Sunday Reading and Viewing

by zunguzungu

If you live in New York, Washington, or Nashville, please go and see The Last Mountain right now! (If you don’t live in those cities, it’s coming soon, so here’s a list of openings). The “critics picks” review in the NYT.

Cairo street art after the revolution. This one is my favorite:

An index of street art in Cairo, also via the great @techsoc.

Pankaj Mishra on how “In India and Israel, the burden of protest falls on the victims of injustice”

On the ways “an attack on Iran will end Israel as we know it.

A pile of bison skulls:

That’s from a fascinating set of pictures at retronaut; also see a history of blank and missing things.

The Alabama legislature’s anti-immigrant legislation is worse than Arizona’s.

Guess what? Global warming continues to be real and really bad! Also, an interactive history of climate change science.

“I probably shouldn’t be as annoyed as I am by Nussbaum’s bad prose and inability to say anything interesting or original.”

On the bad science behind the claim that AIDS came from Haiti.

A beautiful exhibition of aboriginal art.

Selections from V.S. Naipaul’s Yelp account.

A great response to Scalia from two inmates of California penitentiaries:

It was disheartening to read Justice Scalia, in his dissent, describe the case as one “whose proper outcome is so clearly indicated by tradition and common sense, that the decision ought to be shaped by the law, rather than vice versa.”

Justice Scalia’s respect for the requirements of the law apparently stops when convicted felons are the litigants. While he calls for common sense, he ignores the expert testimony, which led to the finding that prisoner release was necessary. He implies that 46,000 prisoners will be released en masse, and indiscriminately. At the time the opinion was issued, the prison population had already undergone a reduction of 9,000 inmates.

The reality is that the releases will not be en masse and the figure will be much lower. Relatively few prisoners serve their entire sentences due to the availability of good-time credits, which provide for reduction in the time served. The state has great discretion to select those inmates whose early release presents a minimal risk to public safety. Many of those prisoners who are serving time for technical parole violations will be diverted to community-based programs.

Justice Scalia also claims, without proof, that “Most of them will not be prisoners with medical conditions or severe mental illness; and many will undoubtedly be fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym.”

Justice Scalia ignores the reality that gyms have been used to house prisoners for many years, which is part of the problem brought on by overcrowding. Overcrowding and lockdowns compromise the immune systems of prisoners due to a lack of fresh air and exercise. The lack of sanitary conditions in these gyms exacerbates the spread of disease. Weights have not been available in California prisons for more than a decade.

While Justice Scalia’s criticism of the majority decision is trenchant and beautifully written, it is based on a false notion of the conditions in prison and blindness to the consequences of subjecting men to inhumane treatment for more than a decade. Justice Scalia ignores the sad reality that many of those who suffer from mental or physical disabilities lack the ability or means to bring complaints to federal court, especially given the difficult obstacles placed by Congress and the Court to prisoner lawsuits in recent years.

Photography in California prisons:

Rortybomb on the freedom to quit.

When I was younger I learned of a friend-of-a-friend who hated her job. She was sexually harassed by her boss and had to deal with co-workers who created a very hostile workplace for her. While working there she developed some pretty severe health problems, and thus also had a “job lock” issue. She couldn’t quit her job and find a new one without losing access to crucial health care services she needed to survive.

I hate to admit that randomly getting assigned to team Healthy White Dude at birth put me at a place where the younger me thought “that couldn’t happen” until, thinking about it for a second, I realized that of course that happens, and happens every day. Realizing this, I then thought that the job lock of health insurance could create the conditions for a private form of tyranny.  Things like moving health care away from employers and towards governments while blocking preexisting conditions from killing access to health care went beyond an important part of human flourishing to the point where it functions as a check on the abuses that can take place in the private labor market.

Remember that the ability to quit your job is what is doing the work in the example above. One doesn’t have to be a strict proponent of game theory to understand that if your boss understands you can quit and find another job easily, he or she is more likely to create a respectful job atmosphere. And if your boss understands you are locked, they are much more likely to create an environment where domination is the norm. And what makes it easier to quit your job? Full employment.

And via Mike, Dara Lind on how a broken immigration system normalizes mass detention and erodes Fourth Amendment rights.

Mohammad Hanif on “Pakistan’s General Problem”:

[T]here is consensus on one point: General Zia’s coup was a bad idea. When was the last time anyone heard Nawaz Sharif or any of Zia’s numerous protégés thump their chest and say, yes, we need another Zia? When did you see a Pakistan military commander who stood on Zia’s grave and vowed to continue his mission? It might have taken Pakistanis 34 years to reach this consensus but we finally agree that General Zia’s domestic and foreign policies didn’t do us any good. It brought us automatic weapons, heroin and sectarianism; it also made fortunes for those who dealt in these commodities. And it turned Pakistan into an international jihadi tourist resort.

