Tag Archives: The Atlantic

Inmates take over asylum at small Oregon college

There is a course called Humanities 101 at Reed College, a small liberal arts institution in Portland. It is described in a Nov. 2 article in The Atlantic this way:

A required year-long course for freshmen, Hum 110 consists of lectures that everyone attends and small break-out classes “where students learn how to discuss, debate, and defend their readings.” It’s the heart of the academic experience at Reed, which ranks second for future Ph.D.s in the humanities and fourth in all subjects. (Reed famously shuns the U.S. News & World Report, as explained in a 2005 Atlantic article by a former Reed president.) As Professor Peter Steinberger details in a 2011 piece for Reed magazine, “What Hum 110 Is All About,” the course is intended to train students whose “primary goal” is “to engage in original, open-ended, critical inquiry.”

All well and good, right? This is what college is supposed to be about. Challenging assumptions and forcing students to learn critical reasoning skills so that they can not only defend that which they think they know, but learn also what they do not know, and how to debate these issues in a civil society — and to further and defend their future academic research, if any.

Except that is not how it is working out at Reed, as writer Chris Bodenner notes in that Atlantic article:

[In Humanties 101], a 39-year-old Saturday Night Live skit recently caused an uproar over cultural appropriation. In the classic Steve Martin skit, he performs a goofy song, “King Tut,” meant to satirize a Tutankhamun exhibit touring the U.S. and to criticize the commercialization of Egyptian culture. You could say that his critique is weak; that his humor is lame; that his dance moves are unintentionally offensive or downright racist. All of that, and more, was debated in a humanities course at Reed.

But many students found the video so egregious that they opposed its very presence in class. “That’s like somebody … making a song just littered with the n-word everywhere,” a member of Reedies Against Racism (RAR) told the student newspaper when asked about Martin’s performance. She told me more: The Egyptian garb of the backup dancers and singers–many of whom are African American–“is racist as well. The gold face of the saxophone dancer leaving its tomb is an exhibition of blackface.”

Such outrage has been increasingly common in the course, Humanities 110, over the past 13 months. On September 26, 2016, the newly formed RAR organized a boycott of all classes in response to a Facebook post from the actor Isaiah Washington, who urged “every single African American in the United States that was really fed up with being angry, sad and disgusted” over police shootings to stay home on Monday. Of the 25 demands issued by RAR that day, the largest section was devoted to reforming Humanities 110.

The article goes on to say:

Beginning on boycott day, RAR protested every single Hum lecture that school year. In-class protests are very rare on college campuses. During the nationwide upsurge of student activism tracing back to 2015, protesters have occupied administrative buildings, stormed into libraries, shut down visiting speakers in auditoriums, and walked out of classrooms–but they hardly ever disrupt the classroom itself. RAR has done so more than 60 times.

A Hum protest is visually striking: Up to several dozen RAR supporters position themselves alongside the professor and quietly hold signs reading “We demand space for students of color,” “We cannot be erased,” “Fuck Hum 110,” “Stop silencing black and brown voices; the rest of society is already standing on their necks,” and so on. The signs are often accompanied by photos of black Americans killed by police.

“Facebook conversations at Reed bring out the extreme aspects of political discourse on campus.”

One of the first Hum professors to request that RAR not occupy the classroom was Lucía Martínez Valdivia, who said her preexisting PTSD would make it difficult to face protesters. In an open letter, RAR offered sympathy to Martínez Valdivia but then accused her of being anti-black, discriminating against those with disabilities, and engaging in gaslighting–without specifying those charges. When someone asked for specifics, a RAR leader replied, “Asking for people to display their trauma so that you feel sufficiently satisfied is a form of violence.”

But another RAR member did offer a specific via Facebook: “The​ ​appropriation​ ​of​ ​AAVE [African American Vernacular English]​ ​on​ ​her​ ​shirt​ ​during​ ​lecture:​ ​‘Poetry​ ​is​ ​lit’ ​is​ ​a​ ​form​ ​of​ ​anti-blackness.”

Oh, brother. 

Liberals like to observe, with good reason, that education has failed American students, from public schools on through college. Any one of us knows people with a college degree who nearly lack the critical reasoning skills necessary to find their way to a cogent position in political arguments.

But it’s not just students at right-wing, religious universities who are asking to be shielded from the real world. Liberal students are asking the same at many institutions. 

Civic-mindedness and the public spirit in which we all share some common values are both dying slow deaths in American culture, not to mention the strangling of nuance. 

