Melky Cabrera of the Giants, and Bartolo Colon of your Oakland Athletics. It started during spring training when the A's signed Manny Ramirez who supposedly retired last year after facing a 100 game suspension for his second positive test. He retired rather than take his lumps, then unretired to take up baseball again. After his suspension was up, he played in the minors, but it didn't really work out (surprisingly). Then came Freddy Galvis, a rookie second baseman for the Phils. The 22 year old is tiny: 5'10 and 154 pounds and was just awesome in the field until he got some crazy fracture in his back. Watching him was really fun. He hit the DL and then popped positive, and denied knowledge of taking the steroids. Honestly, it was hard to believe this guy was taking anything to make himself bigger. He is really really small, and certainly didn't have the puffy Bonds look, or even much muscle to speak of. But the substance he tested positive for, Clostebol, is different: it's good for keeping the body healthy when under stress. It makes the body stronger without a increase of muscle mass. Which explains Galvis's increase in extra-base hits this year.

Then came Marlon Byrd (who cares) and after that, Melky Cabrera. I don't really care about the Giants that much, but they're local, and it was hard to miss all of the hype around "The Melk Man." Hugely popular in San Francisco, winner of the All Star MVP award, Melky actually copped to taking testosterone. Melky did also not have the super bulked up look of the anabolic steroid user. More likely the use of testosterone was helping him "with the regeneration process of...tissues; [and the faster] healing and recovery of injuries." Not bad, right? Then there was a scandal about Melky's lawyers trying to cover it up with a fake website, and then there was a *lot* of sadness from the Giants organization. Or at least a lot of sadness thrown about. Stay tuned...

Finally, the same week as the Melky news, there was Bartolo Colon. Bartolo was certainly having a surprisingly good year for the A's, and may indeed be a large part of their success. He was the oldest guy on the pitching staff, by far, and this is probably the end of his career.  I mean, who would take him after popping for steroids at 39? Stay tuned... Colon has already had one controversial comeback with the Yankees, after a procedure in 2010 done in the Dominican Republic by a doctor reputed to use a banned substance: human growth hormone. The procedure was done for free, supposedly HGH free. Colon did well for the Yankees at the bargain price of 900,000 dollars. Bartolo showed up this year 5'11" and 265 lbs, quickly nicknamed by THB "the fat fuck," and was hardly the kind of guy you'd expect on steroids. When he pitched poorly, we joked that his stem cells wore out. If he was bulked up, you wouldn't be able to tell under all that fat.  Once again, though, the substance was testosterone. Victor Conte of BALCO fame reminds us that testosterone is a fast acting assistant for tissue repair and healing and recovery," just what an old fat dude needs.

So this was all well and good. I watched the game after Melky was suspended. The Giants really looked sad. I believed it. Then, earlier this week, the Giants welcomed back Guillermo Mota. Guillermo Mota was suspended once in 2006 while pitching for the Mets, and again at the beginning of this year, while playing for the Giants. So the Giants, when signing him, knew he had already violated the MLB's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Okay, they gave the guy a second chance, and he helped them win the 2010 World Series. Can't blame them. But then he popped again, for the second time. He served his 100 game suspension. Right before it was up, Melky was caught. The Giants put on a big show about not knowing and being sad and crushed and devastated, not just because they would lose, but because they Don't Like Cheating. And then Guillermo Mota's suspension was up and he came back and pitched for the very same Giants.

I call bullshit. Just like the teams and MLB knew all the players were on drugs during the anabolic steroid era, this fancy new Program is more bullshit. The teams know, MLB knows, and they don't care. The players are suspended without pay during their suspensions, which means the teams actually gain money when the players are out. Nice, right? Dave Zirin of Edge of Sports called it in "The Nation" five years ago during the Bonds hearings in Congress:
...we could tell the truth: In the case of Baseball Fans vs. the Anabolic Era, everyone is guilty: not just players but all who were part of the assembly line that put the drugs in their veins. That means coaches, managers, trainers, the compliant media, and even the owners. It also means that a certain former Texas Rangers baseball executive now in the White House [in 2007] who did nothing while his players like José Canseco passed around the juice would get asked questions under the hot lights. And if everyone is complicit, then we could offer an unconditional amnesty to everyone from the last decade and move forward with better education, better testing and better vigilance in Major League clubhouses--a vigilance that cares more about the long-term health of players than whether they look like pro wrestlers.
Clearly no one listened to Zirin. Instead, we're still having trials (Clemens's perury trial just ended) at the taxpayers' expense, while baseball ownership is getting richer as players try to get a competitive edge. I'm pretty sure the owners aren't complaining about getting a competitive edge: just like home runs drew fans to the ballpark, winning teams draw fans to the ballpark. The Phillies, until this year, have been a pretty awesome team and had a run of 250+ sellout crowds. The Giants for the last few years are in contention, to packed stands. The A's, well, I don't know what Lew Woolf wants except more money, and I'm sure he doesn't give a rats ass if his players are using steroids.

