Author Archives: Lisa Schweitzer

About Lisa Schweitzer

Lisa Schweitzer is an associate professor at the Price School of Public Policy.

Do you “deserve” to display a rainbow on Facebook?

ATTENTION CONSERVATION NOTICE: Everybody wins when a political community moves towards justice, even if they don’t deserve to win. That’s one of the awesome things about justice.

It seems like I am chatting more about symbols here lately than cities, but I am sure I will return to my regular programming soon.

Rainbow icons on Facebook have been controversial. The first shot aimed at celebrating people was the “Har har, you dumb people who used the Fboo rainbow icon maker, you just gave your data to Fboo, you’re so dumb” entry. This one was so amusing because it so clearly reeked of “I want to poop on the victory party so bad I can’t stand it, but I don’t want to look like a homophobe, so I need to try to find a way to make you feel dumb and me feel smart on this particular thing.”

To anybody worried about this: if you don’t want Fboo and other online services to know about you, don’t use Fboo, period. Ever. Advertisers and business pages can find audiences based on data they collect. I do it all the time with advertising my nonprofit. Your data *everywhere* are monitored and sold if you use a Starbuck’s card, when you use a charge card, when your credit rating changes, when you step on a train platform, when you use your Ralph’s card. Fboo was fairly open about the natural experiment it was conducting, so to act like it’s some sort of new, sinister thing is a bit rich.

I did not happen to participate, not because I wasn’t happy to see all my friend’s celebrating a watershed moment in civil rights and social inclusion, but because I was too lazy to fiddle with my icon.

Peter Moskowitz has an opinion up on WashPo, scolding those displaying the flag because they haven’t given enough to the cause of gay pride to do so.

I don’t know Mr. Moskowitz’s writing in general. It says he’s writing a book on gentrification, which could be very nice, but I’ve not seen his prior writings. I will say that it looks more like Mr. Moskowitz is working through what I can only imagine are complicated feelings after the SCOTUS ruling and the subsequent celebrations, and he’s not done processing those feelings. (I wouldn’t be). The comments in response are unnecessarily harsh, even if I don’t think he’s right.

Here’s the first part where I think he goes a bit wrong:

I’ve earned the right to claim pride through years of internal strife over my sexuality. Others have died in the name of gay pride. More still have been jailed, have been disowned by their families, and have sued their state governments for it. Gay pride is not something you can claim by waving a flag. The rainbow symbol is easy to co-opt, but the experience it represents is not.

That’s why it wasn’t comforting to see hundreds of my Facebook friends’ profile pictures draped in rainbows. It didn’t feel like they were understanding my struggle; it felt like they were cheapening it, celebrating a victory they had no part in winning.

They had no part in winning? Whom are you friends with, Mr. Moskowitz? I guess a few people displaying the flag icon might be clueless enough to believe that they know the struggle, but I’m pretty sure the roughly 30 Fboo friends of mine who actually are openly homosexual, and who played with the icon maker, and are much, much older than Moskowitz (since they are my contemporaries) do know a bit about the struggle. Do they get to tell Moskowitz that he doesn’t know the struggle since he’s not as old and hasn’t been in it as long? (No. It is one thing to be an old soldier; you do have more experience, but it doesn’t mean that young people’s struggles are not real and important, and you may or may not understand more. It’s not the age, honey, it’s the mileage.)

And, while many of your friends and family do not know your struggle because they didn’t experience it personally, weren’t many of your friends there for you during your struggles? If they weren’t, why are they your friends? And isn’t being there for you as friends something that matters, at least a little to you? Gay devotees of Ayn Rand here notwithstanding, we’re not even talking about allyship or active participation. We’re just talking about how people are part of your struggle, personally, not just politically, some good, and some bad.

Not all of them were supportive:

Some of the rainbow-colored faces were people I would never talk to about being gay – a relative with conservative politics, high school buddies I didn’t come out to because I feared losing their friendships. They weren’t necessarily homophobic, but they weren’t great allies either. They didn’t march during pride celebrations; they didn’t participate in the “day of silence”; they didn’t even bother to inquire about my life. If they were true allies to me or the LGBT community, where were they before Friday?

