Elsewhere in America

Elsewhere in America: The Crisis of Belonging in Contemporary Culture by David Trend (Routledge: 2016)

The book uses the term “elsewhere” in describing conditions that exile so many citizens to “some other place” through prejudice, competition, or discordant belief. Even as “diversity” has become the official norm in American society, the country continues to fragment along new lines that pit citizens against their government, each other, and even themselves.  Yet in another way, “elsewhere” evokes an undefined “not yet” ripe with potential. 

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The book argues that even in the face of daunting challenges, elsewhere can point to optimism, hope, and common purpose. Through 12 detailed chapters, Elsewhere in America applies critical theory in the humanities and social sciences in examining recurring crises of social inclusion (“belonging”) in the U.S.  After two centuries of struggle and incremental “progress” in securing human dignity, today the U.S. finds itself riven apart by new conflicts over reproductive rights, immigration, health care, religious extremism, sexual orientation, mental illness, and fears of terrorists. Why are U.S. ideals of civility and unity so easily hijacked and confused? Is there a way of explaining this recurring tendency of Americans to turn against each other? Elsewhere in America engages these questions in charting the ever-changing faces of difference (manifest in contested landscapes of sex and race to such areas as disability and mental health), their spectral and intersectional character (as seen in the new discourses on performativity, normativity, and queer theory), and the grounds on which categories are manifest in ideation and movement politics (seen in theories of metapolitics, cosmopolitanism, dismodernism).

For more information: https://www.routledge.com/Elsewhere-in-America-The-Crisis-of-Belonging-in-Contemporary-Culture/Trend/p/book/9781138654440

Fighting tenure for school teachers

David Boies, the star trial lawyer who helped lead the legal charge that overturned California’s same-sex marriage ban, is becoming chairman of the Partnership for Educational Justice, a group that former CNN anchor Campbell Brown founded in part to pursue lawsuits challenging teacher tenure. As the New York Times reports:

“Mr. Boies, the son of two public schoolteachers, is a lifelong liberal who represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore and prosecuted Microsoft in the Clinton Administration’s antitrust suit. In aligning himself with a cause that is bitterly opposed by teachers’ unions, he is emblematic of an increasingly fractured relationship between the Democrats and the teachers’ unions.

“Aimages-2s chairman of the new group, Mr. Boies, 73, will join Ms. Brown as the public face of a legal strategy in which the group organizes parents and students to bring lawsuits against states with strong tenure and seniority protections. In a suit filed in New York last month, plaintiffs supported by Ms. Brown’s group argued that tenure laws make it too difficult to fire ineffective teachers and force principals to make personnel decisions based on seniority rather than performance. The suit argues that such laws disproportionately harm low-income and minority students.A California judge recently ruled in a similar case that teacher tenure laws violate students’ civil rights under the state’s constitution. The group that brought that case, known as Vergara v. California, said it would be pursuing similar litigation elsewhere as well. In a sign of the legal firepower attracted to the cause, Theodore B. Olson, Mr. Boies’ partner in the California same-sex marriage case, has been advising the Vergara plaintiffs.In an interview in his firm’s offices in Manhattan, Mr. Boies said he viewed the cause of tenure overhaul as “pro-teacher.”

“I think teaching is one of the most important professions that we have in this country,” he said. But, he added, “there can be a tension” between union efforts to protect workers and “what society needs to do, which is to make sure that the social function — in this case teaching — is being fulfilled.” Mr. Boies, who said he viewed education as a civil rights issue, is offering his services pro bono. Continue reading “Fighting tenure for school teachers”

The Twitter and Google boy’s clubs

From PC Magazine: “Twitter’s global workforce is about as diverse as those of its big-name peers in the tech biz, which is to say, not very diverse at all. The microblogging site, following the lead of companies like Google and Yahoo, on Wednesday released some raw numbers about the gender and ethnic makeup of its roughly 3,000 employees. As with those companies, it turns out that Twitter’s workforce skews very heavily male and white.