I'd like to point out one more piece of bullshit: This story where where Yankees' owner Brian Cashman said he "wasn't surprised" about the positive tests. Both Melky and Colon were former Yankees players and are having better years at their new teams than they did for the Yankees. I agree: the spikes in performance are suspicious, and now make sense with the above information about testosterone. But I'm actaully pretty sure that Brian Cashman is not surprised because he knows that a large portion of major league players are using the stuff. Or maybe he's not surprised because he knew they were using when they were on the Yankees.

Last thing, really. Players themacinator wouldn't be surprised to see test positive this year:

Coco Crisp: having the best year at age 32 since he was 25, by far, even with less games played due to bizarre injuries and illnesses. Also wouldn't be surprised if the A's knew (and denied) knowing about it, since they made the bizarre decision to make him the one piece of their team they wouldn't part with this year, rather than the obviously superior Josh Willingham.

Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz: Before going down with a foot injury, Chooch had surpassed most of his offensive totals for any previous year, only in 95 games. Sure, catchers mature late, but this was his 7th year, and at age 33, I'm not sure I buy that. More interesting is that he is arbitration eligible.

Ryan Braun: Okay, I actually don't think he'll test positive this year, but I'm certain he's using. Clearly he was using last year and got out of the suspension through a technicality (which is another reason not to believe that MLB cares), and he's even better this year. Why wouldn't he use again? Not gonna get caught.

In closing, I'd like to leave you with this statement. Apply to whichever performance enhancer you'd like:

"We were extremely disappointed to learn of the suspension of YOUR FAVORITE PLAYER for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention & Treatment Program. We fully support Major League Baseball's policy and its efforts to eliminate performance enhancing drugs from our game.  Per the protocol outline by Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement, YOUR FAVORITE TEAM will not comment further on this matter. Wink Wink Nod Nod”

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Peggy Levitt: God Needs No Passport

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It's a common lefty thing to think that religion is any number of negative things; see if this rings a bell: bad, dangerous, backwards, regressive, oppressive, low-class, brainwashing, right-wing, etc. Some lefties want to pretend religion doesn't need to be discussed because it's so far "out there" and others think it is just a destabilizing force. I have a different feeling: I think that progressives (and everyone else) must discuss religion, as it's a huge force in so many people's life. Putting our collective heads in the sand is almost as bad as pretending to be a color-blind society. Religion is not something we'll all "get over," nor is it just "the opiate of the masses," nor is it just the purview of extremists- right wing evangelicals or Jews in settlements or pseudo-Muslim terrorists. Put another way: religious people are people, too.

Peggy Levitt goes a step further: immigrants are people. They're often religious people, and they're changing America. To freak out about it or to ignore it is to miss the potential for moving forward productively. Levitt argues for a new look at citizenship for (im)migrants: she is
interested here in migrants' subjective experiences than about how institutional arrangements constrain their ability to act on what they think and feel. The people who claimed religious citizenship understood it to work in a way that was similar to political citizenship. They used similar words and analogies to describe these two membership categories. In other words, the political limits to religious membership did not stop them from equating the two.
Essentially Levitt believes that citizenship legally means that one belongs to a "self-governing political community." Migrants who belong in what she calls the "global religious citizen" category often are connected to multiple countries, and are linked transnationally through their religious community. The transnational connections work both ways: they change the home country as well as America. She thinks of these as "religious passports," and argues that to understand immigrant communities, one must understand what's going on in religious communities both here and in home/sending countries. On the individual level, she argues, identity cannot be separated into citizenship status or country of origin and all other "subject positions": these subject positions must include religion. "Faith, directly or indirectly, permeates the lives of many people... [Some] assume, implicitly or explicitly, that imported faith comes in a one-size-fits-all package." It doesn't, and it's part of the immigration and citizenship discussions.

Levitt's argument is based in four communities that she seems to have studied intimately, though she doesn't explain her methodology- anthropology? ethnography?- which seemed a medium-sized flaw. She ties her argument nicely (at the beginning of "God Needs No Passport") to the bigger picture of the self-identity of America as a "melting pot":  the picture of we hold of America is that we create everything here wholesale, and that everyone should melt into good assimilated Christians. The truth is more complicated. Immigrants bring their cultures and religions (and always have) with them, and America changes with them. They also maintain strong ties (more so now than over with technological changes) with their home countries, changing America, whether the US will admit it or not. Levitt demonstrates how this works in communities in Ireland, Brazil, Pakistan, and India and their respective communities in the US. This, along with the lack of methodology, is a flaw with Levitt's book: it appears that Levitt is closely tied to Boston, and it's possible (though not explained) that these are very important sending countries in the Boston area. However, I have never encountered Brazilians Catholic/Evangelicals, Irish Catholics, or Indian Hindus of the sect she describes, and the groups are not contextualized at all. "God Needs No Passport" would have read better as a much shorter article without the details and short supporting quotes from group members, or as a much longer book with much more information.

Flaws aside, Levitt proposes (though doesn't expand) on a solution more progressives should consider: a "religious solution to the problem of religious diversity." Quoting Reinhold Niebuhr, she argues for each religion to act with humility and acknowledgement that "expressions of religious faith are subject to historical contingency and relativity." Mainstream America would need to drop the idea of the Protestant nation, and progressives will need to drop the snobbery of the backwards religious immigrants. It could happen...