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Saturday, June 27, 2020

Army of One

Pay it forward. #NoJusticeNoPeace #BlackLivesMatter

Benign intent does not suffice. March March.        

My new read. Compelling.

UPDATE: Finished the book.
…It was the morning of Monday, April 27, 2015, and I was at Freddie Gray’s funeral. Three weeks earlier, on April 12, 2015, a police officer on a bicycle had made eye contact with the still-living Freddie Gray, a young man from the Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park section of Baltimore—the “wrong side” of Baltimore, a neighborhood where life expectancy was not quite sixty-five years, a full seven years shorter than in the rest of Baltimore and around the same as someone living in North Korea. Gray met the officer’s eyes and ran. The officer gave chase, soon joined by two others, and soon Gray was captured. The police searched him, and when they found a pocketknife in his pocket, they arrested him. When he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, walk to their transport van, they dragged him along the sidewalk. What happened next was a matter of dispute. But when Freddie Gray died a week later, from a severed spine, much of Baltimore believed the police had killed him.

That belief didn’t come out of nowhere. What was life like if you grew up like Freddie Gray? The fear of being a victim of police brutality was ever present if you were young and black in Baltimore—just one more trial for kids who already carried the mental anguish and physical adversity of growing up in chronically neglected neighborhoods. You knew neighbors, cousins, uncles, aunties, and friends who’d been victims of random or targeted violence. The violence was physical but correlated with the emotional violence that was often its cause or consequence. And the violence was pervasive, a factor in every decision you made—which streets you walked down, what time you started and ended your day, whom you trusted. The most quotidian decisions were shaped by structurally determined abnormalities. You called it life…

Moore, Wes. Five Days (pp. ix-x). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
The story unfolds day by day from the points of view of eight locals of varied backgrounds and station as they traversed the uprising. As a new resident (14 months now), I found it extremely illuminating.

From the author's concluding words:
…So how do we move forward? Our collective pursuit of justice must be as aggressive and intentional as the systemwide injustice that we now encounter. We must alter how we define the state and permanence of poverty. We must acknowledge and challenge our own complicity. And we must put forward policies that actively confront the systematic bias of past policies.

We call those living with the scourge of poverty “poor people,” as if it’s a title of choice, but it can become a phrase that gives permission to ignore someone’s humanity. Poverty is a condition our society does not have to tolerate or condone. “Poor people” signifies permanence. A birthright. Similar to the term “slave,” as if that’s what the individual was born to achieve. Slavery is a man-made inhumanity. A human mandate. Enslaved people are victims of the institution of slavery. The resilient souls living in poverty are victims of the institution of poverty. We cannot be true allies if we see our mandate as being saviors of a few deserving “poor people.” Everyone’s destinies matter.

Our country has a long history, and for much of it the intentional policy of the United States was to create hierarchies of people based on their class, race, and gender. We live with that legacy today, and it is an undeniable undercurrent in our politics. We need to formally and diligently examine the causes and traumas of generational economic inequality and their intersection with issues of race, gender, national origin, and sexuality. We have examples of nations that have stared into their deepest wounds and emerged stronger. In the late twentieth century, South Africa, Chile, and Northern Ireland, among others, all convened commissions dedicated to truth and reconciliation. Those commissions created a dialogue about the harm done in their communities across generations, much of it rooted in bigotry and demagoguery, and presented a path forward to better policies and the political solidarity needed to enact them. In 2015, Canada completed a seven-year process in which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada uncovered the history of the Canadian Indian residential school system and its lasting impacts on indigenous students and their families. The survivors had a chance to have their pain heard. The perpetrators had a chance to share their sorrow and apologies. Canada had a chance to begin the healing process. These processes have not been perfect and the aftermath in the respective nations has not come without false starts and setbacks, but that did not mean they stopped pushing for progress. This level of national courage is important. We individually must initiate our own truth and reconciliation process, in each of us, in our own hearts and communities. We must wrestle with the history of complicity and bias, and work to address these disparities. As Americans, we have a sacred responsibility to eliminate the myth and frequent talking point “It happened so long ago” or “Why am I being punished for what my ancestors did?” Our complicity in the ongoing harm unfolding in our neighborhoods and those of our neighbors is the surest way to guarantee that our country will not change for the better… (pp. 257-258).
Lots to ponder.

See my 2019 post "Bodymore Murdaland." See also "Baltimore Code Red."      

