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Category: General

The New Military Urbanism

[ 90 ] May 10, 2015 |


Bryan Finoki has a good article on how cities have redesigned spaces in order to declare a low-level war on the homeless, or as Steven Graham call it, “the new military urbanism.” By erecting barriers that prevent the homeless from sleeping, the cities make themselves friendly for corporations and the image of a smooth run enterprise without the messiness that corporate leaders might not like. But this is fact a version of class warfare. Finoki:

Because of the homeless’ permanent existence in the outer public domain, they are particularly prone to architecture as something that has been designed to be specifically hostile to them, yet camouflaged into the normal fabric as permanent barriers. The post-9/11 makeover of the urban environment only served to justify the intensification of this process under a new name. For the homeless populations struggling to survive in the neoliberal city, urban design translates into an infinitely inhospitable surface; a brutal run-away edge that they can neither penetrate nor separate themselves from.

While the conditions of homelessness are the result of many complex and largely misunderstood—and misrepresented—sociocultural underpinnings, they partially thrive within the inhumane trappings of the built environment’s architectural surfaces themselves. For those who are pushed towards the outside, the city is a colossal mega-structure that sustains only their permanent exteriorization. It is a city designed to ensure the near impossibility of their inhabitation. Between the vitriol of those who wish to see the homeless simply disappear and the militancy of advocates devoted to homeless rights and resistance, the policing of homelessness pushes them ever toward the city’s edge. The homeless are essentially being made into anti-monumental ghosts—ghosts of an architectural surface that makes them disappear.

Effectively, he’s describing the city of the New Gilded Age, a space where the poor are driven away, where class is erased by eliminating those who would remind us it exists and where billionaires can be comfortable. In other words, welcome to global Bloombergville.


[ 7 ] May 10, 2015 |


This is a good piece on the problems facing the Andean condor, the world’s second largest bird. Basically, even though condors, like other vultures, do the ecosystem a tremendous amount of service by eating carrion, South American farmers see them as enemies and shoot them. Populations are in decline in most of its range. This can change. It takes an active government effort. Among the many effective government actions in U.S. history for instance was the creation of hunting laws, hunting seasons, hunting licenses, and other actions to eliminate the hunting commons that was the entire U.S. up to the late 19th century. This prevented deer, elk, bear, bison, and other large animals from extinction. It’s hard to believe today that deer were extirpated from many states in 1900, but it is true. Bolivia and Peru could do the same thing and protect these animals by vigorously prosecuting their killings. Will they? Unlikely.

I also have an Andean condor story to tell. In 2008, I traveled in Bolivia for 5 weeks, one of the most important experiences of my life. I’ve talked about this before in terms of the impact of mining on the nation and its people. Toward the end of the trip, I was on the eastern slopes of the Andes, a couple hours west of Santa Cruz. We had a day to kill and so the guy we were staying with said he’d take us on a hike. He didn’t really say what we would see except a waterfall. As these things go in much of the world, the trail was straight up the mountain. So after huffing and puffing to this overlook (and seeing a quetzal (either a crested or golden-headed, both of which are pretty cool but I’m not sure which) which I had seen before in Costa Rica but is still a jaw-dropping bird no matter how many times you see them), we just stopped and waited. We were getting bored. After about 45 minutes, all of a sudden all these Andean condors started flying in from all directions to bathe in the waterfall! There were like 15 of them. They were flying the wind currents which were right above us. So here the second largest bird in the world is maybe 15 feet above my head. It was, to say the least, amazing. Perhaps the best wildlife experience of my life. These are some big birds.

Anyway, some of it is personal to me, but I very much hope the Andean condors get saved. I wonder how many of the birds I saw that day were later shot by farmers. Probably most of them. Very sad.

Sunday Funnies — starring Ms. Marvel and Wolverine

[ 25 ] May 10, 2015 |

Thanks to my new job, I not only have weekends off — I also have money! And one of the things I have purchased with this money — so many of those words feel really odd to type — is an iPad and a subscription to Marvel Unlimited, which allows me to read every Marvel comic with the exception of the most recent six months of publications. Given that I haven’t read comics regularly in a decade or two, I don’t think that’s much of a problems.

