My alma mater (the University of Iowa) does something interesting

Reading through Jezebel this morning I happened upon this story about the University of Iowa asking students to voluntarily disclose their LGBTQ status as a means to get information about what level of services they may need to provide for support. The comments are enlightening (for a change!), ranging from people who are nervous about the prospect of disclosing, notes that LGBTQ kids may not have much clarity about their status yet, and support.

Anand Vaida’s discussion on neoliberalism in All the Beautiful Forevers

Over at n+1, Anand Vaida has a piece worth reading on criticism of Katherine Boo’s book Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Here’s the set up:

The book was met with a storm of praise in both India and the United States — for the extent and depth of Boo’s research, for her empathy for her subjects, and for avoiding the trap that several recent “big India books” fell into when they took the entire country as their subject and ended up capturing nothing. An almost solitary discordant note came from Mitu Sengupta, a political science professor in Canada. In a review published on the progressive Indian blog Kafila (and later republished on the Dissent website), Sengupta charged the book with having a “subtle alignment with the neoliberal narrative”—that is, a muted but consistent anti–welfare state and pro-market agenda. The chief evidence of Boo’s neoliberalism, according to Sengupta, is the curious fact that none of Boo’s characters participate in any kind of collective activity; when someone does attempt to assert control over her life, it is always in isolation.

Vaida discussion is both helpful and reasoned, and I don’t have much to add to it. It’s long, but it’s well worth reading. I do have some confusion about the criticism and its ultimate disposition for those who write about bad conditions. I do have to admit that I have not read Boo’s book, as I am concerned about it being another version of poverty porn.

Because I tend to write about institutions and social justice, I get a lot of criticism from reviewers that I do the same thing that Boo does: that is, I don’t provide descriptions on what people experiencing injustice to fight it. As a result, the writing robs victims of the agency they demonstrate and maintains focus on the institution.

I can understand that. However, in much of my wrting, I am trying to get how institutions should fix their damn selves. While I understand the impulse to focus on how collective action affect change in institutions,  I have several concerns about making that the point of what I write about when I write about injustice and ethics.

1) Describing social movements or what people do when they respond to injustice may or may not be part of the story about why an institution should fix its damn self.

2) If there is a community response, and there often is, I don’t feel like that it’s my story to tell. Surely there are people, analogous to Derrick Bell and Julian Bond, who can and will write and speak for the movement themselves. While I am happy to be resource and support to that writing, it’s not my story and I don’t feel comfortable appropriating it for my own ends–e.g., publication and career advancement.

3) I do want to create the expectation that institutions and the planners within them should fix (did I say this?)  their damn selves without reinforcing the notion that institutional change can not happen unless oppressed people take on the burden of fixing.

4) Plenty of “Oh, lookit what those little community organizations are doing to fight the man!” narratives produced by academics strike me as patronizing, condescending, and reinforcing of the notion that democratic and advocacy coalitions are ‘handling’ the problem and thus, those of us who hold power and privilege don’t need to bother.

Other writers, like Vandana Shiva and James Scott, do an amazing job of writing about people’s movements. I rather feel like that material is covered: it’s obvious that when you treat people poorly, they find way to call you out, and that people power is actually a source of power. I don’t feel the need to echo that in my contributions, as that’s there. It’s evident.

Directions and comments on how I am wrong would be most helpful.

Where do rights come from?

We’ve spent the last few weeks in justice class working on rights and what they are, where they come from. In particular, we posed the difficult question for secular governments of: if you don’t believe in souls or the divine aspects of man, how do you set up the theoretical precedents for humans as rights-holders? It’s a sticky problem when you start poking at the question of rights without gods: people of faith have it a bit easier by referring to a divinity who holds mankind in special regard, and from that follows that mankind has certain entitlements. Certainly secular rights theorists have their arguments, such as eudaimonism, among others. The nice thing about the secular route is that you have a opening for people like Peter Singer to come along and challenge your assumptions about pleasure- and pain-feeling for the basis for rights, largely as a means of extending those rights to animals and other species that obviously feel pain, fear death, etc.