“To wit, Twitter’s workforce is 70 percent male and 30 percent female. That disparity grows even more pronounced in tech-related jobs at the company, which are held by nine times as many men as women, while leadership roles at Twitter come in at 79 percent for men and 21 percent for women.

images“Google, which released its own diversity data in May, reported the same 70-to-30 ratio of men to women among its own roughly 52,000-strong workforce. Yahoo reported last month that the gender diversity among its more than 12,000 employees also skews male but not as much—the company’s worldwide workforce is 62 percent men and 37 percent women. Facebook also recently released a breakdown of gender and ethnic diversity in its workforce, reporting similar numbers to Twitter, Google, and Yahoo.

“If gender disparities at Twitter and other Silicon Valley companies are striking, the lack of ethnic diversity at those outfits is just as pronounced, if not more so, going by the self-reported numbers.
Before Twitter joined the party, both Google and Yahoo reported that their workforces were predominantly white and Asian— 91 percent at Google (61 percent white, 30 percent Asian) and 89 percent at Yahoo (50 percent white, 39 percent Asian). African-Americans and Latinos combined to make up just 5 percent of the employees at Google and just 6 percent at Yahoo.
Twitter’s workforce came in at 59 percent white and 29 percent Asian, with African-Americans, Latinos, and people with other ethnicities representing just a fraction of those numbers.

“The current numbers may be stark, but Twitter, like Google and Yahoo before it, pledged to work to better diversify its workforce going forward.”[R]esearch shows that more diverse teams make better decisions, and companies with women in leadership roles produce better financial results. But we want to be more than a good business; we want to be a business that we are proud of,” Janet Van Huysse, vice president of Diversity and Inclusion at Twitter, wrote in a blog post.
“To that end, we are joining some peer companies by sharing our ethnic and gender diversity data. And like our peers, we have a lot of work to do.”Van Huysse didn’t lay out any specific plans for enacting more diverse hiring at Twitter but did list some “employee-led groups putting a ton of effort into the cause” at the company. These include affinity groups like WomEng (women in engineering), SWAT (super women at Twitter), TwUX (Twitter women in design), Blackbird (Tweeps of color), TwitterOpen (LGBTQ folks), and Alas (Latino and Latina employees), she said.”

 

More at: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2461300,00.asp

Guns and dementia

From WebMD: “A new survey looks at access to guns by people with dementia.It finds that caregivers and family members of people being checked for problems with thinking didn’t consistently remove guns from their homes or keep them locked up.The study underlines the need for doctors to ask caregivers if they have guns in the home and, if so, advise them on safety measures to take, the researchers say.In the United States, there is “a significant presence of firearms in the homes of patients with dementia, and many of these patients suffer from delusions and hallucinations, some of which can be paranoid, persecutory, or hostile,” says Jason Hsieh, a medical student at Cleveland Clinic Lerner School of Medicine.The results were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2014.

images-1“In the U.S., 27% percent of people over the age of 65 own a firearm, Hsieh says. “In general, almost 40% of households in the U.S. contain a firearm, and surprisingly, in households with a firearm, the average number of firearms is 6.6,” he says.The elderly have the highest suicide rate of any part of the population, and firearms are the most common, as well as the most fatal, method of suicide. Data from the National Trauma Databank show that as people get older, the proportion of gun injuries that are self-inflicted rises. Other data show that as they age, people are less likely to survive a gunshot and less likely to return home after recovery.

“In addition to suicide, elderly individuals can be the victim of homicide, and this often happens from their caregiver,” Hsieh says. “Most of these events happen at home, and again, just like suicide, using a firearm is the most common method.”Also, it’s been shown that caregivers, families, and loved ones with dementia often don’t remove guns from the home as the dementia gets worse, he sayThe concern comes from the fact that people with dementia more frequently behave aggressively than those without it. Increasing dementia is linked with worsening agitation and aggression, along with delusions – particularly, mistaking a person for someone else, he says.Included in this analysis were 495 people, with an average age of nearly 80. Most of the patients were women (63%).Of the group, 378 (77%) qualified for a diagnosis of dementia, and 64% were already diagnosed with depression or qualified as depressed, the researchers say. Continue reading “Guns and dementia”

