Sunday Reading

by zunguzungu

On a trip to an emergency room in Fresno,

It became clear to me that as a matter of policy, the hospital was coping with a large number of local patients using its ER for ordinary medical care by passive-aggressive neglect. Unless you walked in with an immediately and obviously life-threatening condition, time would be your triage, not a medical professional. If you could endure waiting eight to nine hours, that was proof that your condition was sufficiently serious that you might need urgent care. The staff there don’t spend much time working up a more nuanced picture on initial evaluation because they don’t want one. They don’t efficiently discard the cases of people who’ve left the facility because they’re stalling the remainder deliberately.

The basic problem faced by this hospital and many others is structurally serious and requires a strong nationally consistent solution. Given that one political party struggled to formulate a fussy, detail-strangled series of half-measures to address the problem and the other party apparently thinks there isn’t any issue in the first place, I’m resigned to this situation happening again to me, my loved ones, my friends, my fellow citizens, for the rest of my life.

This is where we are at now. Decline is not something we need to fear or forestall, it has already happened. America is not in decline, it has declined. A nine-hour wait at a well-built, well-staffed, well-resourced medical center for treatment of a serious condition is decline. As a traveller seeking urgent care, I’ve been seen more quickly in similar facilities in both Africa and Europe.

Also on that subject, if you’re in a position to go and see Anna Deavere Smith’s one woman show, “Let Me Down Easy,” I highly recommend it. Really, really good.

An account of “Egypt’s coercive Leviathan,” written, you’ll notice, in the present tense:

If the Egyptian repressive apparatus were a country it would be more populous than Qatar (including non-citizens). Estimates of recent years put the Ministry of Interior’s personnel at 1.5 million, not including informants. Egypt’s top cop thus commands a staff almost four times as large as the Egyptian military. His resources are equally prodigious. While forty percent of Egyptians lived on less than $2 a day, the annual budget of Minister of Interior Habib Al Adly (1997-2011) had recently topped $1 billion and begun outpacing the army’s revenue stream.

This behemoth encapsulates the dreaded State Security Investigations Services (SSIS, now National Security Agency), a lightning rod for opposition no matter what it is named. Under police czar (and now convict) Al Adly, the moles and thugs of SSIS permeated political parties, syndicates, university life, and elections. Two other agencies also share the mission of domestic security. Thanks to Mubarak’s fears of rival officers, the SSIS steadily eclipsed Egypt’s Military Intelligence Directorate (MID), based in the Ministry of Defense. The MID, though, was never disbanded and it resurfaced to notoriety during the revolution. The MID also staffed the country’s premier security force, the General Intelligence Directorate (GID).

Known simply as the mukhabarat, the GID targeted dissidents inside Egypt and abroad, led for over half of Mubarak’s tenure by military intelligence veteran Omar Suleiman (1993-2011). Suleiman became the eminence grise of extraordinary renditions and was credited with defeating Egypt’s Islamic militants in the 1990s. His successor, still in place today, is another Mubarak military appointee, Murad Muwafi, previously governor of the destitute North Sinai. The public visage of Egypt’s coercive Leviathan is the three hundred thousand conscripts of Egypt’s Central Security Forces (CSF). In the 2000s the black garbed CSF corralled demonstrations with their plexiglass shields and primitive cudgels. Meanwhile, the muscle work of dispersing rallies often went to Al Adly’s plain clothed thugs (the infamous “bultagiya”).

The “Arab Spring” has slowed for all the wrong reasons. Is Palestine Next? And, the “Arab Spring” and hip-hop.

Via Ed — who is also worth reading — I was glad to learn about the guy who threw a no-hitter while high out of his gourd on acid:

On how to be a mensch:

PZ is a mensch because, in his space, he called out: his colleague, who is his friend, and is more famous and influential than he is. If you male-type people want to know what women want? This is it. We will of course tell you to be courteous, to follow the Decent Person’s Guide, to be respectful of boundaries and consent. But what women (and other people trying to battle against rape culture need *most* from men is that you be willing to tell your *friends* when they’re over the line.

It doesn’t matter how good your behavior is (or you think it is), if you aren’t willing to tell your friends when their behavior starts heading for not-so-nice. You don’t have to *fight* them, but you do need to exert social, friendly pressure. And you need to be aware that it doesn’t matter how great a guy seems when he’s with you, if a bunch of women think he’s a creep he’s not actually that great a guy.