I got rather stuck in the middle of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book, Justice: Right and Wrongs, and within his chapter on eudaimonism, where he argues that pleasure and pain principles can not, ultimately serve as a basis for rights-holding. I’m getting lost in his reasoning. Here’s Wolterstorff discussing Rawls (my approach–public reason) versus secular morality, and the paradox of the reasoning behind rights.

It strikes me that his argument that you can’t reason with some people also pokes holes in his own approach to rights; if you can’t reason with boneheads, and you can’t reconcile public moralities, you also have trouble making foundational religious claims among people like me who do not believe.

#ACSP2012 Reflections 2: Mentoring across difference POCIG/FWIG panel, thinking about LGBTQ concerns

Georgia Tech’s Catherine Ross and Tufts’ Julian Agyeman were kind enough to join me for a POCIG/FWIG joint session on “Mentoring Across Difference.” We had a terrific discussion, and there were three questions that really gave me some food for thought.

1: How do we help ACSP promote accountability within departments for making sure that university departments understand the differences that faculty and color face during promotion and tenure?

Julian had a terrific answer to this question, and it concerns the idea that we should have cultural literacy required in our core master’s classes. Now, this strikes me as a great idea, with some potential dangers. The great idea part: if we get master’s students to truly begin to see how entitlement and privilege work differently for different groups, they will understand these differences going forward into PhD programs, and onto faculty.Read More »

These least of my brethren*

Heart-wrenching story this morning from the New York Times on the number of deaths among people with disabilities in state care. It seems that some fault resides with a lack of basic knowledge about what constitutes good care, particularly around those who have problems with eating, and the rest of the fault is simple neglect. It would be interesting to know if the death rate is different between institutions versus at-home care, though you would expect symptom severity to be systematically worse with those given over to state care.

From one of the mothers:

“I believe that God put these people here for a purpose, because if we didn’t have them to look after, we would lose our humanity,” she said. “How would we know compassion? It says in the Bible, do ye so unto the least of my brothers. I think that’s what it’s all about.”

From the Douay-Rheims translation: And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.

That’s a pretty complicated sentence. I think Jesus probably meant to say “Everybody should be out for themselves all the time, if there is a choice between a $2 million wedding ring for a 72-day marriage and giving $2 million to those in need, you know what the right answer is, people who have less power than you can be readily stepped on, and screw social welfare if you, yourself, are not in need.” I’m glad I live in a Christian country so that all this would exemplified for me.

Giuliano and Schweitzer in the National Academies of Science Proceedings on Women in Transportation

In October 2009 the Transportation Research Board (TRB) sponsored the 4th International Conference on Women’s Issues in Transportation.

The two volume set of the Proceedings of this Conference (all of whose papers were peer-reviewed in accord with National Academy of Sciences standards) is now available in PDF for free on the TRB website.

Many of the papers cover important transportation, land use, community design, and planning issues from the perspective of women and their children and their aging parents. A special feature of the 4th Conference was a focus on international research, and comparative travel patterns, particularly in the developing world.

Among the papers in the two volumes are six papers commissioned specifically for the Conference:

● Marty Wachs, “Women’s Travel Issues: Creating Knowledge, Improving Policy, and Making Change”

● Ananya Roy, “Gender, Poverty, and Transportation in the Developing World”

● Sandi Rosenbloom and Maryvonne Plessis-Fraisard, “Women’s Travel in Developed and Developing Countries: Two Versions of the Same Story?”

● Gen Giuliano and Lisa Schweitzer, “Her Money or Her Time; A Gendered View of Contemporary Transportation Policy”

● Lidia Kostyniuk, “Road User Safety: Women’s Issues”

● Anastasia Loukaitou-Siders, “What is Blocking her Path? Women, Mobility, and Security”

In addition there were a variety of papers on women’s traffic safety, women’s personal security concerns, children’s travel, extreme events and disaster preparedness, and household travel patterns in the US and a number of individual countries.

You may find these papers to be useful in a variety of planning courses as well as your own research.