Harassment in the sciences

Most women working in the sciences face sexual assault and harassment while conducting field work, according to a study released Wednesday that is the first to investigate the subject, MotherJones reports:

“The report surveyed 516 women (and 142 men) working in various scientific fields, including archeology, anthropology, and biology. Sixty-four percent of the women said they had been sexually harassed while working
at field sites, and one out of five said they had been victims of sexual assault. The study found that the harassers and assailants were usually supervisors. Ninety percent of the women who were harassed were young undergraduates, post-graduates, or post-doctoral students.

imgres“Our main findings…suggest that at least some field sites are not safe, nor inclusive,” Kate Clancy, the lead author of the study, said in a statement. “We worry this is at least one mechanism driving women from science.” Many university science programs require students to complete fieldwork. Those who do work in the field are more likely to receive research grants. Consequently, women scientists “are put in a vulnerable position, afraid that reporting harassment or abuse will risk their research and a professional relationship often critical to their academic funding or career,” the Washington Post noted.

“The study comes as Congress investigates the response of US colleges to campus sexual harassment and assault. Two out of five colleges and universities have not conducted any sexual assault investigations in the past five years, according to arecent survey by the office of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

“Men vastly outnumber women in the sciences. According to Census data, women make up only about a quarter of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math fields.”

On accessible playgrounds

From the New York Times: “The first time I buckled Ruth in a swing she was 18 months old, but looked younger from the emaciating effects of cerebral palsy.Born in Uganda and quickly abandoned, she had spent much of her first year in an orphanage, which sent her to Maine for six months of physical therapy. Friends signed up to host her.

“My husband, Dana, and I were interested in adoption and received permission to take Ruth on weekends to see what caring for her was like. That’s how we found ourselves standing under a canopy of backyard trees, buckling Ruth into a red, plastic baby swing.

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Unable to sit, crawl or even lift her head, Ruth shrieked as she soared through the air, her patent-leather baby shoes shivering the low-hanging leaves. I imagine she felt free of her captive body for the first time. A decade after that cool October morning, I’ve never heard a sound so joyful. We officially welcomed Ruth into our family of three young children in the winter of 2005. Over the years, swinging remained among Ruth’s favorite activities — along with whizzing down the slide at our local playground. But as she grew, it became increasingly difficult to find play areas designed with equipment Ruth could use. Continue reading “On accessible playgrounds”

Seniors like how they look

From Gallup.org: “Though many may pine for the physical appearance they had in their younger years, America’s seniors are the most confident in their looks. Two-thirds (66%) of Americans aged 65 and older “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they always feel good about their physical appearance, compared with 61% of 18- to 34-year-olds. Middle-aged Americans (54%) are the least likely to report feeling good about their appearance.images-1

“For both men and women, confidence in their physical appearance is lower in middle age than in young adulthood, yet gets higher during their senior years.

“At nearly every age level, men are more likely than women to feel good about their appearance, though this margin narrows among older age groups. More than two in three men aged 18-24 (69%) say they feel good about their physical appearance, compared with the 57% of women in the same age group — a 12-percentage-point gap. But by retirement age, the gap shrinks to a four-point difference: 64% of men feel good about their looks compared with 60% of women.

“This analysis is based on more than 80,000 interviews with U.S. adults from Jan. 1-June 23, 2014, as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Specifically, Americans are asked to rate their level of agreement with the statement, “I always feel good about my physical appearance,” on a five-point scale where five means strongly agree and one means strongly disagree. Overall, more than half of Americans, 58%, agreed that they always feel good about their looks, answering with a four or five. Far fewer disagreed that they always feel good about their appearance, with 15% answering with a one or two. About one in four Americans (27%) neither agreed nor disagreed, responding with a three. Continue reading “Seniors like how they look”

Untraceable money

From today’s Wired Magazine: Amir Taaki and his collaborators recently unveiled a prototype for a decentralized online marketplace, known as DarkMarket, that’s designed to be impervious to shutdown by the feds.images-1

The programming provocation they released a few hours ago is called Dark Wallet, a piece of software designed to allow untraceable, anonymous online payments using the cryptocurrency bitcoin. Taaki and Wilson see in bitcoin’s stateless transactions the potential for a new economy that fulfills the crypto-anarchist dream of truly uncontrollable money. They envision a digital payment network that circumvents every authority’s attempts to tax it, seize it, censor it, track it, or imprison those who would use it to trade in contraband like weapons, drugs, and even abhorrent services like murder-for-hire and child pornography.