They might have been ignorant twats before Friday. They might just be bandwagon jumpers who still secretly think you are going to burn in hell.

But while they might not be hall of fame members in being supportive, the display of that symbol on their wall strongly suggests that they learned and changed, at least a little, in the vast social learning project that struggles for emancipation are. This is what political success looks like, to some degree; those who were your enemies and oppressors finally get it.

It’s also a little short-sighted to simply discount displaying the symbol as empty. One battle was won, but struggles go on. And on. Did you not read the dissents? Holy cow, there is puh-lenty of hate left.

Chances are very, very good that these conservatives who displayed the rainbow are, themselves, ensconced in social networks with people who are furious at the court’s ruling and who hate that rainbow and what it stands for. I know I have people in my extended network on Fboo for whom that rainbow is an anathema. I’m sure that I am not the only person for whom that is true. It is wrong to think that everybody can now just display the rainbow icon on their walls with no risk or consequence to themselves in an empty gesture. No, it’s not the same as taking tear gas in the face. But it is a social risk; plenty of relationships have been damaged by Fboo politics. IOW, the conservatives who put the rainbow icon up probably took a much, much bigger social risk doing so in their probable networks than those of us who are ensconced in networks dominated by lefties, allies, and openly LGBTQ folks.

So while you may not respect their past actions, this action might be braver and bigger than you think it is. Just like they are likely outliers in your network, you are an outlier in theirs, and the fact that they are willing to annoy/alienate/provoke the people in their network who make Scalia look like Saul Alinsky strikes me as a bigger deal than we allow.

Moskowitz personally has no obligation to forgive these people in his network, but just because it took them awhile to see justice does not make the fact that they see it now irrelevant or meaningless. It means that people can change their ideas, and that is important to the justice project in a democracy even if it sucks that they took as long as they did to figure things out and even if you, personally, can not forgive them for their wrongs. Even if you can’t, having them on board is important to sustaining civil rights and social inclusion.

Politicians were guilty, too. President Obama’s Facebook and Twitter pages displayed “Love Wins” messages on the day of the Supreme Court ruling, even though the president was against same-sex marriage until a few years ago (at least publicly). And Hillary Clinton’s Facebook page was awash in rainbow-themed regalia on Friday, her 2016 presidential campaign “H” logo overlain with the pride rainbow. Left unsaid on her Facebook page was the fact that she actively advocated against same-sex marriage until two years ago.

Yep, it took them a long time to figure it out. However, in fairness to Obama, he revealed his reversal on marriage equality in a highly public way, in the middle of what was, in reality, a tough re-election campaign. I fully expected him to stay quiet about it, as Obama is not somebody who takes big political risks when he doesn’t have to. Instead, he acknowledged that he had been on the wrong side of this issue for years. It was a significant moment of political leadership, not a bandwagon jump, and it could have cost him the election. Instead, the timing was right and it signaled a sea change in the way people think about same-sex marriage. He did what a leader should do: he set the tone. He should have known better sooner, but the fact that he changed his mind, owned up to it, and leant his support mattered.

When your political community’s top gun joins your side, it matters. Even if he should have done so sooner.

Moskowitz has every right to be dubious of politicians who only recently woke up, but the fact that they showed their support now instead of then doesn’t invalidate their support now. What is the point of advocacy if not to induce exactly this sort of change of heart and mind among democratic and social majorities? All the sacrifices that Moskawitz outlines as the struggle: the violence, the job and family losses, the wrongs big and small…people experience these genuine sacrifices and struggles precisely because they want to be both who they are and yet included as fully human and recognized as part of the political whole. The only way the latter occurs if those who were wrong see right and take it to heart.

In an ideal world, majorities and elites would understand the powers they hold and educate their own ignorant selves, and advocacy would center on interests, not inclusion. Unfortunately, in the real world, people have to be shown, and somebody has to do the work of educating. It is not fair. But when it works, when somebody has undertaken that work and succeeds, it is a good thing, notwithstanding.

