What I've been reading, featuring the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Hong Kong as a failed neoliberal experiment, and 'immigration as reparations'

I may never get over the role of weather and fuel capacity in the unintended atomic bombing of Nagasaki 74 years ago today. Nagasaki wasn’t even on the target list until a few days prior and apparently was only bombed because more conventional targets were inaccessible after a storm depleted the carrier’s fuel mid-flight. Blindly bombing Nagasakii was deemed preferable to squandering a billion-dollar nuclear weapon on the ocean. Mind-boggling to consider the influence of weather in history; recall that an article in the post from earlier today quoted then-General Eisenhower attributing the Allied victory on the Western Front victory to their superior meteorologists.

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What I've been reading, featuring sex workers' rights and "Dark Money" by Jane Mayer

Fantastic and (for me) eye-opening read on sex workers’ rights. The book being reviewed is “Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers’ Rights” by Molly Smith and Juno Mac, who are themselves sex workers. In my ignorance, I had always assumed the movement was one advocating simply for straightforward decriminalization as if such a thing existed.

Police described the [seven-month investigation in which they secretly installed cameras in massage rooms and made videos of the women as they gave handjobs to their customers] as an anti-trafficking operation, but no trafficking charges have been made. Four women who ran the massage parlors were arrested. Among other crimes, they were all charged with prostitution. All of them have spent more time in jail than any of the men they allegedly serviced.

…Prostitution laws primarily target women of color. Between 2012 and 2015, 85 percent of those booked in New York City under the dubious “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” charge—which encompasses such innocuous behaviors as wearing tight jeans and carrying condoms—were black and Latina women.

…For migrants, the consequences are even more dire: a single arrest may lead to their imprisonment or deportation. “When you are Black, [police] take the Black women and leave the white man,” says Tina, a Nigerian sex worker in Norway… Goaded on by Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, ICE began arresting immigrants at courthouses in 2017—and found an easy hunting ground in the [Human Trafficking Intervention Court] in Queens. Blowin’ Up captures the panic after three women are snatched and two likely deported back to China.

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What I've been reading, featuring our blindnesses, Tony Romo's vision, and Theranos' blind vision

When the suffrage movement sold out to white supremacy. This was my first time coming across the speech by suffragist and writer Frances Ellen Watkins Harper to the Eleventh National Women's Rights Convention in New York on May 1, 1866:

We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul. You tried that in the case of the negro. You pressed him down for two centuries; and in so doing you crippled the moral strength and paralyzed the spiritual energies of the white men of the country. When the hands of the black were fettered, white men were deprived of the liberty of speech and the freedom of the press. Society cannot afford to neglect the enlightenment of any class of its members.

…I do not believe that giving the woman the ballot is immediately going to cure all the ills of life. I do not believe that white women are dew-drops just exhaled from the skies. I think that like men they may be divided into three classes, the good, the bad, and the indifferent.

….Talk of giving women the ballot-box? Go on. It is a normal school, and the white women of this country need it. While there exists this brutal element in society which tramples upon the feeble and treads down the weak, I tell you that if there is any class of people who need to be lifted out of their airy nothings and selfishness, it is the white women of America.

I’m disheartened by the defensiveness of the NYT reader comments; there is value in the type of introspection these challenges evoke. This week, I was called out by a caring friend for what they considered half-hearted allyship and I tried to take it as an opportunity to step back and re-assess. I hope others have done the same when I worked up the same courage to share my pain with them. Critically revisiting our shortcomings and identifying our blind spots are the purposes of events like Black History Month (this month in the States) or LGBT month (this month here in the UK). Addressing ongoing struggles should be uncomfortable; let’s not sterilize and misremember the details for palatability and peace of mind. Sorry if this paragraph reads as trite, but I’ve been feeling this a lot lately and wouldn’t mind erring on the side of trite enunciation.

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What I've been reading, featuring carbon dividends, Robert Caro's research process, and a breakthrough in non-line-of-sight imaging

"The last four people to lead the Federal Reserve, 15 former leaders of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and 27 Nobel laureates signed a letter endorsing a gradually rising carbon tax whose proceeds would be distributed to consumers as ‘carbon dividends.’"

  • With an emphasis on bipartisanship, WSJ has the statement. If paywalled, see this Bloomberg link.

  • The consensus endorsement of a rising carbon tax is not new, but to me and at least one climate economist, the dividends part was a surprise (Tyler Cowen, for one, is skeptical). He also told me he and other prominent economists had intended to also endorse the letter, but the form would not allow anyone without an American postcode to co-sign.

  • Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R): “This is a turning point in Republican climate policy, where the GOP economic brain trust unites behind the Baker-Shultz carbon dividends plan.”

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What I've been reading, featuring les gilets jaunes, notes on trap music, and the revelation that was "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"

  • Notes on trap music by a Harvard professor of English and African-American Studies. I’m not convinced of all points, but don’t know enough to disagree. Quick selling point: it pairs quotes from WEB Du Bois with 21 Savage, Young Thug with bell hooks. It compares “Mask Off” to “A Raisin in the Sun”, Migos to Napoleon. Archive of the author’s cultural writing here (h/t Junho)

“Trap is a form of soft power that takes the resources of the black underclass (raw talent, charisma, endurance, persistence, improvisation, dexterity, adaptability, beauty) and uses them to change the attitudes, behaviors, and preferences of others, usually by making them admit they desire and admire those same things and will pay good money to share vicariously in even a collateral showering from below. This allows the trap artist to transition from an environment where raw hard power dominates and life is nasty, brutal, and short to the world of celebrity, the Valhalla of excess, lucre, influence, fame — the only transparently and sincerely valued site of belonging in our culture. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that insofar as you’re interested in having a good time, there’s probably never been a sound so perfectly suited to having every kind of fun disallowed in conservative America.”

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What I've been reading, featuring NK Jemisin inventing and changing worlds

Who did get into Oxford back then? A small group whose upholding of the old traditions of Englishness can no longer prepare a British Isles – made up of all its various peoples – for the forces of modernity. For our real place in the world, for the consequences of Empire.

This is the shrinking Kingdom of the English, who subjugated Wales and Scotland and Ireland. The biggest problem of elite cliques is myopia. The country is far more brittle and divided than they can see. They are the believers who still, somewhere, think that the map of the world is pink. But they forget their Classics lessons; what happens when an empire falls? With no one else to dominate, the establishment turns on its own people. We become subjects, not of the British Empire, but of the last dregs of the English upper classes. A report into undergraduate admissions earlier this year found that in 2017 Oxford admitted more pupils from Westminster School than black students, a glaring piece of evidence about how the knot is being tightened even more firmly around the bag of family silver.

I wonder now about all the other kids like me, the ones at odd angles, the queer and working class and black, or even just Northern, or Welsh, or provincial. This is not a place for them, however loudly they might be knocking on the door.

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