And yet for all that, Dark Wallet isn’t necessarily illegal. Taaki and Wilson, who spent two years in law school before dropping out to pursue his anarchist dreams, argue their creation is just a piece of code and thus protected by free speech laws. Then again, Wilson also has described it publicly as “money-laundering software.” The evening before, he received an unhappy email from his lawyer friend, cautioning him about expressing criminal intent in an interview with me that was published two days earlier. Wilson’s half of the ensuing phone conversation went like this: “How can we cower now? We’re the people who do things and tell them to put up or shut up … [pause] … I guess you’d rather I go back to running guns? … [pause] … OK, I’ll talk to you later.”

Hence the unplanned road trip. The drive through the empty Texas landscape gives me a chance to ask the looming question: How will the world change if Taaki and Wilson succeed in their quest to make money truly anonymous? “There’s going to be a bit of a shake-up,” says Taaki, who speaks with a British accent that borders on cockney. “No one knows how it’s going to turn out.”

He pauses. “The assassination markets are going to be a bit shit.” Untraceable murder-for-hire, in other words, could be an unfortunate side effect of their financial innovation.

Then he seems to regain his resolve. “I believe in the hacker ethic. Empower the small guy, privacy and anonymity, mistrust authority, promote decentralized alternatives, freedom of information,” he says. “These are good principles. The individual against power.”

Warming to his subject, Taaki raises his voice as if he’s speaking to a crowd larger than the three of us here in the car. “But it’s important to be clear that it may not be good on balance, either,” he says. “The world is not perfect. Good and evil rise together.”

Wilson cuts in from the driver’s seat, shifting into agitprop mode. “It’s time for a good old-fashioned pendulum swing,” he says. “Where the people fear the government there’s tyranny. Where the government fears the people there’s liberty. They’re afraid, therefore it’s good.”

But Taaki seems willing to contemplate a more uncertain outcome of the anarchy he and Wilson seek to create.

“It will be different, more diverse,” he muses, as if imagining this new reality for the first time. “We’ll step out into a new world, and we can explore it in any direction we choose.”

The 21st century has already seen its first experiment in crypto-anarchy: the billion-dollar, anonymous online drug marketplace known as Silk Road. In October 2013, the FBI seized the well-hidden server that hosted the site on the anonymity network Tor. The agency also arrested its alleged founder, 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht, calling his work a vast narcotics and money-laundering conspiracy.

Cody Wilson would call it a mere proof of concept.

In a packed bar on East London’s Brick Lane two months after the Silk Road crackdown, Wilson stood onstage—inexplicably wearing a single leather glove—and scolded the audience of the London Bitcoin Expo: “Ross Ulbricht is alleged to be the founder and operator of Silk Road, the glittering jewel of all things libertarian, black market, and wonderful. And it’s a severe indictment of the modern libertarian conscience that he can’t get any support at all.” (At the time, just $3,800 dollars had been donated to the fund-raising site created by Ulbricht’s family, FreeRoss.org, well short of their $50,000 goal. That lukewarm response likely had much to do with prosecutors’ claims that Ulbricht had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoins to contacts he believed were hit men who would kill his enemies, including a blackmailer and a potential informant.)

More at: http://www.wired.com/2014/07/inside-dark-wallet/

Continue reading “Untraceable money”

On paying for book publication

At almost any gathering of academic publishers or librarians, you’ll hear someone float the idea—sometimes phrased as a question—that the model for publishing scholarly monographs is broken.

imgres-3As InsideHigherEd reports: “Two sets of ideas aired at the Association of American University Presses’ annual meeting, held here this week, don’t say the model is damaged beyond repair. But the proposals, both from groups outside the university-press community, suggest that it needs to be retrofitted, at the least.