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Picture a scientist

Alerted to this in my latest hardcopy Science Magazine issue.
Sweeping in scope yet intimately compelling, Picture a Scientist tells the stories of three female scholars, revealing the systemic and structural nature of gender discrimination and harassment in academic science. The film shows how intersections of sexism and racism shape experiences differently for white women and for women of color and how implicit bias both generates inequity and prevents us from noticing it. It reveals injustices ranging from subtle slights and salary gaps to bullying and physical assault. And it reminds us of the power of women’s collective action; the value of social science research in analyzing and responding to inequality; and the importance of allies and advocates, especially in university leadership...
Picture a Scientist is a world-class documentary from an experienced, award-winning crew that tells harrowing truths without sugarcoating, sensationalizing, or objectifying the film’s subjects. If I must have a quibble, it is that the film’s treatment of race is limited to black and white and its treatment of gender is too binary. Other axes of difference, such as disability, class, or sexual orientation, go largely unaddressed. Still, the film leaves openings to discuss these omissions and, more importantly, compels us to action. We might ask ourselves: What data could we gather on our own campuses? How do we become the accomplices of change-seeking colleagues? Can we muster the courage to share our own stories or hold someone accountable rather than looking the other way?

Picture a Scientist will be available to stream via select U.S. theaters from 12 to 26 June 2020. Invite campus leaders to attend the virtual premiere, and then host a screening and organizing session (2). This film could be the vehicle that moves us, as Clancy advocates, “away from a culture of compliance and towards a culture of change.”
Since the 1960s, feminists have asked: How could science claim to be objective when it largely excluded half the population from the ranks of its practitioners? How could science claim to be producing disinterested knowledge when so many of its theories embedded obvious social prejudices, not just about gender but also about race, class, and ethnicity? These questions were not necessarily hostile. Many of them were raised by female scientists who were interested in the natural or social world and believed in the power and value of scientific inquiry to explain it.

Sociologists of scientific knowledge stressed that science is a social activity, and this has been taken by many (for both better and worse) as undermining its claims to objectivity. The “social,” particularly to many scientists but also many philosophers, was synonymous with the personal, the subjective, the irrational, the arbitrary, and even the coerced. If the conclusions of scientists—who for the most part were European or North American men—were social constructions, then they had no more or less purchase on truth that the conclusions of other social groups. At least, a good deal of work in science studies seemed to imply that.

But feminist philosophers of science, most notably Sandra Harding and Helen Longino, turned that argument on its head, suggesting that objectivity could be reenvisaged as a social accomplishment, something that is collectively achieved.89 Harding mobilized the concept of standpoint epistemology—the idea that how we view matters depends to a great extent on our social position (or, colloquially, that where we stand depends on where we sit)—to argue that greater diversity could make science stronger. Our personal experiences—of wealth or poverty, privilege or disadvantage, maleness or femaleness, heteronormativity or queerness, disability or able-bodiedness—cannot but influence our perspectives on and interpretations of the world. Therefore, ceteris paribus, a more diverse group will bring to bear more perspectives on an issue than a less diverse one.

In her groundbreaking 1986 book, The Science Question in Feminism, Harding argued that the objectivity practiced by most scientific communities was weak, because of the characteristic homogeneity of those communities. The perspectives of women, people of color, the working classes, and many others were lacking, and the consequences were plain to see when one considered the obvious sexism, racism, and class bias of many past scientific theories...

Oreskes, Naomi. Why Trust Science? (University Center for Human Values Series) (pp. 49-51). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

John Stuart Mill is one of the heroes of thinking in bets. More than one hundred and fifty years after writing On Liberty, his thinking on social and political philosophy remains startlingly current. One of the frequent themes in On Liberty is the importance of diversity of opinion. Diversity and dissent are not only checks on fallibility, but the only means of testing the ultimate truth of an opinion: “The only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.”

    There is a simple beauty in Mill’s insight. On our own, we have just one viewpoint. That’s our limitation as humans. But if we take a bunch of people with that limitation and put them together in a group, we get exposed to diverse opinions, can test alternative hypotheses, and move toward accuracy. It is almost impossible for us, on our own, to get the diversity of viewpoints provided by the combined manpower of a well-formed decision pod. To get a more objective view of the world, we need an environment that exposes us to alternate hypotheses and different perspectives. That doesn’t apply only to the world around us: to view ourselves in a more realistic way, we need other people to fill in our blind spots.

Duke, Annie. Thinking in Bets (pp. 137-138). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Another must-read book.

More to come...

Friday, June 19, 2020


Just saw this on the NBC Today Show. Beautiful. Spot-on. P&G is to be commended.

Goes to my recently expressed (prior post) sentiment.


More to come...

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Concurrent pandemics


Well, this is a bracing read:
The Looming Bank Collapse
The U.S. financial system could be on the cusp of calamity. This time, we might not be able to save it.
Frank Partnoy

After months of living with the coronavirus pandemic, American citizens are well aware of the toll it has taken on the economy: broken supply chains, record unemployment, failing small businesses. All of these factors are serious and could mire the United States in a deep, prolonged recession. But there’s another threat to the economy, too. It lurks on the balance sheets of the big banks, and it could be cataclysmic. Imagine if, in addition to all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, you woke up one morning to find that the financial sector had collapsed.

