Author Archives: drschweitzer

About drschweitzer

Lisa Schweitzer is an assistant professor at the School of Policy, Planning and Development at the University of Southern Calfornia. She studies sustainable cities and transport.

A MOOC can not believe in you

The Gaurdian asks its reader to share stories of great teachers.

This is my favorite:

When i was in year seven my mother (a wheelchair user) was made redundant and my dad was unemployed due to a severe motorcycle accident a year before. I was caring for both of them and my younger sibling. We were due to go on an history trip but i didn’t have the £10 the trip cost. A few days before the trip my history teacher rang my mum and asked why we hadn’t paid yet and my mum explained that we had no money coming in at the moment. The teacher said to sign the permission slip anyway and she’d sort something.

the next day the teacher grabbed me at break and handed me a £10 note. “just give it back to me in class with your permission slip. You’re one of the best historians for your age I’ve ever met and if anyone deserves to go on a trip right now it’s you.”

I seem to recall bursting into tears all over her…

So what? Perhaps by the time you are in college, you don’t need emotional support. You just need and want content.

Perhaps. But I’m an old lady and I still need people to believe in and nurture me.

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Just War arguments on Gaza and media effects

Attention conservation notice: the political conflicts in the US about the conflict in Israel tend to fall into two lines of just war arguments. People on the right tend to stress jus ad bellum arguments–the justness of Israel’s self-defense, while people on the left are claiming that, by killing civilians, Israel has violated jus in bellum (just conduct in war) principles because of the disproportionate use of force.

I’ve been reading the various accounts of the press surrounding human shields in Gaza, and it’s following an a-typical trajectory for foreign journalism. The Israeli conflict confronts us a functional worry about the state of journalism right now. There are few national news outlets in the US that have retained their foreign corps, which back in the day was the marker of an elite broadsheet. It was a big blow to the LA Times, for example, when it had it give up its international desk. The consequences of all this scaling back at the elite dailies is that you only have a handful of papers written in English with journalists on the ground. Concurrent with that is the social media use among relatively elite, English speaking computer users leaking into the US media from sources like Twitter and Instagram.

The result is the ever-present claim of biased journalism and social media slant, including Netanyahu’s stupid gaffes with the media (‘the telegenically dead’ crack, among others, and the subsequent discussion that the Israel ‘has the right’ to defend itself against Hamas, who started it, etc etc. There are various riffs on the “telegenically dead” comments in and around the media, from Fox News to Zionist commentators.

I suppose the meta-discussion about bias helps some. One of my goals has always been to help people see how various forms of media influence political narratives, and in particular, urban politics around planning. So the fact that we now have a meta-level discussion about reporting and “the news media” and its role in Gaza, it’s possible for people to reflect on the images they are seeing and what those images mean within our understanding of what is happening and what ought to happen.

However, it doesn’t really help with the problem of whether Israel is now fighting a just war in a just manner. So suppose the Zionist writers are right and Hamas is this congenitally evil group of people who has lined up its own people to serve as human shields (there is evidence of this, of people who crowd into an area after warning shots…even that involves questions. Are they doing so under some threat from Hamas? Or are they doing so because they have a cause they intend to die for?) The various reactions to the human shield question range from the hawkish “Human shields are Hamas’ fault and another reason to revile them” to those who ask the question about what kind of moral war exists when a more powerful entity shoots into in human shields knowing they are…shooting into human shields, voluntary or involuntary. Collateral damage, indeed.

So in swapping allegations of media bias does not help us with the fundamental moral conflicts about what to do when confronted with something like a human shield: stop firing, in the name of human rights, or keep going, despite the deaths, in order to get at the people you want to get at to solve the problem you think you have a just cause to solve.

Just war theories have never helped me out very much thinking about these issues, even though our Just War thinkers are among our very best from Thucydides and St. Augustine onward. Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf are two I find exceptionally useful.

Just war (justum bellum) theory has multiple components: jus ad bellum (the justice of war in the first place); jus in bello (just conduct in war) and jus post bellum justice after war. The Internet Encyclopedia has a beautifully written introduction to these ideas found here.

A helpful summary of jus ad bellum:

The principles of the justice of war are commonly held to be: having just cause, being a last resort, being declared by a proper authority, possessing right intention, having a reasonable chance of success, and the end being proportional to the means used. One can immediately detect that the principles are not wholly intrinsicist nor consequentialist—they invoke the concerns of both models.