“One possible approach came from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the other from a task force on scholarly communications run jointly by the Association of American Universities and the Association of Research Libraries. Both raised the question of how to better subsidize the digital publication of scholarly monographs, and both included the notion that faculty authors’ home institutions might do more to help pay for those books to be published. Such support would help deal with what university-press people often call the “free-rider problem,” in which institutions without presses—most of them, in other words—leave it to those with presses to support the system that gives faculty authors publication credentials.

“The AAU/ARL task force describes its plan as a “prospectus for an institutionally funded first-book subvention” that would shift the burden of payment to authors’ home institutions. That would “address the principal causes and effects of the market failure for monographs,” the prospectus says. It envisions that colleges and universities would agree to pay for an openly available “basic digital edition” of some faculty members’ first books; scholarly publishers could offer those titles for sale in other formats too.

“The plan also envisions that universities with a high level of research activity would offer subventions for three or four books a year, with an “annual subvention exposure” of roughly $68,000 to $73,000. Small colleges would pay for one or two books a year, and offer more modest subventions.  Continue reading “On paying for book publication”

Gay parents = happier kids

Children raised by same-sex couples have better health and well-being in comparison to their peers, according to a groundbreaking new study which isbeing billed as the largest of its kind.

Conducted by Australia’s University of Melbourne, the new research aimed to “describe the physical, mental and social well-being” of children with gay and lesbian parents, and “the impact that stigma has on them.” On average, children raised by same-sex couples scored six percent higher than the general population when it came to general health and family cohesion.

Meanwhile, in other categories — such as behavior, mental health and self-esteem — those children reportedly scored the same as those raised by heterosexual parents.

“It appears that same-sex parent families get along well and this has a positive impact on health,” Dr. Simon Crouch from the Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program, Centre for Health Equity at the University of Melbourne, told CNBC of the results.

Crouch believes that an emphasis on skills, as opposed to traditional gender roles, accounted for the survey’s results.

“So what this means is that people take on roles that are suited to their skill sets rather than falling into those gender stereotypes,” he is quoted as saying. “Whatthis leads to is a more harmonious family unit and therefore feeding on to better health and wellbeing.”

You can read more about the new research here.

The study comprised input from 500 children and 315 parents who are in same-sex relationships, and seemed mostly in line with previous research. Earlier this year, a Williams Institute report found that children of lesbians reported having higher self-esteem and lower conduct problems than those of heterosexual couples.

A 2012 study, “Adolescents with Lesbian Mothers Describe Their Own Lives,” found that teens with two moms maintained solid high school GPAs while having strong family bonds with their mothers, according to CBS Las Vegas.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/07/children-of-gay-parents-study-_n_5563547.html

 

Continue reading “Gay parents = happier kids”

Obama to order gender identity protections

President Barack Obama announced Monday that he’s preparing an executive order to ban workplace discrimination against federal employees based on their gender identity, the Huffington Post reports

“The move comes after a 2012 ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the federal ban on sex discrimination covers transgender discrimination. Those affected by that rules change say the government hasn’t been enforcing it and they continue to be discriminated against. Specifically, transgender federal employees have been paying tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket health care costs related to their gender transition.

“Sarah Vestal, a transgender woman in California who works for the Treasury Department, told The Huffington Post in April that an Obama executive order would help because it would show he’s serious about stemming discrimination within the government.

“It would help eliminate the structural discrimination,” Vestal said. “Transgender people in the federal government are pulling their hair out.”

“The president’s announcement comes two weeks after he signaled plans to sign another executive orderbarring discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors. He referenced that executive order on Monday, but has yet to say when he’ll sign either of them.

“Obama made his remarks during a White House reception marking June as LGBT Pride Month’.

