The Battle of the Nessuns

I’m too tired to think about anything city-related.

I have been trying to get my husband to diversify his opera listening, and he remains stubbornly loyal to Pavarotti, especially in all matters Turandot. But there are some very fine Nessuns out there, so I thought I’d assemble and share some.

Love the chorus here;

Placido Domingo (who, along with Idris Elba, is my boyfriend) sang a very fine Calaf in his day:

Richard Tucker


Gi-Cheon (very, very nice)

There is an important emotional transition in this aria for the character, Calaf. He is in love with a violent, powerful woman, and because of his love for her, he has prompted her to cause terrible suffering among her own people. The chorus speaks to the terrible cost his game-playing takes upon innocent people

(Il nome suo nessun saprà,
E noi dovrem, ahimè, morir, morir!)

No one will know his name, and so we all will die!

He is aware of that suffering, and to no small degree blames himself. The turning point comes towards the end, where Calaf convinces himself that it’s going to be worth it. He is going to prevail over her coldness, and hence the big finish:

All’alba vincerò!
Vincerò! Vincerò!

At dawn, I shall win! (And repeat: I shall win! I shall win!)

He’s convincing himself, and others, that it’s all going to end, and it’s going to be right in the end.

Pretty singing isn’t enough for Calaf. There are PUH-LENTY of pretty songs in Puccini. What ultimately distinguishes great Puccini singers for is their ability to sell over-the-top emotional content in a believable manner, with empathy for a character (see Callas’and Hunag’s Cio-Cio San for soprano exemplars ).

Which is one reason why Pavarotti’s Nessun is really so damn great in the end. (And Gi-Cheon, Domingo, Correlli)…

and Paul Potts, too:

Ok, fine, here’s the Pavarotti to leave you with the chills:

Which do you like best?

Campus Republicans and “testing freedom of speech”

The entitlement of this stuff befuddles me. Charles Murray is totally and completely discredited. It is not fake news. I do not know a single, legit political scientist who thinks his work has any merit whatsoever. And yet he’s this darling of the right, which is weird because there are actual conservatives in political science, especially international relations, you could invite and actually learn something.

The “we’re testing free speech on campus” thing is a bit rich. You don’t need to test free speech. He’s walking around, not in jail, no matter what he writes. That’s the actual test of free speech, not whether he’s entitled to a big venue or tons of university resources.

Is anybody doing work on the potential spatial effects of a Universal Basic Income?

I’m still pretty sick with anxiety about all the harassment stuff going on USC, but I have decided that I can’t think about it anymore. I’ve spent years trying to wake people up about it, I was tuned out, and now that it’s all out there in the world, if anybody needs my input, they know where I am. I’m still dealing with lots of triggering–I think lots of women are, as it’s been an endless loop of predation after another. Our young people deserve better. As far as I can tell, I failed to be a good, supportive mentor to one person coming up (another, I think, just didn’t like me, and there’s only so much I can do about that), but I feel a lot of guilt that I failed this person–and God knows, I never undermined her actively. I just should have been nicer, less sensitive, etc. What makes a person get up in the morning thinking they are entitled to another’ body…toxic, indeed.

So I decided I would spend some time thinking about universal basic income and the potential spatial effects. I’ve decided that I am not too worried about the potential inflationary effects–if somebody wants to convince me otherwise, I’m all ears–and I assume that we wouldn’t do it in some half-ass way (but we, being the United States, probably would), so that it would be in general welfare-enhancing for impoverished people. What’s got me kind of excited is the possibility that people might live where they want–no moving to the city because you really have nothing to do in your home town–and the possibility for a little more money flowing into rural areas. Some small-town downtown resurgence?

The labor economist in me suggests the following, which because it’s from economics, will sound horrible and dehumanizing: some labor isn’t really ever going to be productive enough in the urban context to be able to compete for urban land space. Sure Hayek’s point still holds: if you let people build contingent, small temporary spaces, they will be able to catch onto the wave of urban productivity and locate where they are most productive. But there are probably some diminishing returns to that, even if a place could up-zone to the point where urban land markets and housing prices hit a relatively stable equilibrium. (LA/most US cities if not all are long ways from that, so don’t go getting all up in my grill thinking this is an anti-upzone argument. It’s not.)

Saying more kindly, there are probably people who would prefer not to live in cities in small spaces for terrible jobs, and giving them an alternative would work much like a minimum wage, only better, by making locations actually competitive (if you want waiters in your restaurant you pay them what it takes to live there), and dealing with the potential unemployment effects that sometimes accompany minimum wage rules.