My interpretation, based on the people in my group who used it, is that the straight people used the icon to say: “Hey! You won this one! I am happy! Congratulations!” and the gays who displayed it were saying “Hey! We won this one! I’m happy!”

The key issue here is “we” and “you.” We as a political community won when SCOTUS ruled the way it did, just as the LGBTQ community won. There are undoubtedly those who wish the conventions and traditions of their religion guided the laws and practices of the United States who think this is a great loss, and I am sorry about that, but those of us who hold the the disestablishment clause to be one of the most significant advances in human civilization don’t really owe them any more than a “sorry you feel that way.”

Of all the gestures that occurred, the one that I think bothered my conservative friends the most was the White House rainbow. It is a little mystifying to those of us who are default pragmatists: it’s not like they went to Sherwin Williams and painted it on. We’re squabbling about light bulbs here. Of all those who complained to me about the White House gesture, I could never really get a strong argument for what the big deal was or why it was so offensive to them. “I just think that was going too far” was the rationale, not more. Too far? With light bulbs? Thus is the nature of symbols. They are hard to explain, but they are felt viscerally.

Rainbows over the past week were show of political unity. Some of us are not ready for that unity. Moskowitz is not because he still feels the pain that injustices have wrought, and for him the rainbow is about identity that has not been shared. Religious dissenters and conservatives are not ready because they are not ready for the toleration that political unity under pluralist practice requires.

There is a lot of work that remains, but that rainbow meme is only an empty gesture if we allow it to be. what that rainbow stands for is way bigger than you and what you may or may not have done in the past. What matters now is whether you sustain and support inclusion and equality, or whether the icon was a one and done deal for you, nothing more.

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How to remember Confederate soldiers in South Carolina and elsewhere?

Bill Kristol got conservatives all excited yesterday on Twitter with complaining that

Bill Kristol just made the world s least compelling slippery slope argument Vox

I get that it is Kristol’s metier to keep reminding conservatives of the Great Enemy, lefties. But this logic is a problem, Iglesias is right. slippery slope arguments are always easy to refute, but I swear sometimes Kristol can’t leave slippery slope arguments alone, a little like me and M & M’s.

Why are slippery slope arguments a logical fallacy? There are many reasons, but here are a few.

1) They apply the logic of legal precedent to contexts and decisions where there is absolutely no reason to believe that the decision in question would necessarily apply to other contexts/decisions or serve as a standard for decision-making later;

2) They assume that, somehow, the status quo is desirable or some sort of local optimum where the only direction is down; and

3) The slope goes in only one direction.

And, of course, it doesn’t. So to slip back on the slope that Kristol has us on, we can take several directions. One is that if we retain the flag, people like Kristol won’t be happy until the Confederate mission is complete and slavery reinstated.

Wham! Ouch. See how easy it is?

Or, if people like Kristol get their way, we’ll have to reinstate all flags of failed nation-states, like the Soviets and the Franks because taking down any flag, no matter how anachronistic, discounts the bravery of those who fought under it.

So slippery slopes don’t really help us make useful arguments either for keeping or getting rid of the flag. (If we get rid of it, racism will magically disappear; the slope can be positive, too, but we have no reason to assume it.)

Now, slipperly slope arguments are useful in one regard: they construct future possible imaginaries, not unlike planning. It’s an envisioning exercise, and like lots of ways of envisioning, it can a) be anything you want, a nightmare or a dream or b) a way of trying to suss consequences. Both can be useful.

All that said, for the record, I think that flag should come down. It’s been costly to the business community of South Carolina due to boycotts, and after a tragedy in South Carolina, it divided people rather than uniting them when they needed to mourn. A goodly number of contemporary South Carolina residents wince when they see it. That’s not an effective political symbol.

Kristen has a point, though, and that is: how do we remember soldiers who fell? We can’t just decide they aren’t Americans, or that they aren’t important to their descendants, who are currently Americans. It’s neither inclusive or realistic to treat them the same as fallen Japanese or German soldiers. Confederate soldiers were a part of the US, who for a time took up arms against it in support of continuing reprehensible practices. Cherrypicking the states’ rights part or the bravery part, and fetishizing them, no matter how loudly one does it, is not going to get people to forget the “slavery” part. And they shouldn’t. But it is not as though these veterans do not matter to us or are not a part of our history. The symbolic, cultural, and political concern is not inconsequential, and that part of Kristol’s problem should be taken seriously.

