Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age Of Colorblindness, gives a great interview on NPR's Fresh Air:
[T]he system of mass incarceration was born of racial opportunism. It was born of a desire by politicians to exploit our nation's racial divisions and anxieties for political gain. When politicians began, you know, rallying around the get tough bandwagon it was an effort to appeal to the racial anxieties, stereotypes and resentments of poor and working-class whites.Last year on MLK Day, Frank Pasquale wrote a great post on Alexander's book that should be read alongside Alexander's interview.
[The] War On Drugs was, in fact, an effort to make good on those campaign promises to get tough on a group of people not-so-subtly defined as black or brown. But that doesn't mean that everyone involved in the drug war or all those politicians who have ever supported harsh tactics were racist in the old Jim Crow sense. But it's critical for us to remember that many people, even during the old Jim Crow, who voted for segregation laws voted for literacy tests and poll taxes and all of that, weren't hostile bigoted people who would gleefully watch a black man hanging from a tree in a lynching. Many of them were good people. Martin Luther King Jr. in his speeches would often remind his audiences that most folks who support Jim Crow aren't evil, bad people, they're just deeply misguided. They're blind — spiritually blind — to the harms of the policies that they support. And I think the same thing can be said today: many people of good will are blind to the harms of mass incarceration and the devastation that the War On Drugs has caused.
We need to see, understand the ways in which the system has harmed all of us, but especially folks who are trapped in ghettos and cycling in and out of prisons and jails in their families. The system has harmed all of us — not in identical ways, but has harmed all of us nonetheless. And most importantly, it has damaged our ability to see our fates as linked; to see the fates of poor and working-class whites as linked to the fates of poor folks of color, so that it is possible to build a meaningful alliances for quality jobs, quality education, quality health care for all.
Dismantling the system of mass incarceration is going to require connecting the dots between forms of discrimination that harm Latinos — who have become really the new Boogey Man in in recent election cycles, and we now have a prison building boom aimed at suspected illegal immigrants — with the fate of African-Americans, as well as with the fate of poor whites living in rural communities, where they believe their only hope for a good job may be working in a prison. So this movement absolutely must be broad enough to encompass the quest for basic human rights: the right to work, the right to a quality education, the right to quality health care for all, no matter who you are or what mistakes you have made in the past.
Let's not forget that MLK was a true radical who was calling for revolution:
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin...we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood -- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on."
We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message -- of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.
GWU law professor Jonathan Turley offers up a Top 10 list on why America is no longer the land of the free:
While each new national security power Washington has embraced was controversial when enacted, they are often discussed in isolation. But they don’t operate in isolation. They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian. Americans often proclaim our nation as a symbol of freedom to the world while dismissing nations such as Cuba and China as categorically unfree. Yet, objectively, we may be only half right. Those countries do lack basic individual rights such as due process, placing them outside any reasonable definition of “free,” but the United States now has much more in common with such regimes than anyone may like to admit.
These countries also have constitutions that purport to guarantee freedoms and rights. But their governments have broad discretion in denying those rights and few real avenues for challenges by citizens — precisely the problem with the new laws in this country.
The list of powers acquired by the U.S. government since 9/11 puts us in rather troubling company.
These new laws have come with an infusion of money into an expanded security system on the state and federal levels, including more public surveillance cameras, tens of thousands of security personnel and a massive expansion of a terrorist-chasing bureaucracy.
Some politicians shrug and say these increased powers are merely a response to the times we live in. Thus, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could declare in an interview last spring without objection that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.” Of course, terrorism will never “surrender” and end this particular “war.”
Other politicians rationalize that, while such powers may exist, it really comes down to how they are used. This is a common response by liberals who cannot bring themselves to denounce Obama as they did Bush. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for instance, has insisted that Congress is not making any decision on indefinite detention: “That is a decision which we leave where it belongs — in the executive branch.”
And in a signing statement with the defense authorization bill, Obama said he does not intend to use the latest power to indefinitely imprison citizens. Yet, he still accepted the power as a sort of regretful autocrat.
An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them. If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will.
The framers lived under autocratic rule and understood this danger better than we do. James Madison famously warned that we needed a system that did not depend on the good intentions or motivations of our rulers: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
Benjamin Franklin was more direct. In 1787, a Mrs. Powel confronted Franklin after the signing of the Constitution and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” His response was a bit chilling: “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”
Since 9/11, we have created the very government the framers feared: a government with sweeping and largely unchecked powers resting on the hope that they will be used wisely.
The indefinite-detention provision in the defense authorization bill seemed to many civil libertarians like a betrayal by Obama. While the president had promised to veto the law over that provision, Levin, a sponsor of the bill, disclosed on the Senate floor that it was in fact the White House that approved the removal of any exception for citizens from indefinite detention.