It is here where the Zionist writers draw most heavily. This is a just cause; Israel has a ‘right to defend itself’ from Hamas, an organization whose stated purpose to eliminate Isreal. There are some writers on the left who have contested the just cause framing based on “last resort” criteria.

A helpful summary on jus in bellum:

The rules of just conduct within war fall under the two broad principles of discrimination and proportionality. The principle of discrimination concerns who are legitimate targets in war, whilst the principle of proportionality concerns how much force is morally appropriate. A third principle can be added to the traditional two, namely the principle of responsibility, which demands an examination of where responsibility lies in war.

Here, then, are where most of the outrage on the left comes from about current Israeli conflict. It’s not that Israel has no just cause, it is that they view the civilian casualties as illegitimate targets and the amount of force disproportionate.

We can then get into many arguments about whether, if you voted a party into power, you are still innocent in a war that it provokes, whether you are still a civilian if you voluntarily act as a human shield, etc.

But that is the moral landscape of the political discussion in the US.

Most Americans’ understandings of what is true about the conflict are mediated through the images and stories created by others, which is why journalism and media are so important.

Some things to read.

Michael Walzer Just and Unjust Wars (1977) a
Barrie Paskins and Michael Dockrill The Ethics of War (1979),
Richard Norman Ethics, Killing, and War (1995),
Brian Orend War and International Justice (2001)

Thomas Nagel “War and Massacre” (entire article in html), Elizabeth Anscombe “War and Murder” (entire article in pdf)

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Relationships and proximity in the legislature

Planners are big fans of geographic proximity and relationship building, but one thing I have never really bought about urban mixing is the idea that you build relationships in urban contexts. You might. But you are not going to build relationships with thousands of people riding a subway. You are going to have a particular relationship, and if you see the same people every day on the subway, you may have something deeper in terms of relationship and community.

Tom Harkin is retiring from the US Senate; he has served the state of Iowa for 40 years. The money quote:

He was loath, Harkin said during a long conversation, to lapse into a misty reverie on better days, the way some old fogy might. But, the 74-year-old Harkin said, things were better back when.

More than anything, more than argument or intellect, “legislation, good legislation, good things where you really work things out and reach good compromises, depend more on personal relationships,” Harkin said. “And those personal relationships have broken down in the U.S. Senate.”

Small point: There used to be a room on the first floor of the Capitol where senators would gather alone for lunch — no staff, no reporters — and Republicans and Democrats would sit together and talk and swap stories and become familiar with one another on a more personal level.

Those lunches are no more, due in part to the way the Senate now operates.

Lawmakers typically convene for a few “bed-check votes” on Monday night and wrap up their Capitol workweek before sundown Thursday. Lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays are now partisan affairs, Democrats and Republicans dining separately with their party colleagues. That leaves Wednesday. “But that’s the day you have a fundraising lunch,” Harkin said.

Something I wish my institution understood as well: when a place becomes corporate, nobody does anything except for money.

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California Splitsville as an excuse to show you some totally gnarly maps from PPIC

So….this here plan to split California into six states is closer to going on the ballot, which would be totally fun except for the OMG-what-if-it-actually-passed problem. As an antidote to people just assuming the state is a mix of fruit and nuts, go over and see this wonderful discussion from Eric McGhee and Daniel Krimm of California voters and population weighted mapping from PPIC. Here’s their population-weighted map for voting.

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Go read!!

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ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #15: JoAnn Carmin

I’m sad this morning posting this, as today I am writing about the work of JoAnn Carmin, a professor at DUSP at MIT, who passed away recently after her second bout with cancer. JoAnn was a major scholar in environmental justice, and I admire her work tremendously. Her students thought very highly of her, and she will be greatly missed in the scholarly world. JoAnn’s work centered mostly on international and development perspectives on environmental justice. She has many papers, but I will refer us to her body of edited work and her own book contribution.

JoAnn Carmin and Julian Agyeman (editors). 2011. Environmental Inequalities Beyond Borders: Local Perspectives on Global Injustices. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Adam Fagan and JoAnn Carmin (editors). 2011. Green Activism in Post-Socialist Europe and the Former Soviet Union. London: Routledge.

JoAnn Carmin and Stacy D. VanDeveer (editors). 2005. EU Enlargement and the Environment: Institutional Change and Environmental Policy in Central and Eastern Europe, London: Routledge.