Point being, I’m now having many thoughts about comics and I thought “Why SEK, you have a blog, why don’t you write about them?” So I think I’ll make this a regular Sunday feature, starting today with a few “panels” from Ms. Marvel:

msmarvel wyatt

Jake Wyatt’s been rightfully acclaimed for his work on this book, but this page in particular is fascinating. At first I felt it was partly enabled by the new technology of comic book-reading, inasmuch as it’s “directed” by an algorithm that moves you from area-to-area within a panel. For example, on the iPad that page would look something like this:


Followed by this:


Followed by this:


Like I said — a “directed” reading. But it quickly occurred to me that I was wrong, at least partly, because the page really is playing with traditional comic book and basic reading conventions. There’s a real tension between the text and the image in this, beginning with the fact that the first “panel” — and I’m using scare quotes for the obvious reason that there are no traditional panels on this page — is in the lower left-hand corner of the page. That’s not where the eyes of English readers begin, so the first difficulty in understanding this page is simply one of figuring out where to start.

Your eye has to search the page, replicating writ small the difficulty Ms. Marvel and Wolverine are experiencing as they try to navigate out of the sewers. But even if they find a way, it’s not going to be easy, as the barely pubescent heroine who’s still discovering the limits of her powers is forced to haul a cranky 300-year-old man with an adamantium enhanced skeleton. How would an artist represent the difficulty of this endeavor?

With words. There’s an up-down conflict built into the text-image relationship. As they struggle up through the sewers, your eyes follow the text down the page. In effect, the images are hoisting your eyes up the page while the text pulls them down — a near-perfect replication of the struggle being depicted on that page itself.

Those Lazy Professors

[ 91 ] May 10, 2015 |


Another day, another old professor at an elite institution bloviates about how professors just aren’t like they used to be. He decides by talking to Todd Gitlin for some reason that professors are just service providers today, that they don’t challenge their students, and that professors are in part responsible for the change in student culture that sees education as hoop to jump through to make money. The last point is of course just dumb. As for the other points, let’s go to The Tattooed Professor:

It’s easy to tell your colleagues that they’re too engaged in research, and not enough with students, when you teach at an institution that has a 2-2 (maximum) class load and ample support for research. It’s easy for someone at Princeton to tell us we’re doing conferences wrong because they go to so many that all the annoying things that happen there run together after a while. Oh, they wail, if only our academia was like it Used To Be.

This is academic classism, pure and simple. In its shallow portrait of student attitudes and naive calls for professors to be moral authorities and fearsome minds, Bauerlein ignores what is happening outside the walls of his tiny elite cloister, perched amongst the ivy and resting comfortably on scads of tuition dollars and a jumbo-sized endowment. “What’s the point of a professor,” he asks? Let me tell you one answer.

In my Tiny Liberal Arts College With Professional Programs Too, a professor teaches four (sometimes more) classes a semester. These professors also advise anywhere from 10 to 40 students (unlike large, R1 institutions, we do not use professional or departmental advisors). They sponsor and advise student organizations. Our one-person Theatre Department runs four productions a year, our two-person Music Department sponsors a pep band and a choir that travels across the US and over to Europe, guided and mentored (and chaperoned, and checked into their hostels) by their professors. These professors will knock on a dorm room door if one of their students has missed several classes and is in jeopardy of being on academic probation (this may or may not have been someone who looked remarkably like me). These professors are on the hospital floor for 8-hour clinicals with a cohort of 19-year-old Nursing majors. They help find translators for a Bosnian student’s parents (who don’t speak English) to open up a bank account in town. They sit through interminable afternoon meetings and then teach a three-hour Social Work seminar two nights a week. These professors go to their student’s graduation parties, they get thank-you cards from grateful students (and relieved parents*), they go to former students’ weddings, they are invited to law school commencements for former advisees.They take students who don’t think they’ll ever understand Foucault or Hayden White and help them get admitted to a top graduate program a year later. They tell students who have been told they’re less-than all of their lives that they are capable, and that they can do this thing. And then many of those students go on to do that thing. And as Director of our Teaching Center, I can personally attest to the fact that they TEACH THE SHIT OUT OF THEIR FIELDS in the classroom. Oh, and we still write articles and books and speak at conferences.

We. Have. A. Point.

Moreover, our students know it.