Also, on that note, holy Jesus, Richard Dawkins is nuts.”Given that Islam is such an unmitigated evil, and looking at the map supplied by this Christian site…” is not an auspicious beginning, and it doesn’t improve.

Steampunk guitars:

Let’s all see this movie:

In the wake of the terrible job numbers last week, Rortybomb is even more essential reading than usual. On Obama’s Tip O’Neill goes to Reagan moment, on the Obama team’s embrace of Hooverism, on rents vs. profits in post-industrial economy, some graphs on the terrible job numbers, and on total hours worked.

I’ve been having a lot of fun watching British comedians dance on the News of the World’s grave. Steve Coogan and Hugh Grant. When Celebrities Attack!, the UK version.

When rape victims lie.

The “good” victim (the only kind that counts in the minds of many, many people) is attacked by someone she doesn’t know while dressed “modestly” and not under the influence of alcohol/drugs or engaged in “risky” behavior. She’s an upstanding citizen with no history of criminal activity, mental illness, or conduct outside the norms of mainstream society.

Thanks to prevailing rape mythology, many people also have very definite ideas about what happens before, during, and after a “real” rape. Real rape victims want no sexual contact of any kind with their attackers and make this crystal clear right from the start. When attacked, they don’t just say “No;” they scream, fight, yell for help, and/or try to escape. Ideally, the victim will duke it out with her attacker to such an extent that she is left with obvious physical injuries. After the rape, she will be visibly distraught and in tears, but this will not prevent her from reporting the attack right away. In the days and weeks following the assault, she will spend a lot of time in the shower and be too traumatized to appear to function normally.

Some rapes do indeed happen like that; most don’t. And the more a rape departs from this script, the harder it is for the victim to be believed and taken seriously. She didn’t fight or try to escape? She must’ve wanted it. She wasn’t crying or visibly upset right after the rape? She’s probably lying about being attacked. She was seen laughing and seemingly having a good time just days after being raped? It couldn’t have been that bad.

Rape victims know this. Realizing that many people won’t understand why you acted in a way that doesn’t fit their preconceived notions of “how rape victims act,” or worse, knowing that many people will automatically disbelieve you because of your background or even blame you for being attacked brings some rape victims to the conclusion that there’s only one way they’re going to see their rapist punished: lie.

Most of the lies rape victims tell revolve around their use of alcohol or drugs, their relationship to the perpetrator, their reason for being in the place the rape occurred, their behavior before/during/after the rape, or their background. Virtually all lies are told to make oneself appear more like the rape culture’s idea of the “good” or “worthy” victim and/or to make one’s assault more closely resemble the rape culture’s “real rape” script.

Frank Rich on Obama:

What haunts the Obama administration is what still haunts the country: the stunning lack of accountability for the greed and misdeeds that brought America to its gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression. There has been no legal, moral, or financial reckoning for the most powerful wrongdoers. Nor have there been meaningful reforms that might prevent a repeat catastrophe. Time may heal most wounds, but not these. Chronic unemployment remains a constant, painful reminder of the havoc inflicted on the bust’s innocent victims. As the ghost of Hamlet’s father might have it, America will be stalked by its foul and unresolved crimes until they “are burnt and purged away.”

After the 1929 crash, and thanks in part to the legendary Ferdinand Pecora’s fierce thirties Senate hearings, America gained a Securities and Exchange Commission, the Public Utility Holding Company Act, and the Glass-Steagall Act to forestall a rerun. After the savings-and-loan debacle of the eighties, some 800 miscreants went to jail. But those who ran the central financial institutions of our fiasco escaped culpability (as did most of the institutions). As the indefatigable Matt Taibbi has tabulated, law enforcement on Obama’s watch rounded up 393,000 illegal immigrants last year and zero bankers. The Justice Department’s bally­hooed Operation Broken Trust has broken still more trust by chasing mainly low-echelon, one-off Madoff wannabes. You almost have to feel sorry for the era’s designated Goldman scapegoat, 32-year-old flunky “Fabulous Fab” Fabrice Tourre, who may yet take the fall for everyone else. It’s as if the Watergate investigation were halted after the cops nabbed the nudniks who did the break-in.