No wonder our body politic cannot agree enough to pursue even the most anodyne of common goals now being threatened by a takeover of the poltitical system by American oligarchs.

Put another way: if Steve Martin singing King Tut is enough to send today’s students in search of safe spaces, and create efforts to shut down an entire required freshman class, then even comedy and comedic satire are both on the same intolerant, know-nothing chopping block. 

You cannot reason with religious fundamentalists

paris jefferly.com Islamic State ISIS ISIL
A survivor of the massacre at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris by Islamic fundamentalists.

The Atlantic has a very good piece up about Islamic State:

What is the Islamic State?

Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.

The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq.

Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.

Good writing that goes beyond the simple to lead us (or me, at least) to one conclusion, although this article does not state it this directly: the problem is not Islam. The problem — and it is causing problems ranging from terrorism a world away to America’s own issues with homegrown Christian terrorists — is religious fundamentalism. It is also at the root of the current American inability to govern itself because so many Christian fundamentalists are essentially opposed to a representative democracy where their religion and votes count only insofar as they can martial the like-minded into a voting booth.

If you believe society and the world are going to end and all non-believers will be destroyed, it matters not if you are a Christian or Muslim. All that matters is your beliefs and all other considerations are not open to rational debate.

The names Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph should be mentioned to anyone who claims this is solely an Islamic problem. Just as with the Muslim far right, the Christian far right openly preaches armed insurrection and all manner of violent upheaval in the U.S.

As for what to do about all these young, impressionable homegrown and overseas terrorists, who knows what is the right direction into which we must head?

It’s so complicated. I suppose all we can really do is try to understand why young people are drawn to these ideologies and attempt to prevent them from being recruited in the first place.

Source: What ISIS Really Wants – The Atlantic

Why do so many videos of police mistreatment of black citizens include officers who are themselves black or latino?

If we are to believe some complaints coming from officers in New York City and elsewhere, it’s because departmental leaders push patrol officers through quotas on ticketing, etc. — while being careful not to call them quotas — in precincts with  high levels of poverty and street crime:

The problem, the plaintiffs say, is that police commanders will often try to appease the department’s top brass by pushing their officers to make more arrests in poorer, minority neighborhoods. While there are often higher rates of serious crime in these areas, a quantitative approach means that police face pressure to respond to such crimes by arresting people for trivial reasons—or for no reason at all. If the cops don’t fulfill their quotas, according to the plaintiffs, their superiors penalize them, denying their vacation requests, assigning them to midnight shifts, or limiting their hopes of getting promoted.

The plaintiffs, all of them minorities themselves, have been arguing that it’s tough to make a decent living and advance in their jobs without engaging in this aggressive, numbers-based style of policing. They complain that this means-to-an-end, results-based mentality can put them in a bind. Sandy Gonzalez, an officer in the Bronx and the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, described the dynamic to me by imagining what he’d say to a hypothetical offender: “When it comes to the end of the month, and I need that number … dude, it’s your neck or mine.”

Just as in New York, trials around the country have uncovered evidence of quota systems, even as local police departments deny their existence. Recently, a Sacramento jury awarded $125,000 to a 78-year-old man who had sued a pair of highway cops for wrongfully arresting him during a traffic stop after one of the officers punched him and knocked him to the ground. Documents produced at the trial showed that the cop who pulled the man over had previously been reprimanded by the California Highway Patrol for being too soft on drivers. The cop’s average of five “enforcement contacts” per day was “not acceptable,” an evaluation introduced as evidence declared—in other words, he needed to pull more people over.

That would explain a lot when it comes to questions about why cops stop so many people doing things that would likely get ignored if they were white  — or sometimes when they are just doing nothing at all.

Source: How Aggressive Policing Affects Police Officers Themselves – The Atlantic

I remember being forced to watch so many of these over the years

One of the things I love about The Atlantic magazine is its willingness to approach subjects that might, at first glance, seem silly or superficial. Yet in the hands of Atlantic writers, you find out more than you thought there was to know about, say, the history of workplace safety videos:

But while corporate-safety videos are often terrible by their very nature, they’re nevertheless an art form, tracing their roots back to the earliest PSAs and the pulpy social-guidance films of the mid-20th century.

They’re also a business that, if nothing else, keeps struggling actors and wannabe filmmakers afloat while warning the workers of America that everything—a stapler, a high-heeled shoe, a compliment—can be dangerous when used without caution.