And yet, somehow, without ever publicly owning up to it, the Army has continued Zia’s mission. Successive Army commanders, despite their access to vast libraries and regular strategic reviews, have never actually acknowledged that the multinational, multicultural jihadi project they started during the Zia era was a mistake. Late Dr Eqbal Ahmed, the Pakistani teacher and activist, once said that the Pakistan Army is brilliant at collecting information but its ability to analyse this information is non-existent. Looking back at the Zia years, the Pakistan Army seems like one of those mythical monsters that chops off its own head but then grows an identical one and continues on the only course it knows.

Junot Diaz is quotable:

“It’s okay for me to be a Dominican writer, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t write about fucking werewolves.”

Sherman Alexie on why the best children’s books are written in blood.

Feminist revisionist graffiti.

FIFA sucks:

On Sunday, moments before Iran’s women’s team was due to take to the pitch and play in an Olympic qualifier against Jordan, the team was disqualified for wearing their traditional full-body tracksuits and hijabs. Jordan was granted a 3-0-forfeit victory, crushing the lauded Iranian team’s chances to go to the 2012 London Games.

As the Iranian players and officials tearfully objected, they were told that they had violated FIFA rules stating that: “Players and officials shall not display political, religious, commercial or personal messages or slogans in any language or form on their playing or team kits.” The team was also informed that since 2007 FIFA has
held the view that wearing a hijab while playing “could cause choking injuries”.

There are two problems with this argument. The first is that it’s asinine. “Hijab soccer choking deaths,” doesn’t exactly send the Google search engine a-humming. But far more problematic is that the team had already received assurances from FIFA that the uniforms were in compliance. They had even played preliminary rounds without a blip from Blatter.

“ten other possible policies we could’ve paid for at the same $2.5 trillion price of the Bush tax cuts”

  • Give 122.7 Million Children Low-Income Health Care Every Year For Ten Years
  • Give 49.2 Million People Access To Low-Income Healthcare Every Year For Ten Years
  • Provide 43.1 Million Students With Pell Grants Worth $5,500 Every Year For Ten Years
  • Provide 31.5 Million Head Start Slots For Children Every Year For Ten Years
  • Provide VA Care For 30.7 Million Military Veterans Every Year For Ten Years
  • Provide 30.4 Million Scholarships For University Students Every Year For Ten Years
  • Hire 4.19 Million Firefighters Every Year For Ten Years
  • Hire 3.67 Million Elementary School Teachers Every Year For Ten Years
  • Hire 3.6 Million Police Officers Every Year For Ten Years
  • Retrofit 144.6 Million Households For Wind Power Every Year For Ten Years
  • Retrofit 54.2 Million Households For Solar Photovoltaic Energy Every Year For Ten Years
  • On the ways WSJ and Al-Jazeera’s whistleblower programs are unreliable.

Tom Bissell’s very long essay on the video game LA Noire.

“One of the most remarkable effects of American-led globalization” might be exporting madness:

We have for many years been busily engaged in a grand project of Americanizing the world’s understanding of mental health and illness. We may indeed be far along in homogenizing the way the world goes mad.

This unnerving possibility springs from recent research by a loose group of anthropologists and cross-cultural psychiatrists. Swimming against the biomedical currents of the time, they have argued that mental illnesses are not discrete entities like the polio virus with their own natural histories. These researchers have amassed an impressive body of evidence suggesting that mental illnesses have never been the same the world over (either in prevalence or in form) but are inevitably sparked and shaped by the ethos of particular times and places. In some Southeast Asian cultures, men have been known to experience what is called amok, an episode of murderous rage followed by amnesia; men in the region also suffer from koro, which is characterized by the debilitating certainty that their genitals are retracting into their bodies. Across the fertile crescent of the Middle East there is zar, a condition related to spirit-possession beliefs that brings forth dissociative episodes of laughing, shouting and singing.

The diversity that can be found across cultures can be seen across time as well. In his book “Mad Travelers,” the philosopher Ian Hacking documents the fleeting appearance in the 1890s of a fugue state in which European men would walk in a trance for hundreds of miles with no knowledge of their identities. The hysterical-leg paralysis that afflicted thousands of middle-class women in the late 19th century not only gives us a visceral understanding of the restrictions set on women’s social roles at the time but can also be seen from this distance as a social role itself — the troubled unconscious minds of a certain class of women speaking the idiom of distress of their time.