 

U.S. schools fail to help disabled

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday focuses his quest to improve classroom performance on the 6.5 million students with disabilities, including many who perform poorly on standardized tests.imgres

As Huffington Post reports, “Duncan, who has spent his years in the Obama administration using accountability measures in existing laws to drive improvements in student performance, on Tuesday joins Michael Yudin, assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, to announce a new framework for measuring states’ compliance with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, the federal law that supports special education and services for children with disabilities. The law originally was known as the Education of Handicapped Children Act of 1975.

“After years of holding states accountable under the law for such things as timely evaluations of students and due process hearings, the Education Department plans to look at results. For the first time, the government will define compliance with the law not just in terms of what states do for students with disabilities, but with how those students perform.

“Focusing on inputs has worked on improving that type of compliance, according to information the Department released Tuesday. For example, in 2006, 84.8 percent of initial evaluations of students with disabilities were completed on time. By 2010, that number had increased to 96.9 percent. At the same time, national average math proficiency hardly budged from 33.2 percent in 2005-2006 to 35.2 percent in 2009-2010 — representing a dip from 38.7 percent in the previous year.

“Basic compliance does not transform students’ lives,” Duncan said on a Tuesday call with reporters. “It’s not enough for a state to be compliant if students can’t read or do math” at sufficient levels by the time they graduate from high school, he added.

“According to this new results-driven accountability framework, states will be responsible for students with disabilities’ participation in state tests, gaps in proficiency between students with disabilities and their peers, and performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, the only national standardized test. This marks the first time the NAEP, which is often described as a low-stakes test, has been used for school accountability. Continue reading “U.S. schools fail to help disabled”

Phone surveillance ruled illegal

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said no this week to tracking your movements using data from your cell phone without a warrant when it declared that this information is constitutionally protected.images-1

As Wired reports, “The case, United States v. Davis , is important not only because it provides substantive and procedural protections against abuse of an increasingly common and highly invasive surveillance method. It also provides support for somethingChristopher Sprigman and I have said before — that the government’s other “metadata” collection programs are unconstitutional.

“The Davis decision, in effect, suggests that the U.S. government’s collection of all kinds of business records and transactional data — commonly called “metadata” — for law enforcement and national security purposes may also be unconstitutional.

Your phone sends signals to the nearest cell towers so that the communications network system knows where to route a call should one come in. Many providers collect and store the location of towers a customer connects to at the beginning and end of the call for billing purposes. FBI agents in Davis obtained these records without a search warrant and used them to place the defendant, Quartavious Davis, near the scene of a number of robberies.

Continue reading “Phone surveillance ruled illegal”

Women writers drinking

If you write a book about alcohol and male writers, as Olivia Laing did, the one question you’ll be asked more than any other is: what about the women? Are there any alcoholic female writers? images-1As Laing writes in The Guardian, “And are their stories the same, or different? The answer to the first question is easy. Yes, of course there are, among them such brilliant, restless figures as Jean Rhys, Jean Stafford, Marguerite Duras, Patricia Highsmith, Elizabeth Bishop, Jane Bowles, Anne Sexton, Carson McCullers, Dorothy Parker and Shirley Jackson. Alcoholism is more prevalent in men than women (in 2013, the NHS calculated that 9% of men and 4% of women were alcohol-dependent). Still, there is no shortage of female drinkers; no lack of falling-down afternoons and binges that stretch sweatily into days. Female writers haven’t been immune to the lure of the bottle, nor to getting into the kinds of trouble – the fights and arrests, the humiliating escapades, the slow poisoning of friendships and familial relations – that have dogged their male colleagues. Jean Rhys was briefly in Holloway prison for assault; Elizabeth Bishop more than once drank eau de cologne, having exhausted the possibilities of the liquor cabinet. But are their reasons for drinking different? And how about society’s responses, particularly in the lubricated, tipsy 20th century; the golden age, if one can call it that, of alcohol and the writer?