Today’s videos are typically entertaining only by accident, but it wasn’t always so. A 1969 production by Xerox Films is a masterpiece of comic timing and political incorrectness, using animation, sound effects, elaborate special effects, and a girl in a bikini to educate viewers about the fragility of the human body.

“Here’s a pretty package of brittle bones, delicate organs, and precisely balanced chemicals, all bagged up in a sack of skin you can scratch a hole in with your fingernail,” the voiceover states, while a comely woman in a swimsuit covers herself in sunscreen. “Mark it ‘fragile.’”

The film goes on to warn how everything can be hazardous to human health—bumblebees, typewriters, filing cabinets, and even a lone pencil left on the floor.

All you people who work for the airlines can attest to the fact that these kinds of things still exist in droves if you have a job that takes you into dangerous environments like airport ramps.

But it does seem to be a bit of  dying art form for most jobs.

Source: The Workplace Safety Video Is a Glorious Staple of Corporate America – The Atlantic

The Atlantic magazine tries (sort of) to add voice of reason to growing national guacamole unrest

As you may be aware, the New York Times created an online firestorm among, of all people, guacamole aficionados when it posted a tweet linked to an article that suggests people use snap peas in addition to avocados in a guacamole recipe.

The original tweet:

Trust us?

Ha! That line might just as well have been delivered by some oily leisure-suited salesman trying to sell bogus home repairs to your addled grandmother.

Some of the funnier tweets in response:

The issue reached such crisis proportions even President Obama and Jeb Bush weighed in, adding to our political dialogue the gravitas that only social media can offer.

Deciding that perhaps the impartiality of a journalist (lol!) might quell the mounting furor,  The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan decided she would act as guinea pig and make the recipe herself to see what all the fuss is about.

Although,  judging from the excerpt below, Khazan did not start with the most open of minds:

As a journalist, I knew I had to investigate for myself, and as a Texan, I knew my findings were fixin’ to rile me up.

I tried to follow Melissa Clark’s recipe exactly, but I had to make a few modifications. First, I made a much smaller batch, because I don’t believe in wasting avocados on an abomination. Second, I didn’t have time to roast my jalapeno, though I doubt that would have improved things. Finally, I did not sprinkle any sunflower seeds over the top; I don’t have those on hand because I’m not some kind of socialist.

But I endeavored to follow the rest as closely as I could—even the parts that strongly contradict modern-day guac science. Most recipes use onions, but Clark uses scallions, so I did too. She added lime zest for some reason, so I fished out my microplane and started grating. And yes, I took a bag of fresh snap peas* and shucked them. Like you do.

* We couldn’t get the regular kind. However, in a 1992 article titled “There’s No Substitute” for fresh green peas, The Times recommended shelled sugar snap peas as “the best substitute for them.” And you thought accurate headlines were a casualty of the social-media age.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that her verdict is not a good one, with her boyfriend noting disapprovingly that the pea guacamole tasted “like a chicken McNugget versus a chicken wing. The only reason to add peas would be if you had a pea surplus at the same time as a guac surplus.”

Score one for all that is good and pure in guacamole land.

As for me, it is not my place to judge that which I have not tried. First rule of impartiality, right?

Except: WTF?

You can read Khazan’s entire article here.

In wake of church killings, Atlantic columnist calls for removal of Confederate flag from SC statehouse

As is usual for him, Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates is on fire in his writings:

Last night, Dylann Roof walked into a Charleston church, sat for an hour, and then killed nine people. Roof’s crime cannot be divorced from the ideology of white supremacy which long animated his state nor from its potent symbol—the Confederate flag. Visitors to Charleston have long been treated to South Carolina’s attempt to clean its history and depict its secession as something other than a war to guarantee the enslavement of the majority of its residents. This notion is belied by any serious interrogation of the Civil War and the primary documents of its instigators. Yet the Confederate battle flag—the flag of Dylann Roof—still flies on the Capitol grounds in Columbia.

The Confederate flag’s defenders often claim it represents “heritage not hate.” I agree—the heritage of White Supremacy was not so much birthed by hate as by the impulse toward plunder. Dylann Roof plundered nine different bodies last night, plundered nine different families of an original member, plundered nine different communities of a singular member. An entire people are poorer for his action. The flag that Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, does not stand in opposition to this act—it endorses it.

Pro-Confederate flag arguments, as do most pro-bigotry arguments of the lunatic rightward fringe in this country, rely on the deception that they are about tradition not hatred.