I sent a helicopter: On not shaming people of faith, thoughts and prayers

I am not a person of faith, and there are times when, amidst the aggressive religiosity of American life, including things I think are systematic problems with religion and politics*, that I have some empathy for the New Atheists. But honestly, if there is a group of dudes more obnoxious than smartest boy urbanists, it’s the smartest boy atheists.

Anyway, the whole “thoughts and prayers” thing strikes me as yes, a legitimate critique. It’s generally very nice to pray for somebody, and if a person genuinely believes that God intervenes, then thanks for doing that, and the rest of us really don’t have any business being nasty and trying to shame people for practicing their faith. You can’t conclude that they haven’t supported the right policies or donated money just because they are praying, too, just like you can’t conclude “liberals never help their individual neighbors” because one liberal neighbor didn’t help you that one time. (I do, my husband is honestly the most helpful man you will ever meet, embarrassingly so).

HOWEVER, you can ridicule Paul Ryan for his thoughts and prayers all you want because you know for sure he’s not going to pull his head out of the NRA trough.

This situation always reminds me of one of my favorite jokes:

So there is a terrible, terrible flood, and a religious man refuses to evacuate, saying that God will take care of him.

The flood waters rise, and soon he can’t evacuate because his car is flooded. The sheriff comes in a boat, and says “Hop in.” The man responds, “No, no, God will take care of it.”

The waters continue to rise, flooding the first floor. The man has to take refuge on the second floor. Soon, the National Guard is at the second floor window, urging him to jump in their boat. He responds, “No, God will provide. God will take care of me.”

Water, continuing to rise, eventually drive him up to the roof, where a rescue helicopter comes by. Its crack rescue team tosses a rope down to him. He refuses, again, reasserting his faith that God will provide.

Finally, the man drowns, and since he is generally a good man, he goes to heaven, where he meets God. He said “God!! I prayed to you! I had total faith that you would save me! Why did you let me drown?”

God, who in my mind sounds like Rodney Dangerfield in this joke, says, “Dude! Come on! I sent you two boats and a helicopter!”

If there is a God, she’s got a sense of humor.

*There are systematic problems with everything, so whatevs.

Triggering, triggered ,tired…harassment in higher education, again, still

By now just about everybody in LA–and I can’t believe the Chron won’t be doing a story–about the latest harassment charge at USC. I won’t link to it because I won’t.

This story, from the NYT, highlights the bullshit that women in Sacramento put up with.

I lost all of Thursday and most of Friday being just confused and upset about the USC story. I didn’t know that I was losing the time; I was just swirling, dealing with thoughts wanting to do something, say something.

Wanting to quit, entirely–hand in my resignation, move on out to whatever is next.

Friday I turned to two of my colleagues, both men, both very good guys. They were not helpful.

I wrote a letter, one I had hoped that my colleagues might support it. I showed the letter to my colleague. His response was along the lines of: “who is, like, the audience for this?”

That response got me caving in on myself. I abandoned the effort and spent the day swimming in depression. I climbed out, slowly.

I figured out my problem Saturday morning when I was trying to write: I had been triggered. Of course. Given that I have been putting up with this crap since forever, it made sense. And yeah, forever: since I was 10 years old and some old perv pinched my butt in front of his friends at a July 4th, and his buddies giggled instead of saying “not cool.”

Interestingly, though I had trouble accepting this conclusion. I can’t be; this emotional reaction can’t be true, I thought. I’m too strong. My mind has always been reassuring logical; nothing happened to me on Thursday. I’m one of those people that other women look to fight back. This isn’t happening.

It was happening, and strength and logic have nothing to do with it. Conservatives who want to belittle triggering are wrong. No, I am not going to break down. Yes, I will survive. No, I am not a snowflake.

But I lost two days of work my male colleagues got to keep for themselves, nonetheless. Just another little gift from the patriarchy.

The individual cases are individual cases. Usual disclaimers: I’m talking for me, and not my employer, and I don’t know what happened in each case, and I don’t know the individuals involved except by arm’s length.

I do know the environment at USC and higher ed, and male privilege manifests in every aspect of university life for our students, staff, and faculty where, too often, we are told by our supervisors and senior faculty that bad behavior among tenured, male, or “star” professors is “no big deal” and “nothing can be done.” At its most egregious, this environment enables extreme cases of violent, predatory sexual harassment among those who have power and institutional protection towards those who do not. In less high-profile instances, however, this male dominance manifests in hundreds of everyday interactions in seminars, unequal pay, hiring bias, and student attitudes towards female instructors and peers. Even seemingly small encounters, such as undermining comments in seminars, leave a damaging impact by silencing women, creating a culture of disrespect, and punishing those who speak out–which only further perpetuates male dominance.