And Matt Taibbi on Frank Rich on Obama.

Chris Hedges spent 15 years at the NYT, and responds to the “myth of the NY Times in documentary form” pretty much exactly like you might expect:

The documentary touches on, although without much background information, Judith Miller, the reporter turned stenographer for the Bush White House in the buildup to the Iraq War, and Jason Blair, the habitual liar who falsified and plagiarized stories. Miller and Blair—and I was working for the paper when each of these scandals occurred—were not, as the film implies, rogue reporters who beguiled their way into a trusting newsroom. They embodied the most serious institutional failures. A more sophisticated filmmaker like Fred Wiseman, who had asked the Times management several times if he could film a documentary in the newsroom and was turned down, would have known what to do with this material. Miller and Blair were given free rein by senior management because they exhibited the amorality that is prized by the management. They served only their own careers and those editors who could make those careers advance. They were grotesque prototypes, to be sure, but they exemplified the subservience to authority and abject careerism that poisons the institution.

Blair and Miller, whose behavior was reprehensible, were fired. But they were also scapegoats. They, and many at the paper, have no real moral compass. They know the rules imposed by the paper’s stylebook. They know what constitutes a “balanced” story. They know what the institution demands. They work hard. They have ingested the byzantine quirks and traditions of the paper. But they cannot finally make independent moral choices. The entire paper—I speak as someone who was there at the time—enthusiastically served as a propaganda machine for the impending invasion of Iraq. It was not only Miller.

From an interview with Stanford history professor Jack Rakove:

“In the 1780s Americans expressed confidence in their ability to devise new institutions of government as a supreme act of political wisdom, but today we are unable to imagine how we could ever improve upon what the framers did.”

To steal Eric Rauchway’s joke, Rakove has better footnotes, but Antonin Scalia has a vote on the Supreme Court. Also, Rakove’s podcast course on colonial and revolutionary American history is here; highly recommended.

Clay Shirky, on why we need the news room to be chaotic.

And how you can go to jail and lose your job, just for trying to cash a check while black. Which Thoreau calls

yet another example of how our system is set up to punish people for merely being suspected of a crime.  Actually being punished for whatever crime you committed is something of a crapshoot:  The system is so dependent on plea bargaining that their main interest is basically processing you rather than actually figuring out what you did and what an appropriate response is.  But even if you somehow persuade the system of your innocence–and even if you manage to do this very early in the process rather than after a long, long wait for a trial–you’re still in rough shape.  You’ve spent time in a nasty jail system, you’re probably giving a chunk of your bank account (if you have one) to a lawyer, your reputation is damaged, you probably suffered consequences at your job for being away from work, if you spent a long time in jail your marriage or other relationships might be damaged.

Now, if a bank were to make a mistake like that in my case, I doubt I’d suffer as much as the guy in Radley’s post did.  For starters, I have white skin, and that matters (at least up to a point) in the criminal “justice” system.  I have friends and family with enough money to post bail, so I doubt I’d be in jail for more than a day.  I have a fairly flexible job, so I’d probably still be employed when I got out of jail (although who knows what the bureaucracy might do if the word “arrested” shows up next to my name?).  Still, it wouldn’t be pleasant.  And, having examined my advantages, it’s worth noting that the guy in the story is at least a home owner who had (prior to his arrest) a job.  Now imagine a person with fewer advantages than that, perhaps even a guy who has some very bad habits and some troubles in his life.  Being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit would just make it even harder to ever get to a more positive situation.


We tend to be patronizing about the poor in a very specific sense, which is that we tend to think, ‘Why don’t they take more responsibility for their lives?’ And what we are forgetting is that the richer you are the less responsibility you need to take for your own life because everything is taken care for you. And the poorer you are the more you have to be responsible for everything about your life….Stop berating people for not being responsible and start to think of ways instead of providing the poor with the luxury that we all have, which is that a lot of decisions are taken for us. If we do nothing, we are on the right track. For most of the poor, if they do nothing, they are on the wrong track.

South Sudan, in pictures, via Jodi.

The disappearing black middle class:

In 2004, the median net worth of white households was $134,280, compared with $13,450 for black households, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by the Economic Policy Institute. By 2009, the median net worth for white households had fallen 24 percent to $97,860; the median net worth for black households had fallen 83 percent to $2,170, according to the institute.