Tomas Koontz, Toddi A. Steelman, JoAnn Carmin, Katrina Smith Korfmacher, Cassandra Moseley, and Craig Thomas. 2004. Collaborative Environmental Management: What Roles for Government? Washington, DC: Resources for the Future.

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My hobby: saving neglected animals

In my free time, I rescue dogs with a lovely lady named Anna and my husband Andy. The rescue can be found here.NewImage

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Why you should read Peter Gordon’s blog

Peter has used his ‘retirement’ to get even smarter than he was before, and he’s an avid, wide-ranging reader. His reviews and reflections on books are always worth reading. Here’s his discussion of Webster and Lai’s Property Rights, Planning and Markets: Managing Spontaneous Cities for just one sample.

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#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #14: Stephanie Frank

I’m a bit behind with ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014, but I will keep going. I’ve always been a slow worker. What are you going to do besides keep plugging away at it?

This week I discuss the work of Stephanie Frank, who is one of my students, which means the work is brilliant and perfect in every way and anybody who says otherwise gets a knuckle sandwich. Stephanie has left our beloved USC, and she is now an assistant professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The paper of hers I am going to highlight is:

Frank, S. (2012). Claiming hollywood: Boosters, the film industry, and Metropolitan Los Angeles. Journal of Urban History, 38(1), 71-88. doi:10.1177/009614421142064

The year is 1937; the place is a then-small, but rapidly urbanizing, region in southern California. There is money being made in film industry, and by selling the idea of “Hollywood.” Culver City boosters get the smart idea to rename themselves from the prosaic–and, frankly, Midwestern-sounding, Culver City to Hollywood. (Not accidental: Culver City took its name from an early pioneer from Nebraska.) Even today, Hollywood is a district or a neighborhood. Despite multiple pushes for secession, Hollywood is part of the larger city of Los Angeles. Culver City, however, is not. My use of the present tense is a spoiler: boosters failed, and to this day, Culver City remains plain old Culver City, though it is a very nice place to live with lots of wonderful things to do.

I let you read the manuscript for the full story of how and why the boosters attempt failed; let’s just say it’s a story of big-fish elite of one type, and bigger-fish elites of another type, and one (of many ways) the movie industry made its spatial impact on the geography of Los Angeles.

Stephanie wrote her very fine dissertation on movie studios as land developers under the direction of David Sloane, Greg Hise, and Bill Deverell, and she should have a book coming out shortly. Keep your eyes peeled for it, and for future work. My auntie-like bias notwithstanding, she really is a fine young scholar.

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The Torrance Tornado has died

I am often hard on my beloved employer, USC, because I feel like we make mistakes in how we relate to students and neighbors. Since I also live in West Adams, even though I am not right by the university, I also feel the influence of the university as one of those neighbors. Nowhere is perfect; we at USC should be better than we are in multiple dimensions.

But I also love USC. They took a chance on me when I was a not-particulaly-accomplished young scholar, and they have continued to support me in my attempts to strike out into new and different dimensions with my career as a journeyman scholar. USC is wildly ambitious, but unlike most places that say they are going to move up those all-important rankings, one gets the sense that it might actually be possible here. It’s that striving that I love. It’s interesting.

Mostly though, I am wildly fond of my students and colleagues, and the terrific people who are associated with the university. It is not a university of spoiled rich kids, any more than any other university is, and perhaps nothing speaks to that better than the story of Louis Zamperini, who died this week in Los Angeles at the age of 97. His wear service was chronicled in the book Unbroken. The son of Italian immigrants in Torrance, CA, he found his way through athletics to USC, where he graduated in 1940 after setting a record for the mile that stood for 15 years.

Here is the write up from the University with the quote from Coach Allice:

“Today is a sad day at USC, knowing that the wonderful life of Louis Zamperini has ended after 97 remarkable years. I can think of no more famous Trojan than Louie, with his combination of athletic exploits and war heroics,” said former USC track and field Coach Ron Allice. “The fact that he still is the only Trojan to win the NCAA outdoor mile championship, which he did twice some 75 years ago, speaks volumes of his athletic ability. I know I will miss him, as will so many others. He was a great man.”

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Bedrosian Center Book Club: Thomas Piketty’s Capital

I had the pleasant task of reading Thomas Piketty’s Capital with the motivation that I was going to part of a faculty discussion of the book through USC’s Bedrosian Center. In addition to your blogger, the discussion includes Richard Green, Raphael Bostic, and Anthony Bertelli. It can be found here.

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