Good for Coates for calling them out.

Source: Take Down the Confederate Flag – The Atlantic

What we should learn regarding Nobel prize winners who say ridiculous things about women

Tim Hunt, the Nobel laureate on whom young female scientists apparently throw themselves — right before their friends plead with them to get eye exams. Yes, intelligence can be sexy. But it doesn’t burn your retinas off.

It’s an enduring question but one that is probably easily answered: How can some men (it’s almost always men) with impressive credentials and educational attainments ignore what the rest of the peer-reviewed scientific community sees as plainly evident; that human-induced climate change is real, and vaccines are not causing autism?

I will guess that some male egos are particularly suited toward believing they know best, and deciding that terms such as “outlier” do not apply to them as they are just words that mainstream science uses to marginalize those with whom it disagrees.

After all, if a Nobel laureate can say with utter conviction the things below, and then give a half-apology that indicates he’s learned nothing from the gaffe, is it any wonder a run-of-the-mill engineer thinks he knows better than terabytes of climate data proving he is wrong?

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” the Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt reportedly said on Monday at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea. “Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry.”

Those are the only three things that happen. Romance and tears. What does not happen, apparently, is science.

Following a backlash from conference attendees, on social media, and in regular media, Hunt offered a half-hearted apology on Wednesday, speaking to BBC Radio 4.

“I’m really sorry I said what I said. It was a very stupid thing to do in the presence of all those journalists,” he said. “What was intended is a light-hearted ironic comment. Apparently it was interpreted deadly seriously by my audience.”

Then he added, “I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. It’s terribly important that you can criticize people’s ideas without criticizing them and if they burst into tears, it means that you tend to hold back from getting at the absolute truth. Science is about nothing but getting at the truth.”

On Thursday, Hunt, a biochemist, resigned from his faculty position at University College London.

Men will be men, and some men will always be boys on the playground boasting of their own superiority and conquests.

via What Tim Hunt’s Resignation Should Teach Us About Sexism in Science – The Atlantic.

The Atlantic magazine: You Win, Kim Kardashian

I would have never guessed this would happen.

Kim Kardashian’s new book gets a (qualified) good review from The Atlantic?

“I cannot leave the house,” Kardashian admitted, in her iconically laconic way, “without Spanx.”

This was pretty much the Kardashianic equivalent of Tim Gunn showing up to a Park Avenue dinner party in sweats, or of Oscar the Grouch giving Zoloft a try: Kardashian, who regularly asks her legions of fans to consider the subtle differences between self-confidence and self-absorption, is pretty much the last person you’d ever associate with Security Spanx. But there it was: Even Kim Kardashian, according to Kim Kardashian, doubts herself. Sometimes. The proof of this was the only evidence we can ever have when it comes to reality TV’s hall of convex mirrors: It was presented to us on a screen.

The Kardashian confession (Konfession?) was made even more jarring by the fact that its airing coincided with the release of the book tellingly titled, simply, Selfish—a 448-page compendium of (a portion of the) photographic images Kim has taken of herself, from 2006 to 2014. In the vague manner of Kramer’s coffee table book about coffee tables, Kim’s collection is both of and about selfies: It takes her (in)famous love of her own image to a logical, and also absurdist, extreme.

And yet—though critics tend to discuss Kardashian in terms as exaggerated as her hips/breasts/eyelashes, treating her as an omen of either American culture’s destruction or its salvation—Selfish is decidedly small. It is a series of selfies accompanied by brief captions, the end. But the smallness is also revealing. In the book’s critic-taunting title, in its sleek production value (it was published in the U.S. by Rizzoli, an imprint specializing in art collections), in the quantity of wood pulp required to produce pages slick with ink that has been coaxed into the two-dimensional form of Kardashian’s face, Selfish is predicated on the idea that deflecting criticism and absorbing it tend to amount to the same thing.

The MIT researcher Ethan Zuckerman once described the “Kardashian” as a unit of unmerited fame. Selfish responds to that with page after page of Kim Kardashian’s boobs.

Beauty, at least since Cleopatra began experimenting with smoky eyes, has involved wide-scale deception.