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a look at the notebooks

In a valiant effort to actually avoid working on the book which seems to be ruining my life at the moment, I actually cleaned. I know. One bad habit of mine is just putting used up notebooks in with new notebooks. So the other day, I went through and separated wheat from chaff.

I found a bunch of my notebooks from Virginia. This one had a little picture of the Washington monument I sketched while sitting in the sunshine, avoiding a meeting no doubt.

UrbanSketchbook 1 page

And I found one of my dissertation notebooks.

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You guys! It’s been 11 years! I had so much fun writing that. Seeing that just made me smile. It’s not a very good dissertation, but it did the trick.

I have no idea what I was doing here. Just doodling probably. It’s all just process, and it doesn’t matter, but it does, so long as it helps me get where I am are going.

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Monday musings–beware, navel gazing ahead

This weekend was lovely, but I got precious little actual thinking done. I’ve been reading through Bernard Yack’s excellent The Problems of A Political Animal, and it’s slow going not because of the writing–it’s good prose by any standards, let alone scholars’–but because there is so much there I need to note for one of my own chapters. As a result, the read is taking me some time, and I’m having trouble getting myself to sit down with it because of that work, and we all know how I feel about work. And that’s too bad because it’s been a good reading experience otherwise, full of moments where Yack helps me trust my own judgments on Aristotle’s ideas and how they hang together. I’ve read a lot of today’s civic friendship and communitarian scholarship, and while can respect the difficulty of trying to make the case that “we are all in this shit together” when faced with contemporary neoliberalism, I’ve always had a grumpy sense that either much contemporary civic friendship reads Aristotle wrongly, or I did all those years ago. Yack has me nodding my head a lot in his way of confronting what I would call misinterpretations were I more confident.

I also spend a goodish amount of time rendering beautiful Greek sentences into relatively shitty English ones. I’ve been studying my way through bits of The Odyssey grumpy at having to undertake the discipline of the pencil and paper to make myself make decisions about tenses rather than just letting myself read along and join the adventure.

My third activity involved puzzling through Anand-Karmnik draw in 2008 for a good part of Sat.

I’ve also spent some time thinking about the “death of good conversation.” There’s a lot of conversation online, and obviously, I’m a contributor, but it occurs to me that one reason to grieve arts education is that, without the chance to study and reflect in a rather systematic way, people who have an interest, but little opportunity to systematic training, become avid consumers and little more. I am having trouble expressing this properly, and I am only armchair theorizing, but it seems to be that the amount of time I spend listening to/being in conversations about the arts or literature all, inevitably, collapse into “I like this” or “I don’t like…” at some point–the position of the consumer reigns, even in conversation, and without training of some kind, one can’t really see past one’s likes or dislikes. Appreciation, I guess, and the old saw: “I don’t understand art, but I know what I like.” Well, bully for you, but have any of us–and heaven knows I’ve been guilty of this in conversation as well–stopped to notice how very tedious conversations that center on “I like” and “I dislike” really are unless you happen to have found somebody who shares your likes and your dislikes in a shared consumerism conversation. It’s a narcissistic problem, in a way; to be art, it must be a match between me (consumer) and the producer, or I can’t be bothered to understand why it might be a contribution. There are bits by John Cage that are virtually impossible to listen to, but if you are putting it into the context of instrumental music, you can see the contribution (even if you can’t dance to it.)

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Madeleine Albright on getting her PhD

I’ve been reading Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeleine Albright. Ms. Albright’s summary of her experience in a PhD program:

Getting my Ph.D. was the hardest work I have ever faced on my own. It took thirteen years. I began when Anne and Alice were barely out of their cribs. When I finished, they were in high school. In between they taunted me, saying they shouldn’t have to finish their homework if I couldn’t finish mine.

Heh.