The website addresses are

● Women’s Issues in Transportation; Summary of the 4th International Conference, Conference Proceedings 46

Vol. 1: Conference Overview and Plenary [pdf] Papers

Vol. 2: Technical Papers [pdf]

The Conference was funded by the UK, Swedish, and US governments, the University of California Transportation Center, UC Davis, METRANS (USC and Cal State Long Beach), and the New Mexico DOT.

TABW nails it: Next time, be white and steal $3 billion

See The Angry Black Woman’s original post here.

Ok, I am sure that lawyers can explain why this disparity makes sense, but I really, truly to do not know how to explain the two things that TABW shows us here:

Paul R. Allen receives a whole 40 month sentence for corporate fraud of $3billion.


Homeless man given 15 year sentence for stealing $100 (and then turning himself in).

Don’t you all sleep much better knowing that second guy is off the streets? And that Paul Allen won’t be separated from his gazillions for too long?

Yeah, me neither.

Foster kids, secondhand clothing, and citizen experts I sincerely wish would STFU

Michigan Senator Bruce Casswell has introduced legislation that would give foster children vouchers only good at used clothing stores, so that they can not “waste” state money buying themselves new clothing. He has argued that it’s a cost-saving measure.

There is an outcry, simply because on its surface, the proposal is mean. There are also all the stories about single mothers who themselves alone without handouts bravely provided for their children with only thrift store clothing, etc. etc. Republicans say that buying used clothing is recycling! So it’s pro-environmental, too! Those of you who think that secondhand clothing are bad need to get rid of your elitist attitudes! Well, MY daughter wears nothing but vintage and secondhand clothing and she looks great!

Blah blah blah blah. Natter natter natter.

I suppose we live in a world where, if you want to call yourself a democrat with a small d, you have to pretend that all these blithering personal anecdotes about secondhand clothing amount to intelligent contributions to policy debate. However, most of these comments just remind me of this story from the Onion: Open-minded man grimly realizes how much life he has wasted listening to bullshit.

Now, I am on the side of single mothers, in general, and I am always impressed by anybody who can tell the story of raising kids on one, female salary.

But that doesn’t mean that everybody can do it, or that it’s desirable, or that we should set policy according to what personally happened to somebody once.

And even if your personal history as a single mother with success using secondhand stores were relevant, which it’s not, and stupendously interesting, which it may be, the policy issue affects foster kids, not you, your children, or children in families headed by an adult, any adult, single, female, or otherwise.

They are, I repeat, foster kids. They may have nobody. And they may have a parent that they, themselves, sneak money to, rather than a gloriously together, competent parent who can make it work (and who can try to get resources from her extended family; remember, these are foster kids, which means the extended family network is thin or stretched.)

IOW, foster care policy is, really, not about you and what worked or didn’t for you, in all your self-mythologizing glory. Go write a memoir if it’s really all that interesting.

I strongly suspect that the money-cutting issue is basic smoke for this Casswell character to get his name in the news because I can’t believe the program change would amount to diddly squat in terms of real money saved. Minutiae politics, again: take a small-money program that serves a powerless group, wrap it up in large-scale emotional tropes for your constitutes (frugality, being independent, staying off the dole), puff like crazy, and then attempt to ride to a political win.

So let’s say this is a big-money program, which it’s not, but let’s pretend.

If there is one SCREAMINGLY OBVIOUS CONCLUSION from our past policy experience with programs for poor families, it’s that programs where we try to engineer their lives and their choices cost us more than any savings we might get from constraining choices, and those additional costs are always time and transactions costs.

Do I want social workers with 300 kid caseloads spending their time in thrift stores? No. Do I want foster parents spending their time in thrift stores? No. Not if they don’t think it’s a good use of time. If they enjoy the treasure hunt, fine. But if it’s taking them away from baseball, helping with homework, or earning extra money, then no.

So if the concern is that the allowances given to children are too high, then cap it and then let them optimize according to their preference. Be done with it.

Republicans supposedly believe in the free market. The reasons for simply giving the allowance and staying out of people’s lives come down to information and preferences–things markets are good at sorting and serving.