Dishonesty from politicians is nothing new for Americans. The real question is whether we are lying to ourselves when we call this country the land of the free.
Damn evolutionary psychologists and their ilk are at it again, trying to label everything as some sort of adaptation:
Depression has come in for particular scrutiny. Some evolutionary psychologists think this painful and often disabling disease conceals something positive. Most of us who treat patients vehemently disagree.
Under close scrutiny, the case for depression’s adaptive benefits has problems — big ones. For one thing, the ruminative thinking of depression is often not particularly effective in solving problems. As another patient of mine once said: “I would think the same things over and over and could never decide what to do. It’s not a creative way of thinking.”
More critically, depression can arise without any psychosocial stressor at all, which makes it hard to argue that depression is a response to a difficult situation or problem. Dr. David J. Kupfer, a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh, has found that a major life stressor almost always precedes a first episode of depression, but that episodes recur with milder stressors, or even none at all.
If depression conferred a problem-solving benefit, it should not become a chronic or autonomous condition — which it is for about half the patients.
According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability and the fourth leading contributor to the global burden of disease, projected to reach second place by 2020. There is also strong evidence that it is an independent risk factor for heart disease, and several studies show that prolonged depression is associated with selective and possibly permanent damage to the hippocampus, a region of the brain critical to memory and learning.
Add the fact that 2 percent to 12 percent of depressed people eventually commit suicide, and the “advantages” of depression suddenly don’t look so good.
What is natural, the thinking goes, is best. If we are designed to suffer depression in response to life’s ills, there must be a good reason for it, and we should allow it to take its painful and natural course.
But unlike ordinary sadness, the natural course of depression can be devastating and lethal. And while sadness is useful, clinical depression signals a failure to adapt to stress or loss, because it impairs a person’s ability to solve the very dilemmas that triggered it.
Even if depression is “natural” and evolved from an emotional state that might once have given us some advantage, that doesn’t make it any more desirable than other maladies. Nature offers us cancer, infections and heart disease, which we happily avoid and do our best to treat. Depression is no different.
Free scientific inquiry from the shackles of the for-profit publishing industry:
For centuries, this is how science has operated — through research done in private, then submitted to science and medical journals to be reviewed by peers and published for the benefit of other researchers and the public at large. But to many scientists, the longevity of that process is nothing to celebrate.Unfortunately, the article lumps together some very different publishers. Science, for instance, is published by the non-profit AAAS. And they are fairly inexpensive. Elsevier, on the other hand, adds no additional value to the publishing process than, say, Science or PNAS, but often cons libraries into paying an order of magnitude more for access to their journals. Meanwhile, Zikovic points to precisely what the problem is with for-profit publishers: like any corporation, their primary interest is to gain value for their shareholders; furthering the dissemination of knowledge is not what they're interested in. More people should be doing exactly what Scott Aronson is doing:
The system is hidebound, expensive and elitist, they say. Peer review can take months, journal subscriptions can be prohibitively costly, and a handful of gatekeepers limit the flow of information. It is an ideal system for sharing knowledge, said the quantum physicist Michael Nielsen, only “if you’re stuck with 17th-century technology.”
Dr. Nielsen and other advocates for “open science” say science can accomplish much more, much faster, in an environment of friction-free collaboration over the Internet. And despite a host of obstacles, including the skepticism of many established scientists, their ideas are gaining traction.
Changing the status quo — opening data, papers, research ideas and partial solutions to anyone and everyone — is still far more idea than reality. As the established journals argue, they provide a critical service that does not come cheap.
“I would love for it to be free,” said Alan Leshner, executive publisher of the journal Science, but “we have to cover the costs.” Those costs hover around $40 million a year to produce his nonprofit flagship journal, with its more than 25 editors and writers, sales and production staff, and offices in North America, Europe and Asia, not to mention print and distribution expenses. (Like other media organizations, Science has responded to the decline in advertising revenue by enhancing its Web offerings, and most of its growth comes from online subscriptions.)
Similarly, Nature employs a large editorial staff to manage the peer-review process and to select and polish “startling and new” papers for publication, said Dr. Clarke, its editor. And it costs money to screen for plagiarism and spot-check data “to make sure they haven’t been manipulated.”
Peer-reviewed open-access journals, like Nature Communications and PLoS One, charge their authors publication fees — $5,000 and $1,350, respectively — to defray their more modest expenses.
The largest journal publisher, Elsevier, whose products include The Lancet, Cell and the subscription-based online archive ScienceDirect, has drawn considerable criticism from open-access advocates and librarians, who are especially incensed by its support for the Research Works Act, introduced in Congress last month, which seeks to protect publishers’ rights by effectively restricting access to research papers and data.