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George Smiley on the bus

From A Murder of Quality:

He enjoyed the bus. The conductor was a very surly man with a great deal to say about the bus company, and why it lost money. Gently encouraged by Smiley, he expanded wonderfully so that by the time they arrived at Sturminster he had transformed the Directors of the Dorset and General Traction Company in to a herd of Gadarene swine charging into the abyss of voluntary bankruptcy.

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Tim Hunt, women on Twitter, and more academic precarity

ATTENTION CONSERVATION NOTICE: Blame University College, London for firing Tim Hunt, not the female scientists who riffed on him.

Most of us have heard of the Tim Hunt mishegosse. For those not in the know, it goes something like this: Hunt is a Nobel prize-winning biochemist who had an honorary affiliation at University College London and who, depending to whom one listens, either let his sexist flag fly or ‘was joking’ and made a rather ridiculous statement when recorded and in front of an audience. The quote, from the Guardian, goes like this:

Scientists should work in gender-segregated labs, according to a Nobel laureate, who said the trouble with “girls” is that they cause men to fall in love with them and cry when criticised.

Tim Hunt, an English biochemist who admitted that he has a reputation for being a “chauvinist”, said to the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, South Korea: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”

Hunt said he was in favour of single-sex labs, adding that he didn’t want to “stand in the way of women”.

The 72-year-old, who won the 2001 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine, made the remarks when addressing a convention of senior female scientists and science journalists.

His comments were tweeted by Connie St Louis, who directs the science journalism program at City University, London, and was attending the conference. She commented: “Really, does this Nobel laureate think we are still in Victorian times?”

He subsequently apologized, and the apology isn’t much better, actually–it’s far too woolly and you get the sense that he’s still genuinely puzzled about how it’s not very wise to note that women cause trouble in labs, and oh, it’s just true that you fall in love in the lab. You can hear the apology here in audio. DR. HUNT PLEASE STOP TALKING I BEG YOU.

Note: it’s possible to work with women without falling in love with them. It’s even possible for homosexual males to be in science, and to fall in love with each other, or not fall in love with each other. And, um. Other stuff. Good Lord. This was joke? Has he never talked to the media before? He has a Nobel Prize! How can that be? Ack.

Now this is were is gets even woollier. Twitter got involved, of course. The response, I felt, was rather light-hearted, with scientists posting photos of themselves in the lab, snarking about how they haven’t cried that day or had anybody fall in love, noting that lab suits and the like are hardly the stuff of glamour or SyFy movie scenes where one (male) scientist looks at another scientist, pulls off her glasses, while her hair tumbles over her shoulders, and exclaims “Miss Howard, you’re beautiful!” in shock and surprise, even though Miss Howard is clearly beautiful the whole time because she’s a 21 year-old actress with breast implants that some costume department has put glasses on instead of somebody who actually holds two PhDs in difficult fields.

Some of these were quite clever.

There was the typical reaction-o-sphere, and it’s really hard to tell whether his comments were just an ill-considered joke or, as a joke, part of his inability to deal with people well, particularly women. This later piece, in the Guardian, makes Hunt out to be a victim of the internet meanies. The first Guardian story, you’ll note, mentions that even prior to his comments, Hunt had a rep for misogyny. Now, I don’t know where the rep came from, and that’s important. But in the Guardian story, a number of his female students and colleagues over the years spoke up for him, and that’s says a lot to me anyway.

Because now, of course, are going to come the sad, sad stories of how those internet meanies forced University College, London to force Hunt to resign. Soon this will be all the feminists’ fault. However, let’s get real: UCL over-reacted. It’s not Twitter or female scientists’ fault, or the internet meanies. On Twitter, a conversation occurred mocking the original statement, which deserved to be mocked.

It became a moment where–OMG OMG–female scientist used social media to speak for themselves, represent themselves, and talk about their jobs for a bit. We can’t conflate that as meanness or with the yapping journalists outside the Hunts’ door (Why, for heaven’s sakes? What is interesting about this after the initial comments? Leave them alone!)