I have learned, coming through this process over the weekend–again–the following things:

1. I may be doing more harm than good as somebody who tries to create safe spaces for women and people of color in higher education. I can only make the university environment safe within the limits of my influence, which is very limited. By being a faculty member who will listen and support and try to help women and students of color stay sane…perhaps I am nothing more than a band-aid that keeps students in an institution that doesn’t deserve them or me.

2. I can’t really protect my students–not really. I can’t even protect myself.

3. My male colleagues have limited capacity to understand why this garbage distracts and hurts me and women like me. They do not understand, and they really aren’t terribly interested in understanding. They want to be supportive, within the limits of their comfort. Pick your battles, the old academic saw goes: most faculty only pick battles in their self-interest, and this is no different. Nobody wants to confront this garbage in seminars, nobody wants to discipline this behavior. The victims are supposed to fix it, by getting used to it and tolerating it.

4. With all the allegations coming out of conferences, the conferences are going to try to shift the disciplinary responsibility onto the universities, and the universities are going to do nothing because that’s, in general, what they do in response to senior male faculty bad behavior. They don’t protect their own employees from harassers; do we really think they are going to discipline harassers for creeping on grad students at other universities? Come on. But that’s what the lawyers will recommend, and these associations will crawl under that legalism like a soft, furry blanket–and leave women where they always are: without institutional support.

5. I find myself thinking about radical women’s collectives, like the Bloodroot Collective, where women share together spaces where they speak uninterrupted, unpatronized, free to grow into the light without all the shadows that men cast. I’m sure these places are not perfect and have their own problems, but I’d sure like to try it at this point.

6. Maybe it’s time to give up on the academy, on USC, on all of it. Perhaps my devotion to research and exploration and teaching has been quixotic. I have cherished these things; they have been the central values and joys of my life. I’ve always resented the trope of the skirt-chasing old git college professor, believing that endeavor of higher educations was a lot more than that. I’m no longer so sure about that belief. It seems lazy to retire. It seems futile to stay.

The environment and all its abuses, these are just bigger than me.

I am a very privileged laborer as a white female academic. I know this. Many women work in much worse, much conditions, but that strikes me as reason to elevate their work conditions rather than tolerate degradation in mine.

But at the same time…if I have this privilege, why can’t I make things better? Am I just incompetent? Too blind to see what I can do? Because it’s all feeling really hopeless.

Planning expertise and epistemic justice

I went on a Twitter rant this weekend about dudes who, when disparaging my idea, start off by saying “this lady thinks…” instead of giving me my due, which is…I’m a professor of urban planning. These are not casual opinions I got just from reading the Sierra Club website. I got a lot of likes and whatnot, but one challenge came from the notion that I seemed to be wedded to my spot in the knowledge hierarchy as a professor and not really suspending hierarchies in favor of treating everybody as a person capable of knowledge in my critique of the way misogyny uses knowledge to dominate.

The answer is: yes…and no. Both-and.

I didn’t pursue it because by the time it came up, I was tired of social media and was on my way to the LA Opera. But it reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to write here anyway about epistemic justice and planning expertise. Yes, I do value my expertise, and no, I don’t think that asking for a little respect for my accomplishments and credentials means that I expect people to defer to my ideas or opinions. It just means that people recognize the work I’ve put in and the accomplishments I’ve attained in a “hey, good on ya” way and the willingness to believe that I might have *some* knowledge about the subject instead of an empty vessel needing somebody to ‘splain things and fill me with Glorious Man-Knowledge.

The fact that my interlocutor can’t conceive of my claim to expertise as anything other than a rigid status hierarchy says more about how people expect knowledge and expertise to work than my investment in it.

Planning students, in their planning theory class, are often confronted with a bewildering set of contradictions: they are paying gobs of cash to be in a planning program where, in the first semester, planning theory seems to spend a lot of time critiquing bad-old rational planning paradigms of the past, where the planner was a godlike expert (the part of the narrative I never bought), and arguing for new, post-modern, post-colonial paradigms in which community members are the experts and planners are not the experts.

This is not right, of course, but I think it’s what a lot of students take away from the discussion, and they wind up asking the legitimate question of: well what the hell am I paying to learn here, and why the hell does anybody pay a planner if they aren’t experts on anything? That is, what happens to the power of the profession if it doesn’t have a monopoly on special-deal knowledge that people must pay for to obtain? Don’t these po-co epistemologies lower the status of the profession?