“In her 1987 book Practicalities, the French novelist and film-maker Marguerite Duras says many shocking things about what it means to be a woman and a writer. One of her most striking statements is about the difference between male and female drinking – or rather the difference in how the two are perceived. “When a woman drinks,” she writes, “it’s as if an animal were drinking, or a child. Alcoholism is scandalous in a woman, and a female alcoholic is rare, a serious matter. It’s a slur on the divine in our nature.” Ruefully, she adds a personal coda: “I realised the scandal I was creating around me.” Continue reading “Women writers drinking”

Henry A Giroux on neoliberalism

We’re living in a time of extremes: extreme weather conditions, extreme political polarization, and extreme power and income inequality. As TruthOut asks, “How did we get to this point? It certainly didn’t happen overnight. Rather, over the course of the last 30 years, the erosion of social contract the New Deal ushered in has reached a stage such that the United States of America is no longer a democratic republic – or a polity concerned with a shared future.

“Henry A. Giroux, a professor of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada has written extensively on the way in which the political economy has been reconfigured from one that guaranteed citizens a social safety net and promoted paths to a middle class way of life, to a system where a neoliberal oligarchy has accumulated a preponderance of wealth and power that makes democracy impossible, while simultaneously pushing politicians to chloroform the New Deal and Great Society era reforms. The result of this long march to change the fundamental agreement citizens had with their government is a middle and lower class that are compliant, afraid, desperate, and powerless in society- or dispoable. In other words, neoliberal ideologues have squashed democratic movements that use political processes to create a more just and more economically equitable society. Continue reading “Henry A Giroux on neoliberalism”

The truth about violence and mental health

After mass shootings, like the ones these past weeks in Las Vegas, Seattle and Santa Barbara, the national conversation often focuses on imgres-2mental illness. But as TruthOut asks, ” what do we actually know about the connections between mental illness, mass shootings and gun violence overall?

“To separate the facts from the media hype, we talked to Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine, and one of the leading researchers on mental health and violence. Swanson talked about the dangers of passing laws in the wake of tragedy ― and which new violence-prevention strategies might actually work.

“Here is a condensed version of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.Mass shootings are relatively rare events that account for only a tiny fraction of American gun deaths each year. But when you look specifically at mass shootings ― how big a factor is mental illness?On the face of it, a mass shooting is the product of a disordered mental process. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist: what normal person would go out and shoot a bunch of strangers?But the risk factors for a mass shooting are shared by a lot of people who aren’t going to do it. If you paint the picture of a young, isolated, delusional young man ― that probably describes thousands of other young men.A 2001 study looked specifically at 34 adolescent mass murderers, all male. 70 percent were described as a loner. 61.5 percent had problems with substance abuse. 48 percent had preoccupations with weapons. 43.5 percent had been victims of bullying. Only 23 percent had a documented psychiatric history of any kind ― which means 3 out of 4 did not. Continue reading “The truth about violence and mental health”

Coke vs obesity

“Coca-Cola is taking on obesity,” read the AP coverage of the company’s new commercial this week, “with an online video showing how [much] fun it could be to burn off the 140 calories in a can of its soda.”

As The Atlantic reports,”The scene puts a covey of Californians around a comically oversized bicycle on Santa Monica beach. imagesThey stationery-cycle in montage for 20 to 30 smiling minutes each (depending on each person’s size and vigor), until they’ve burned the requisite number of calories to coax an aluminum can along a whimsical Rube-Goldberg-type trapeze. The can eventually reaches the big payoff, when a giant disembodied hand bestows to the pedaler Coca-Cola.

“Not everyone thought it looked fun. “They’re showing exactly why you wouldn’t want to drink a Coke,” brand consultant Laura Riessaid, presumably not while biking. “Twenty-three minutes on a bike is not fun for most people.” (23 minutes was the average time required for a 140-pound person—though as Adweek noted, the average 20-year-old man weighs 196 pounds, and the average woman of the same age weighs 166 pounds.)

“It’s also uncomfortably evocative of a lab experiment where hamsters run on a wheel until they are delivered a pellet of, say, opium. But others in the foodie world were less skeptical of the marketing move than they were enraged by it. I probably would have been too, if I were still capable of strong emotions. Continue reading “Coke vs obesity”

What counts as a “school shooting”?