So who is at fault? Tim Hunt’s wife, an immunologist, hits the nail on the head:

His wife, Professor Mary Collins, one of Britain’s most senior immunologists, is similarly indignant. She believes that University College London – where both scientists had posts – has acted in “an utterly unacceptable” way in pressuring both researchers and in failing to support their causes.

Certainly the speed of the dispatch of Hunt – who won the 2001 Nobel prize in physiology for his work on cell division – from his various academic posts is startling. In many cases this was done without him even being asked for his version of events, he says. The story shows, if nothing else, that the world of science can be every bit as brutal as that of politics.

Yes, well, if you have ever read Bruno Latour, you won’t spend a lot of time being surprised that scientists are human beings and all (the last sentence), but yeah: administrators at University College, London wet their pants and forced him out instead of protecting an asset and working with him. Somebody at the university should have helped the man with his apology, which was a shitshow.

The man has a Nobel-freaking-prize. The fact that they are so worried about their public image that they are willing to flush him because of bad press is the problem, not the fact that women in science used social media to break the silence that often surrounds them. Female representation in science is dismal, and university environments in general are often awful for women in general and for women in science in particular, but many brilliant women persist and make contributions to labs every day.

Letting that story be told, without institutional over-reaction and vilification of one guy, could have been an important moment. But now it will turn into another sad tale of Political Correctness!! Gone wild!! Instead of what it should have been: yet another instance of administrators worried about press and brand reputation more than than messy work of public dialogue and deliberation.

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College degrees are not commodities, but…

Hunter Rawlings III was the president of the University of Iowa while I was an undergraduate there. He subsequently left to go run Cornell, and i strongly suspect that he was a good university president; I have no idea. I scarcely knew what a president was for back in those days. Certainly his WASPy patrician aspect and height didn’t hurt him any in the “cutting-the-right-figure-for-leadership” department. And I’ve always enjoyed his public lectures; I believe he is a classicist.

Thus I read with some interest his op-ed in the Washington Post: College is not a commodity. Stop treating it like one. What truly makes an education valuable: the effort the student puts into it. He has a great deal that is wise:

A college education, then, if it is a commodity, is no car. The courses the student decides to take (and not take), the amount of work the student does, the intellectual curiosity the student exhibits, her participation in class, his focus and determination — all contribute far more to her educational “outcome” than the college’s overall curriculum, much less its amenities and social life. Yet most public discussion of higher ed today pretends that students simply receive their education from colleges the way a person walks out of Best Buy with a television

Again, there is much wisdom to this, and my only real quibble is that this thinking should also apply to K-12. Teachers are not solely responsible for learning; students are not solely responsible for learning; parents are not solely responsible for learning; all three of them have a role to play, and if any of them slack, the learning is very likely to suffer. There are bad teachers; there are bad students; and there are lousy parents. A great, motivated student can, indeed, overcome bad teachers and misguided parents. A great teacher can help motivate a disaffected student, or can help shore up poor parenting.

Thus I’d agree with Rawlings here. Going to college and refusing to do any work and then blaming college because you didn’t learn much is a little like me buying a gym membership, never going, and then complaining that I am still fat. But I joined the gym! I should be thin for all that money I paid!

I am usually among the first to say that I don’t think MOOCs are going to replace college or K-12 because I don’t think “mass” has anything to do with how people learn. Education should be, as Adam Gropnik rather preciously points out in reminiscences about La Hune in Paris, sentimental as well as didactic. It’s about being with, intellectually and materially, people who are taking time to worry about the same topics as you are. It’s about coffee shops and a beer and strolls across a quad and sitting under a fig tree reading a book with others stroll by on the quad. We spend entirely enough time clinking on computers rather than living a real life.

Frankly, I am so grateful that I grew up before the “Moocs will get you an education from your computer” phase started because I could just see my parents, for whom money was a definite object, telling me that I had to get a crap job in my home town and live in my room for an online college “because it’s cheaper.” Now my parents sacrificed for me to go to college, and I am very grateful (it doesn’t sound like it, but I am), but one of the most valuable things about going away to college was falling under the influence of educated people, rather than remaining a child of uneducated people in their midst and subject to their directions every day. Everything my parents wanted for me happened–a good job, a secure life– and it happened explicitly because I became part of a world that wasn’t theirs.