It’s not that a professor at Emory knows nothing about how higher education operates for 90 percent of the professors (not to mention the legions of adjuncts and non-tenure track faculty) and 90 percent of the students that bothers me. He’s in his elite bubble. It’s that people like this then decide to pontificate about the state of higher education and that publications like the Times are happy to publish said pontifications. These sorts of articles then reinforce popular narratives about professors being lazy slackers. Who couldn’t see the people behind the North Carolina proposal to make all professors, even at Chapel Hill, teach a 4-4 every semester finding this extremely useful in making their arguments? Meanwhile, the rest of us, and many far more than myself who am in a relatively privileged position, are publishing, teaching, serving on committees, and going above and beyond anything required in our contracts to give our students the best education possible while staying active in the profession, publishing books, and making the campus operate by serving on committees.

But what is this to an Emory professor who doesn’t have to do most of these things and who has such a light teaching schedule that he has time to write op-eds in the New York Times about how lazy his colleagues are?

Nobody Could Have Etc.

[ 43 ] May 10, 2015 |

One could argue that people like this should probably not be let loose on the streets with state-sanctioned life-or-death powers:

The most senior Baltimore police officer charged over the death of Freddie Gray used his position to order the arrest of a man as part of a personal dispute just two weeks before the fatal incident, prompting an internal inquiry by Baltimore police department.

During an erratic late-night episode in March, Brian Rice boasted he was a Baltimore police lieutenant and warned “heads will roll” if officers in a nearby city did not “go arrest” his ex-girlfriend’s husband, according to a police report obtained by the Guardian.

The incident is the latest in a series revealed by the Guardian that policing experts said raised questions over Rice’s ability to perform his duties as a supervising officer and the Baltimore department’s decision to keep him on front line patrols.

Two weeks later, it was Rice who initiated the arrest of Gray after the 25-year-old “made eye contact” with the lieutenant in a west Baltimore street and ran away. Gray was chased and subjected to a fatal arrest that was declared unlawful by the city’s top prosecutor.

Huckabee on Life of Brian

[ 67 ] May 10, 2015 |


In 1979, Mike Huckabee gave a sermon that included a discussion of Life of Brian.

There was a time in this country when a movie like The Life of Brian which, I just read — thank God the theaters in Little Rock decided not to show, but it’s showing all over the Fort Worth–Dallas area, which is a mockery, which is a blasphemy against the very name of Jesus Christ, and I can remember a day even as young as I am when that would not have happened in this country or in the city in the South.

I wonder if there’s anything else the 1979 version of Mike Huckabee can nostalgically remember not happening in the South of his youth?

But friend, it’s happening all over and no one’s blinking an eye, and we can talk about how the devil’s moved in and the devil’s moved in but what’s really happened is God’s people have moved out and made room for it. We’ve put up the for sale sign and we’ve announced a very cheap price for what our lives really are. We’ve sold our character, we’ve sold our convictions, we’ve compromised, we’ve sold out and as a result we’ve moved out the devil’s moved in and he’s set up shop. And friend [he’s] preying on our own craving for pleasure.

I for one crave catchy songs while being nailed to the cross.


[ 234 ] May 9, 2015 |


Willard Scott as Ronald McDonald

McDonald’s constant gimmicks to reinvent itself are ridiculous and hilarious. Yes, I’m sure breakfast bowls with kale are totally going to revolutionize the chain, bringing it back to the glories of decades past! And I know, what if we reinvent the Hamburglar! This is a brilliant idea because I just learned about Poochie and thought it was a model for how I could totally leverage remaking one of our characters for a corporate synergy!

Now, I admit I am not a corporate hack with a talent for meaningless mumbo-jumbo so what do I know. But if McDonald’s wants to reinvent itself, why not, oh I don’t know, produce a burger that’s not disgusting? I mean, call me crazy. But if you are getting killed by Five Guys, Chipotle, and many other upstarts, maybe you should realize what Five Guys does better than you, which is to produce a burger that is not disgusting. Keep the fries–they’re great! And then combine them with a burger that is not grey and with toppings that have even modicum of character.