You may think that such a crisis is unlikely, with memories of the 2008 crash still so fresh. But banks learned few lessons from that calamity, and new laws intended to keep them from taking on too much risk have failed to do so. As a result, we could be on the precipice of another crash, one different from 2008 less in kind than in degree. This one could be worse.

The financial crisis of 2008 was about home mortgages. Hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to home buyers were repackaged into securities called collateralized debt obligations, known as CDOs. In theory, CDOs were intended to shift risk away from banks, which lend money to home buyers. In practice, the same banks that issued home loans also bet heavily on CDOs, often using complex techniques hidden from investors and regulators. When the housing market took a hit, these banks were doubly affected. In late 2007, banks began disclosing tens of billions of dollars of subprime-CDO losses. The next year, Lehman Brothers went under, taking the economy with it…

…reforms were well intentioned, but, as we’ll see, they haven’t kept the banks from falling back into old, bad habits. After the housing crisis, subprime CDOs naturally fell out of favor. Demand shifted to a similar—and similarly risky—instrument, one that even has a similar name: the CLO, or collateralized loan obligation. A CLO walks and talks like a CDO, but in place of loans made to home buyers are loans made to businesses—specifically, troubled businesses. CLOs bundle together so-called leveraged loans, the subprime mortgages of the corporate world. These are loans made to companies that have maxed out their borrowing and can no longer sell bonds directly to investors or qualify for a traditional bank loan. There are more than $1 trillion worth of leveraged loans currently outstanding. The majority are held in CLOs…

About a 27 minute read. Highly recommended. (Sadly) vindicates my little 2008 pissant view-from-the-subprime-trenches rant "Tranche Warfare."
I've been mulling writing this post for a long time, watching with increasing -- but hardly surprised -- dismay all year as the economic tailspin has accelerated, its increasingly debilitating effects impacting the lives of more and more ordinary citizens worldwide who had no part in its creation. Now, the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal seems as though it might represent the final nail in the coffin of financial system trust.

We seem to never learn...
I need a margarita.

What does all the foregoing portend for the future of U.S. democracy?


Founded nearly 250 years ago, the United States of America is the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. Its infancy, under the Articles of Confederation, was turbulent. Its early prospects, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, were very much uncertain. At the Convention, Benjamin Franklin—catalyst of the Revolution, leading citizen of the republic, enslaver turned abolitionist—wondered as he observed the conflicts, compromises, and contradictions of the process: was the young nation’s sun rising or setting? With the signing of the Constitution, he concluded, the sun was rising.

Today, the question of rise or fall is more pertinent than ever. In this age of globalization, centralized power, economic inequality, deep demographic shifts, political polarization, pandemics and climate change, and radical disruption in the media and information environments, we face these converging trends in a constitutional democracy that feels to many increasingly unresponsive, nonadaptive, and even antiquated.
Consider the data. The public’s approval rate for Congress—our national legislature and the first branch of government established in the Constitution, charged with articulating the will of the people—hit a historic low of 9 percent in 2013. Now rates hover around a still-meager 25 percent. Income and wealth inequality levels have exceeded those on the eve of the Great Depression. Social mobility has stagnated. Inequities continue to track lines of race, gender, and ethnicity, revealing deep structural unfairness in our society. A surge in white nationalism, anti-Semitism, and anti- immigrant vitriol has flooded our politics with sentiments corrosive to the ethic of a democratic society, while people of color continue to confront barriers to opportunity and participation. At all levels of our system, voter turnout remains low in comparison to other advanced democracies. Trust in institutions has collapsed while an online culture of gleeful, nihilistic cynicism thrives. Fewer than one-third of Millennials consider it essential to live in a democracy. Partisan rancor has not reached the intensity of Civil War–era America—but it is nonetheless very high. When Americans are asked what unites us across our differences, the increasingly common answer is nothing...
Below, this seems a good place to start, given my pedantic Jones for clear and effective definitions:
Our conversations about democratic civic life are now so polarized that we must pause to define our central terms. In the twenty-first century, democracy refers to a political system in which legislative and chief executive decision-makers are elected by majority or plurality rule by eligible voters, with a presumption that the franchise approaches universal adult suffrage among legal citizens and that mechanisms are in place to protect ideological, religious, ethnic, and other demographic minorities. This definition refers to representative rather than direct democracy, reflecting that all existing democratic societies are representative. While we use both constitutional democracy and democracy in this report, we recognize these as synonyms to other terms in common usage in the United States, including “republic” and “democratic republic”...
The bulk of the table of contents:

Within the six strategic categories are 31 specific proposed tactical initiatives, a number of which seem to me to be a heavy lift—all reasonably warranted nonetheless. Make up your own minds.

apropos, see my prior

"ocracies," "archies," and "isms"


Obtuse, or just cut-to-the-chase succinct?

Think about it. Goes well beyond "race." Shouldn't exactly come as "news." Uhhh... Aristotle, anyone?

I totally include my own obligation in the inferential admonition.

More to come...