Moving away from home to go to college is a good thing for people who want more than the same places they grew up and the same people they grew up with. (If you don’t, no problem!)

But…it’s also now a cripplingly expensive thing for families to take on. And they have to think about what they are getting out of it. It’s only practical, and failing to think about that is neither pragmatic or just.

State governments have systematically stepped away from funding higher education, as the consensus around education and everything else has died. At the risk of making yet another culture war argument, the right gets a lot of the blame for undermining higher ed (deservedly so), but the left has done its fair share, blaming universities for being bastions of privilege, making it a whipping boy for failing to solve poverty, etc. That stepping away from funding, regardless of whether it significantly explains the rise in tuition costs, is at least a symbol of the idea that many people just don’t believe that college is important to public life. And that’s an issue, too, and I don’t think we recapture the idea that college is important by making esoteric arguments about making better citizens. We need better answers.

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Novels set or around trains or public transit

I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite Agatha Christies, the 4:50 from Paddington. It really is a fully imagined novel, with all sorts of lively characters, including the eyewitness, Mrs. McGillicuddy, and the wonderfully, refreshingly competent Lucy Eyelesbarrow. Lucy is a particularly wonderful character because everybody around her falls in love with her, and to my best recollection, Christie never describes Lucy’s physically at all. She just gets shit done and possesses both tact and a sparkling intelligence.

One best bit from the 4:50 from Paddington has the redoubtable Miss Marple getting on trains, looking at train schedules, and cadging some maps to do a geographic analysis of sorts to find the probable

This got me thinking about novels that have an important train aspect to them. There’s obviously Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on A Train . And, of course, more Christie: Murder on the Orient Express. Speaking of the Orient Express, there’s Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love.

I can’t think of any more. Suggestions?

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Planners and policy professionals should be more than retweeters and forwarders

Rather routinely, technophiles in my field come and out triumphantly announce that essays are over! reading is over! plans are over! It’s all video, now! It’s all this! There’s a New Thing!

Only new things strike me as being a lot like old things, and while planning is about new things, and future imaginaries, it’s also about existing modalities of communication. For the first decade of the web, all I heard were predictions about how digital technologies were going to be “end of reading” or the “end of something or other.” But given what the web is and how it functions, writing is more important now than ever. Sure, video matters, but all those comments below the YouTube video are also about written communications, and it’s very clear who can write effectively and who can’t in this domain, and there are advantages to being in the former.

Clearly, images are important, but they have always been important; the difference now is the ability of many more people, not just painters or architects, who can share images. I do not mean to downplay the social and cultural shifts such changes bring. I just note that it is easy to overstate those changes and much harder to really understand what those changes mean for skills, let alone predicting the death of one thing and the flourishing of another. I’m all for digital literacy here, but I’d note that literacy is still literacy.

To wit, I personally think that most technological changes happen as a function of our existing modes of thinking and communicating. There’s a technology, and many of us just use to make things we are already doing easier than we did them before. And gradually, over time, innovators think of new applications that catch on because of those fill a gap. (Just armchair theorizing here.)

I’m observing, now, the many videos of police brutality to black residents surfacing on the web. Those are powerful. They are more powerful still when combined with the comments from black Twitter and Te-Nehisi Coates’ commentary. (Read this one, too, about Kalief Browder, and the abuse of his rights to due process.)

I’ve noted in my research that learning to communicate effectively on social media is important to planning and planning agencies, and I think it’s no less important to public administrators and policy folks. But don’t forget the role of Coates in the evolving social discussion: while he is on Twitter (and he’s very good with that medium), his blog posts strike me as being both very important and a powerful means of persuasion. And those blog posts? They are digital versions of the traditional argumentative essay that people are always telling me is “over.”

So what should we be teaching in planning and policy school? I personally want to teach students to be capable of Coates’ level of thinking, speaking and writing. There’s no technological substitute for quality thinking or communicating, no matter which medium. Otherwise I think we are training students to be consumers and followers—the retweeters and the followers in the digital world–rather than the creators.

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