Is this that hard to figure out? With all of McDonald’s other advantages either gone or mitigated by changing times–a lack of competition from higher end fast food changes, the decline of the car culture that fueled its early years combined with every other chain having driving through windows, that it is no longer a destination for children, etc–doesn’t it have to compete with its actual product? I suppose it could pull a rabbit from the hat like it did with chicken nuggets in the 80s or like Taco Bell with its Doritos tacos, but one can hardly count on that. And said miracle product is surely not going to be a kale breakfast bowl. Given the incredibly low standards of the product at McDonald’s (again, outside of the fries), it’s not surprising it is becoming the K-Mart of the food industry.

Japanese Whitewashing of the Past

[ 72 ] May 9, 2015 |


187 of the world’s most prominent historians of Japan have written an open letter to Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, urging that he stop whitewashing the atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II. You can read the letter here. Of course, Japanese right-wingers refuse to allow this to happen, denying horrors ranging from the sexual slavery of comfort women to the depredations at Nanking. Abe has been pretty awful on these issues:

Earlier this year Japan took the unusual step of requesting the US textbook company McGraw-Hill to change its account of Japan’s wartime practice of rounding up women in occupied nations and providing them as sex partners for its soldiers. Abe himself has been part of an effort to suggest the women behaved in a voluntary manner in nations like Korea, and that local Koreans organized the military brothels, not Japan.

The 187 historians took exception with that revision:

“The ‘comfort women’ system was distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan,” their letter said.

Incidentally, I just watched this documentary on Nanking earlier this week and I highly recommend it, disturbing as it is.

Explainers Should Explain Things

[ 13 ] May 9, 2015 |
Emperor Tiberius Denarius - Tribute Penny.jpg

“Emperor Tiberius Denarius – Tribute Penny” by DrusMAX – Photograph Previously published: Web. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m the last person to complain about a good listicle, but an explainer and a listicle are not the same thing. This Vox piece purports to be the former, but is actually the latter, trying to explain the institution of the Imperator through a discussion of the characteristics of a few of its most colorful holders. And it’s too bad, because the explanation is really pretty simple. The Roman elite was exhausted by the civil wars of the first century BC, and in general had come to grips with the idea that the structures of the Roman Republic were insufficient to governance of the empire. It was simply too easy for a provincial governor to act as an independent warlord, amassing wealth, engaging in conquest, and developing a powerful army, then turn that wealth and power on the Senate. The institution of the Imperator as central, permanent military figure didn’t solve this problem entirely, but it helped quite a bit by making the provincial governors accountable to central authority. The tolerance of bad emperors was part of the cost of limiting the extent and frequency of civil wars. In other words, ending the Republic was the price of maintaining the Empire, and it was a price the Roman elite was, largely speaking, willing to pay.

There’s obviously some question regarding the degree to which the Roman elite consciously bought into this reasoning, but I’m generally of the view that people aren’t idiots, and that they understand the logics of their own governance.  It’s also worth noting that the Empire preserved many of the norms of Republican governance (and of elite privilege, even against the Emperor), until at least Diocletian.

Livestock and Riparian Ecosystems

[ 7 ] May 9, 2015 |


Nothing motivates the LGM readership like the relationship between agriculture and riparian ecosystems so let’s start this Saturday morning with me recommending you read this report from the Chesapeake Bay Commission on the need to keep livestock out of waterways. Basically, most livestock are allowed to enter riparian ecosystems where they cause shocking damage. But it’s really not that hard to restore riparian ecosystems to reasonable health if the cattle are left out. You create cleaner water, greater biodiversity, and arguably more profitable farming. But it often doesn’t happen for complex reasons the report lays out for the reader quite effectively that revolve around distrust of government, tradition, and regulatory complexity. Given how an organization like the CBC needs to carefully tread very conservative institutions, it’s a pretty good report with a lot of useful suggestions that environmentalists should prioritize.

I will however say that whoever chose the color scheme in that report needs retraining as that pink screen is truly blinding.

Medicaid Fraud

[ 23 ] May 8, 2015 |

Florida Gov. Rick Scott Attends Hurricane Conference

Electing a governor who looked and acted like a villain in a superhero movie seemed like a great idea. What went wrong?

Friday Creature Feature

[ 25 ] May 8, 2015 |

Please Do Not Tell SyFy Suits about This. Please. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T GIVE THEM ANY IDEAS!!!!!!!!!!

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