When students are killed, injured, or put in harm’s way on school grounds, when does it “count” as a school shooting? Not all of the time, according to a number of right-wing commentators — and CNN.images-1

ThinkProgress reports that “In a news report published Thursday, CNN amends its prior reporting that there were 74 school shootings since the Newtown Massacre — a number calculated by gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety — and concludes that there have instead been just 15.

“CNN determined that 15 of the incidents Everytown included were situations similar to the violence in Oregon — a minor or adult actively shooting inside or near a school,” the article explains. Except for the times when those criteria don’t apply: “Some of the other incidents on Everytown’s list included personal arguments, accidents and alleged gang activities and drug deals,” the article explains, apparently nixing Everytown’s bright line criteria that encompassed all incidents “when a firearm was discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds, as documented in publicly reported news accounts” in exchange for its own subjective assessment.

“Among those incidents not included was a brawl that escalated outside a college basketball game at Chicago State University, a shooting at a Mississippi town’s football game that left a 15-year-old dead, and a Georgia college that saw two shootings in two days. As Everytown points out in response to CNN, these discounted shootings led to 25 deaths and 45 injuries. They included familiar scenes of students hiding under desks and running for cover. And many of them were characterized by CNN as “school shootings” at the time of the incidents. Continue reading “What counts as a “school shooting”?”

The true student debt crisis

If you borrowed money from the federal government to finance your education and you’re having an extremely hard time paying it back, I have good news for you. As Slate reports, “President Obama has just signed an executive order that expands eligibility for Pay As You Earn, a newish program that caps the monthly debt payments of eligible borrowers to no more than 10 percent of their monthly income. And if you still have outstanding debt after 20 years, or 10 years if you work in the public sector or for a nonprofit, it will be forgiven, like a youthful transgression.imgres-1

“You crazy kid! Remember when you thought taking on this student loan debt made sense because getting a college education meant that you’d eventually earn enough to pay it off? Oh gosh. Those were the days. Clearly you had been passed the peace pipe once too often.

“Cutting debt payments for cash-strapped borrowers is a nice gesture. In 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama fared well with under-30 voters, and Pay As You Earn will give some of them a nice little boost, just in time for the midterm congressional elections. But there is a much larger problem that the president’s feel-good proposal fails to address, which is the fact that people who take on federal student loan debt aren’t earning enough to pay it back. America’s higher education institutions aren’t offering value for money. And that’s a problem that tinkering with the federal student loan program won’t solve.

“To state the obvious: Borrowers can’t handle their debt payments because of the general weakness of the economy. It would be far easier for borrowers to repay their student loan debt if they weren’t unemployed or underemployed, and it would be easier still if they were employed in jobs that offered robust wage gains over time. Yet the debt crisis also reflects the corruption of mass higher education in America.

Continue reading “The true student debt crisis”

California rejects teacher tenure

A California judge ruled Tuesday that teacher tenure laws deprived students of their right to an education under the State Constitution and violated their civil rights. imgresThe decision hands teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case, one that could radically alter how California teachers are hired and fired and prompt challenges to tenure laws in other states.

“Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,” Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court wrote in the ruling. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

The decision, which was enthusiastically endorsed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, brings a close to the first chapter of the case, Vergara v. California, in which a group of student plaintiffs backed by a Silicon Valley millionaire argued that state tenure laws had deprived them of a decent education by leaving bad teachers in place.

Both sides expect the case to generate more like it in cities and states around the country. David Welch, a Silicon Valley technology magnate, spent several million dollars to create the organization that brought the Vergara case to court — Students Matter — and paid for a team of high-profile lawyers, including Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who helped win a Supreme Court decision striking down California’s same-sex marriage ban. While the next move is still unclear, the group is considering filing lawsuits in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho and Kansas as well as other states with powerful unions where legislatures have defeated attempts to change teacher tenure laws.

More at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/11/us/california-teacher-tenure-laws-ruled-unconstitutional.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0 Continue reading “California rejects teacher tenure”