Yes, but at the same time, not really. Why not? Because de-centering does not really mean discarding. Those are different things, and there’s plenty to do as de-centered expert even if you don’t get to stomp around bossing or having your ego gratified.

The same line I pulled out on Paul Krugman applies: because cities are f**king complicated, that’s why, and you really can’t have too much knowledge or too many perspectives.

You don’t defer to or act on everybody’s opinion or idea, but you’re losing out if you don’t listen and analyze each point as it comes up because people are experts and people know things.What planners know is different. People know their places intimately; they also have strong ideas about their preferences. Here’s one anecdote that my students are STILL quoting weeks after Tamika Butler related it:

There was a street segment where a lot of pedestrians were getting hit. So the the city improved the intersection did All The Things…and it made no difference in the number of people getting hit. So finally, they asked people on the sidewalks, who noted that the only shade to use while waiting for the bus was on the opposite side of the street, and people darted across the street to catch the bus, which is, honestly, one of the most dangerous things we can have people doing.

If we had asked, we could have put in some shade and saved a lot of money. That’s one, valid way to interpret the story–that seems to be how Tamika interpreted it.

For me, though, when you combine both sets of knowledge, you get a much nicer place in general. Go with the planners’ ideas, you just get a nicer intersection, which is, in itself, a good thing even if it isn’t the strategy for the specific problem at hand. Go with the residents’ perceptions, and you fix the specific problem, but you maybe miss out on getting them some additional nice things at the intersection even though nobody thought to ask for them. Part of planning expertise is to diffuse and spread nice things in urban environments, things that people don’t necessarily know to ask for/demand.

See? You get more when both types of knowledge become applied. Expertise and knowledge treated this way become more like a jazz collaboration or a dance where people take turns leading, building off what others contribute, leaving some ideas, picking up and developing others, all in tandem.

Little kids are experts, too. They know where the bully lives; they know why some fountains are cool and fun and others are boring, just to cite two examples.

It’s only if you think of knowledge=control=domination that this model takes something from you as an expert. Otherwise, experts can do what they always did, when they did their jobs well: use their years of study and focus on a content area to resource decision-making, contribute possibilities for directions and choices, and help think through the likely consequences of various choices.

How to treat an expert? Well, honestly, it’s subversive in the patriarchy for a woman to be an expert, and it’s even more subversive for people of color to be experts. I am pretty relaxed about being called “Dr” or “Professor”, and I started out that way. But I was also older than most assistant professors were. At Virginia Tech I noticed that Casey Dawkins was always Dr. Dawkins and Heike Mayer was, more often than not, called “Miss Mayer.” When that’s the default, you goddamn right I’m *always* going to call Heike “Dr. Mayer” in front of students.

For years, Dr. Ilene Payne, an African American woman, ran the Eisenhower program, and she was Dr. Ilene Payne, always. Always. And damn rightly so, too.

Because the road women and people of color take to obtaining these credentials and existing in institutions is hard, usually humiliating, rotten, horrible, and invalidating, and the institution of higher education is similarly humiliating, rotten, horrible and invalidating to us on a daily basis, we deserve to have our credentials treated with the same respect–at the very least–that is the default for the white dudes. Nobody forwards Richard Florida’s tweets with “This dude thinks a thing” when people are going to rag on him. He still gets to be himself. I’m not asking people not to rag on me (although, it’s perfectly possible to disagree without going immediately to sarcastic flouncing). I am asking not be erased as a person.

I don’t think that’s asking a lot.

When absolutely positively no black professor is mistaken for the janitor or hassled by security, we can stop with Dr./Professor title, but not before. Using the title and having the title is very, very different for different people, and pretending that isn’t the case by rejecting all titles or credentials as markers of expertise doesn’t do diddly to eradicate that in everyday life.

Epistemic justice, for me, centers on the idea that since knowledge and information have big consequences for individuals and communities, they should be engaged in the framing and formulation of that knowledge. That doesn’t mean science is invalid or anything of the kind, or that we all pretend gravity doesn’t work (the way people who don’t understand critiques of science/Sokal Hoax lovers think it works.) It just means that individuals and community groups’ questions and problems take priority, and they are making crucial decisions about what knowledge they need, how they are going to get it, and what they are going to use it for. Is that *really* so corrosive of science as an endeavor…or just corrosive to the modernist, individualistic, great-man models that serve the human ego?