You could see all that—the book’s, and its author’s, nihilism-via-vacuity—as a profound commentary on our times, or as yet another of Kardashian’s canny acts of capitalism, or as a succinct reply to Daniel Boorstin. You could see it as further proof that our media have coaxed us into living within the context of no context (or, in this case, the Kontext of no Kontext). But what Selfish also amounts to, in its flip book-on-amphetamines framing, is a kind of diary. The photos are presented year by year, chronologically. Which means that they don’t just capture what Kim Kardashian looked like on a particular day, at a particular event, with a particular sibling or friend or fellow-celebrity; they also capture her evolution—and not just from the arm candy of Paris Hilton to the arm candy of Kanye West. In Selfish, you see a woman experimenting with new hair colors and new hairstyles (nb: she advises against bangs), with outfits tight and then tighter and then even tighter, with lips from the siren-red to the vixen-nude.

So many “K” words.

There you have it. Big props for honesty in your superficiality, I guess.

Part of me wants to read it now. But just a small part of me.

You can read the rest of the review at the link below.

You can buy the book at this link.

Via: You Win, Kim Kardashian (The Atlantic)

What is blasphemy and what is hate speech?

The distinction between the two becomes ever more important as right-wing Christian groups and individuals try ever harder to accuse LGBT and other activists of hate speech against Christians because those activists taunt them for their sometimes weird, sometimes just anachronistic, views.

Blasphemy, of course, should never be outlawed in a secular society and that notion is what underpins much of how Western democratic societies approach these matters — it also why the insistence of some Muslims that they have the right to murder someone for depicting the prophet Muhammed seems so alien to most of us. (It should be noted that some of America’s most rightward Christian nutties have advocated the death penalty for some types of what they see as blasphemous behaviors, including homosexuality.)

There is an interesting article in the current issue of The Atlantic that does a pretty good job of defending the right to blaspheme in a free society:

Flash forward a few hundred years. In 1989, the AIDS activist group ACT UP disrupted services in St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York. One protester grabbed a consecrated communion wafer, broke it, and tossed it to the floor. He and some 100 others were arrested. A few of the protesters were sentenced to community service. None went to prison. Needless to say, none was burned at the stake. Blasphemy

From a Catholic perspective, defiling a consecrated communion wafer does violence to the body of God. It would be hard to imagine a more brutal affront to the most cherished beliefs of faithful Catholics.

Understandably, then, the St. Patrick’s protest was almost universally condemned, by New Yorkers of all faiths—and by many leaders in the gay-rights movement too. In all the criticism, however, there was one thing that went unsaid: nobody suggested that the ACT-UP activists should be punished for an act of blasphemy. Trespass, mischief, disorderly conduct, yes, they were guilty of all that. But insulting God? That, in the state of New York, is simply not a matter for the laws and the police. And if a vigilante mob had tried to lynch the blasphemous protester, the police would actively have protected him from them.

The right to blaspheme is not a right most of us make much use of these days, and for excellent reason. In modern Western free societies, we take it absolutely for granted that nobody can enforce religious dogma on anybody else. And since we take it for granted, few of us feel much need to make a big deal about denying and defying other people’s dogmas. It feels stupid and rude precisely because it is pointless. Nobody’s compelling you to respect the Host, so you are merely a jerk, not a martyr, if you gratuitously insist on disrespecting something so holy to so many of your neighbors.

The author, noted conservative David Frum, then goes on to use some examples:

Hate-speech laws remain highly controversial. But whether they are wise or dangerous, their purpose is secular: to protect people by restricting speech intended to abrogate their human rights. God, it is thought, can look after Himself. Thus, under French law, it would be hate speech to shout, “Kill the Jews!” It would not be hate speech to denounce Jewish kosher slaughter as inhumane. It would be hate speech to say, “No Muslim can be a patriotic French citizen.” It would not be hate speech to write, “The Koran is not true.”

VIa: The Right to Blaspheme (The Atlantic)

When non-violence feels like compliance

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the best writers over at The Atlantic magazine, and if you appreciate thoughtful, well-reasoned commentary you might check him out. That he is African-American is irrelevant to much of what he writes except that it informs him as a very smart guy who grew up on the rough streets of Baltimore — especially germane to what he has to say about the riots taking place there over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in what is turning out to be a tale of police brutality shocking in a nation where such incidents now seem commonplace:

The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray’s death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray’s death and so they appeal for calm. But there was no official appeal for calm when Gray was being arrested. There was no appeal for calm when Jerriel Lyles was assaulted. (“The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”) There was no claim for nonviolence on behalf of Venus Green. (“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.”) There was no plea for peace on behalf of Starr Brown. (“They slammed me down on my face,” Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face.”)

When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.


Via: Nonviolence as Compliance (The Atlantic)