For more than a generation now, we in the West have aggressively spread our modern knowledge of mental illness around the world. We have done this in the name of science, believing that our approaches reveal the biological basis of psychic suffering and dispel prescientific myths and harmful stigma. There is now good evidence to suggest that in the process of teaching the rest of the world to think like us, we’ve been exporting our Western “symptom repertoire” as well. That is, we’ve been changing not only the treatments but also the expression of mental illness in other cultures. Indeed, a handful of mental-health disorders — depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia among them — now appear to be spreading across cultures with the speed of contagious diseases. These symptom clusters are becoming the lingua franca of human suffering, replacing indigenous forms of mental illness.

On the New College of the Humanities. Also see Terry Eagleton on “why should anyone be surprised at the prospect of academics signing on for a cushy job at 25% more than the average university salary, with shares in the enterprise to boot?”

What would prevent most of us from doing so is the nausea which wells to the throat at the thought of this disgustingly elitist outfit. British universities, plundered of resources by the bankers and financiers they educated, are not best served by a bunch of prima donnas jumping ship and creaming off the bright and loaded. It is as though a group of medics in a hard-pressed public hospital were to down scalpels and slink off to start a lucrative private clinic. Grayling and his friends are taking advantage of a crumbling university system to rake off money from the rich. As such, they are betraying all those academics who have been fighting the cuts for the sake of their students.

If a system of US-type private liberal arts colleges like this one gains ground in Britain, the result will be to relegate an already impoverished state university system to second-class status. So far, British society has held the view that the education of doctors, teachers, social workers and so on is too momentous a matter to be left to the vagaries of the profit motive. This is why though there are already one or two private universities in the country, nobody has a clue where they are. This new college, however, could be the thin end of an ugly wedge. Why should Grayling, Dawkins and their chums care about that, though, when they will be drawing down mega-salaries for what is reported to be an extremely modest amount of lecturing?

Well then:

Intent on “sending a message to our maker and letting him hear our message,” Glenn Beck is holding a Restoring Courage rally in Jerusalem on Aug. 20 to prove to God that Americans “will not stand by and watch a whole race of people be called vermin.” Inspired by “the important” and “constructive” idea, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) declared he will attend the rally.

On why some students perceive political bias in the classroom:

Darren L. Linvill, the study’s author and director of basic courses in the department of communication studies at Clemson University, said that while his research (including interviews with the students claiming bias) found no evidence of real bias, the findings about perception should be of concern to faculty members.

Many faculty members — himself included, Linvill noted — play devil’s advocate to many students, expressing a range of views. This time-tested classroom technique, he said, may not work with students who arrive in class determined not to hear new ideas. Linvill said that there may be elite colleges and universities where students arrive as freshmen used to having their views challenged by teachers, and that might still be “an ideal.” But he said that the reality he sees from his research is that this is a foreign concept to many entering college students today.

From Gerry, 10 unmade Star Trek projects that didn’t quite get off the ground. Toshira Mifune as a Klingon gets my vote.

via @subabat, on how Priest doesn’t half-ass the racism.

When ethnic ambiguity becomes a privilege.

What WikiLeaks has revealed about the US in Haiti.

The chain of volcano eruptions in Chile is not something for which words are especially adequate.

You will never be able to un-see this image of fractal Tom Selleck:

Some of the ways netflix is changing.

Academics getting tired of writing for no money.

The poetry of Barry Obama.

The look a male politician has to make when they get busted for sexual misdeeds:

Florida homeowner forecloses on Bank of America.

Daniel Ellsberg:

“Richard Nixon, if he were alive today, might take bittersweet satisfaction to know that he was not the last smart president to prolong unjustifiably a senseless, unwinnable war, at great cost in human life. (And his aide Henry Kissinger was not the last American official to win an undeserved Nobel Peace Prize.)

He would probably also feel vindicated (and envious) that ALL the crimes he committed against me–which forced his resignation facing impeachment–are now legal.

Now that the mission is accomplished, time to ramp up our efforts:

At his Thursday confirmation hearing to become secretary of defense, CIA Director Panetta made a broad case for expanding the U.S.’ already extensive shadow wars. Now that bin Laden is dead, “we’ve got to keep the pressure up,” Panetta urged senators. Expect a lot of drone strikes and a lot of special ops raids — some conducted by future CIA Director David Petraeus. In a lot of places.

Panetta said he wants to hit al-Qaida’s “nodes” from Pakistan to North Africa, “develop[ing] operations in each of those areas,” so terrorists have “no place to escape.” That means working with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the elite commandos that executed the raid on bin Laden’s Abbotabad compound. And Panetta has some specific ideas about how that should work.

Anonymous graffiti artist bringsthe truth:

Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance as fugue (via Ebert):

From Ed at Settler Colonial Studies:


David Barton claims that the Founders were anti-Darwin before Darwin was born.

Ezra Klein on how government works with health care.

Other link roundups: Gerry Canava in general, Mike Konczal‘s Friday links, Sahelblog’s Africa blog roundup and news roundup, Illuminations on movie stuff.