So we give a kid $200 a year (I doubt it, but let’s say we do). Who cares if they spend it all on one pair of really fancy jeans and four packs of Hane’s men’s t-shirts, some bras and undies, and a pair of Chuck’s? (my uniform) Plenty of teenage girls are the size they are going to be for a long time: why shouldn’t they buy something that has more wear in it? Or if a kid wants 50 pairs of torn jeans from a thrift store? Again, who cares which one they choose? It’s all the same amount of money. $200 = $200. Kids that prefer the latter can do the latter, and it is a form of recycling. How about you affix an allowance and let kids cash-out or save-forward the benefit they don’t use? There’s an incentive to be thrifty.

The main problem I have with the thrift store idea concerns the transaction costs of thrift store buying. Thrift store buying makes the most sense for little kids and small children who outgrow their clothing before they wear the clothing out. So shopping for younger kids is not much of an issue–people take their kids’ outgrown clothing readily to thrift stores, and there is a lot of choice, and there is often a lot of wear left in that clothing. With smaller kids, you don’t have to spend days on end looking for things.

For older children, the time costs of looking in thrift stores becomes a much bigger factor.
If you are hard to fit, the idea that you will simply roll into the thrift store and buy your size 9 E shoes (my shoe size) is ludicrous. Why? Because there are about 2 pairs of shoes made each year that fit me, and thus I wear them until they fall apart, no matter how ugly or expensive they are. So the foster kid who has size 9E feet is out of luck. Ditto for the teenage boy or girl who is 6’6”.

Do I want people with 9E shoes walking around their feet stuffed into size 9 shoes? No. Even though I did it the entire time I was growing up, largely because what I suffered through, though unfortunate, is not salient except to the degree that it gives me empathy.

Nor do I want a kid who is already probably feeling pretty gawky due to his size having to walk around with Erkel flood pants because that’s all he could find at Goodwill. It wasn’t a good look for Erkel.

I suppose under this “free-market” solution from Mr. Caswell we could require people like me turn in their 9E shoes every 2 years so that the wide of footed foster kids can properly learn frugality and their second-tier place in the blossoming American caste system.

Finally, there’s the idea that poor kids’ time is meaningless, that they can just spend their time sifting through thrift store bins. Brilliant. So while my friends’ children get to spend their time shopping online and studying for the SAT, foster kids get to spend their time not doing those things and looking for their thrift store treasures. BRILLIANT.

I love regulatory time-grabs from poor people. Swell policy! I mean, they have so much time. In between having sex out of wedlock, smoking, waiting in line for their lavish welfare checks, watching soap operas, and feeding Pepsi to their grubby kids, they just have all the time in the world.

I suppose we could feed these kids watery gruel and send them to break up rocks with chain gangs to offset the cost burden to the state. Or we could have them look for Coronado’s gold by digging holes in the desert. Something where they get off the back of hardworking people like me.

When gay penguins attack!

To shore up your environmental intellectual side, we should probably have a discussion about children’s stories that humanize or anthropomorphize animals, portraying them as having human relations, emotions, and understandings. (By the way, it’s obvious that animals do have relationships, emotions, and understandings, but I suspect that it’s bad for us (and for animals) to always frame these in our own, human terms.)

There’s a whole boatload of literary and environmental criticism on the topic, but my favorite book that touches on the subject is Matt Cartmill’s A View to a Death in the Morning: Hunting and Nature Through History (Harvard University Press 1996).

I’ve been thinking about animal imagery this morning, as I often do, when I happened upon the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books–that’s shorthand for books that people want drummed out of library because books about things you don’t like are scary. Just like professors who say things you don’t like are scary.

So this time out of the chute, the numero uno most challenged book is about gay penguins:

“And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson

The cover even has some lecherous penguin porn:

And tango makes three

So there’s some socio-cultural environmental and sustainability soup for you this morning. I might point out that if global warming becomes catastrophic, we’ll not have to worry about penguins, gay or otherwise, any more, let alone their ability to corrupt American youth.