In an Op-Ed article in The New York Times last week, Michael B. Eisen, a molecular biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a founder of the Public Library of Science, wrote that if the bill passes, “taxpayers who already paid for the research would have to pay again to read the results.”
In an e-mail interview, Alicia Wise, director of universal access at Elsevier, wrote that “professional curation and preservation of data is, like professional publishing, neither easy nor inexpensive.” And Tom Reller, a spokesman for Elsevier, commented on Dr. Eisen’s blog, “Government mandates that require private-sector information products to be made freely available undermine the industry’s ability to recoup these investments.”
Mr. Zivkovic, the ScienceOnline co-founder and a blog editor for Scientific American, which is owned by Nature, was somewhat sympathetic to the big journals’ plight. “They have shareholders,” he said. “They have to move the ship slowly.”
Still, he added: “Nature is not digging in. They know it’s happening. They’re preparing for it.”
Scott Aaronson, a quantum computing theorist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has refused to conduct peer review for or submit papers to commercial journals. “I got tired of giving free labor,” he said, to “these very rich for-profit companies.”
The NYTimes offers a brief primer in the differences between Mormonism and the rest of Christianity:
Mormons consider themselves Christians — as denoted in the church’s name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet the theological differences between Mormonism and traditional Christianity are so fundamental, experts in both say, that they encompass the very understanding of God and Jesus, what counts as Scripture and what happens when people die.
“Mormonism is a distinctive religion,” David Campbell, a Mormon and an associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in religion and politics. “It’s not the same as Presbyterianism or Methodism. But at the same time, there have been efforts on the part of the church to emphasize the commonality with other Christian faiths, and that’s a tricky balance to strike for the church.”
On the most fundamental issue, traditional Christians believe in the Trinity: that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all rolled into one.
Mormons reject this as a non-biblical creed that emerged in the fourth and fifth centuries. They believe that God the Father and Jesus are separate physical beings, and that God has a wife whom they call Heavenly Mother.
It is not only evangelical Christians who object to these ideas.
“That’s just not Christian,” said the Rev. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, a liberal Protestant seminary in New York City. “God and Jesus are not separate physical beings. That would be anathema. At the end of the day, all the other stuff doesn’t matter except the divinity of Jesus.”
The Mormon Church says that in the early 1800s, its first prophet, Joseph Smith, had revelations that restored Christianity to its true path, a course correction necessary because previous Christian churches had corrupted the faith. Smith bequeathed to his church volumes of revelations contained in scripture used only by Mormons: “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” “The Doctrine and Covenants” and “Pearl of Great Price.”
Traditional Christians do not recognize any of those as Scripture.
Another big sticking point concerns the afterlife. Early Mormon apostles gave talks asserting that human beings would become like gods and inherit their own planets — language now regularly held up to ridicule by critics of Mormonism.
But Kathleen Flake, a Mormon who is a professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt Divinity School, explained that the planets notion had been de-emphasized in modern times in favor of a less concrete explanation: people who die embark on an “eternal progression” that allows them “to partake in God’s glory.”
“Mormons think of God as a parent,” she said. “God makes the world in order to give that world to his children. It’s like sending your child to Harvard — God gives his children every possible opportunity to progress towards this higher life that God possesses. When Mormons say ‘Heavenly Father,’ they mean it. It’s not a metaphor.”
It is the blurring of the lines between God, Jesus and human beings that is hard for evangelicals to swallow, said Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., who has been involved in a dialogue group between evangelicals and Mormons for 12 years and has a deep understanding of theology as Mormons see it.
“Both Christians and Jews, on the basis of our common Scriptures, we’d all agree that God is God and we are not,” Mr. Mouw said. “There’s a huge ontological gap between the Creator and the creature. So any religious perspective that reduces that gap, you think, oh, wow, that could never be called Christian.”
Mormons tend to explain the doctrinal differences more gently. Lane Williams, a Mormon and a professor of communications at Brigham Young University-Idaho, a Mormon institution, said the way he understands it, “it’s not a ‘we’re right and they’re wrong’ kind of approach. But it’s as though we feel we have a broader circle of truth.
Mitt Romney loves for-profit colleges, especially when they help finance his campaign.
Oh, good. We're banning books in Arizona now.
And don't expect anything approaching justice when it comes to how immigrants are treated, either. (h/t Katelyn)
Roger Williams, free thought, and the separation of church and state.
Carl Zimmer on how a single-celled yeast turned into primitive multicellular snowflakes.
Gil Scott-Heron and the MLK Day holiday.
Joshua Bell: compare and contrast — delightful for us classical music nerds.
Stream the new record from Hold Steady lead singer Craig Finn.
Tom Waits. 1978. Pure awesome. Watch it:
Woo hoo! Another new one from Leonard Cohen, with the lyrics published as a poem in the New Yorker: