Posted tagged ‘Not Quite Post Racial America’

Roberts, Race and Physics

December 23, 2015

I’ve been stewing for a couple of weeks about what was said by Fat Tony and Chief Justice Roberts during oral arguments on Fisher v. University of Texas, the latest attack on affirmative action.

Scalia’s hankering after the good old jurisprudence of Plessey v. Ferguson receive much notice, but I was (perhaps unsurprisingly, given my day job) at least as troubled by Roberts’ musing on the importance of diversity to a physics classroom.

Much of Roberts’ train of thought was no doubt shaped by prior jurisprudence on the criteria by which preferences could be accepted, but his specific choice of the physics classroom as a presumed space in which diversity would not show a particular benefit to the assembled students seemed to me to reflect a common and pernicious mistake, and error about both the practice of science and the ways diversity actually produces its effects.

So I wrote about it — and The Atlantic put it up on their site today.  Here’s a taste:

Roberts’s question about the “benefits” minorities might bring into a physics classroom suggests a classroom in which nothing outside physics may usefully impinge. That is, at best, a fatally narrow view. Roberts is thinking only about the answers, not the process of arriving at them. Actually doing science involves everything about the person doing the work—as, for example, the way Einstein turned his anger and pity for his father, a casualty of the rat race, into the goad that led him to so much of modern physics.

The piece turns on two stories: that told by Einstein in what he called “Notes for an Autobiography” and another, by the physicist Kaća Bradonjić, whose history I learned last week at a Story Collider performance.  She talked about childhood, war, exile and general relativity — and it was both wonderful, and the crystallizing narrative that captured, for me, the difference between thinking about physics (any inquiry) as a body of results, and physics (any inquiry) as it’s being done, contingent in time, space, and the individual minds and lives of the people doing it.

Wright_of_Derby,_The_Orrery

Anyway — y’all might enjoy, and if you’re interested, now you know where to go.

Image: Joseph Wright of Derby, The Orrery, c. 1766

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Word count: 368   Last edited by Tom Levenson on December 23, 2015 at 7:42 pm
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Today in GOP Sociopathology

December 20, 2013

We’ve got two headliners today.

First up, child labor cheerleader Jack Kingston, a congressman from Georgia now looking for a promotion to the Senate, claimed that he’s no hater of the poor for saying this:

“Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money,” Kingston said at a Jackson County Republican Party meeting, according to video surfaced by the Huffington Post. “But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”

But nah, that wasn’t aimed at shaming and constraining the poor, swears Kingston (R-eternally misunderstood).  Rather,

“This is not targeted to any one group,” Kingston said. “It would be very helpful for kids in any socio-economic group to do chores and learn the work ethic….I never did say poor kids.”

Over to you, M. Anatole France:

Thomas_kennington_orphans_1885

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

And then there is that noted scholar of the Civil Rights era, Ian Bayne, a Republican candidate running for the nomination to challenge Rep. Bill Foster, an actual smart person and a Democrat representing Illinois’s 11th district.  Mr Bayne identifies the ties that bind two characters most observers of lesser penetration would never have uncovered:

“In December 1955, Rosa Parks took a stand against an unjust societal persecution of black people, and in December 2013, Robertson took a stand against persecution of Christians,” Bayne wrote in the email. “What Parks did was courageous.”

Bayne added in the email that “what Robertson did was courageous too.”

That would be Duck Dynast Phil Robertson, who, as we all know, is convinced that African Americans with whom he worked in the pre-Civil Rights era were, as he put it “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”  And who says in the context of a current civil rights struggle, that gay men and women are bound not for equality before the law, but for Sheol:

“Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers–they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right. [via Ta-Nehisi Coates]

So, let’s recap:  Rosa Parks risks jail, bodily harm, quite possibly death to secure the minimal rights of citizenship for Americans who have been subjugated through a reign of terror for a century since the end of outright chattel slavery.  Some guy spouts hate at blacks and gays.

Just the same.

Ladles and Jellyspoons:  Your modern GOP.  A party that does not vomit out such characters cannot be allowed anywhere near the reins of power.

Or, as my man Cato would say, Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est

Image: Thomas Kennington, Orphans,1885.

This Deceased Equine Quadriped Has Been Pretty Well Whacked, But…

December 13, 2011

…I’ve never thought enough was that much better than too much, so here, a brief (for me) reaction about the now-notorious Gene Marks piece in Forbes. (With apologies to ABL, DougJ, and John, all of whom get this “timely” thing waaaay better than yours truly.)

I popped these thoughts up in response to this piece over at WNYC, goaded by Marks’ smarmy attempt to justify himself in the comment thread:

Marks is a condescending twerp who fails to get the key difference between anecdote and data. Sure, the tools he describes are available to all; why then any income/class/social indicator gap?

If you don’t want to go all eugenics here, then the answer is either a noxious culture argument (the David Brooks gambit, frequently debunked) or the actual acknowledgement of social injustice and the impact of discrimination on the poor, the non-white, on the unprivileged.

But if you do that, then you have to acknowledge that some redress– action at the level of society, and not just the individual — is needed to address the reality of that injustice, the practical loss to our society that results, and the moral obligation that flows when you recognize a wrong being done.

But on the strength of his post, and especially on his mealy mouthed comments here and elsewhere, Marks doesn’t want  to obligate himself or his privileged buddies to pony up for such social action. So he chooses to ignore the reality of unequal opportunity.

So even if it’s true that hard work and tech are available to most/all, what Marks doesn’t get is that for many among us, even hard work and the use of all that lovely internet stuff won’t actually overcome the barriers raised by the reality of daily experience for many, many Americans.

Wanker!

Yeah, I know.  Quoting oneself is a sure sign of some kind of pathology. (“Enough about me. What do you think of  my hair?”)

But just to beat this dead horse one last time: I’ve used often enough the line that runs, with some variation, that is is exceptionally difficult to know that which your livelihood depends on your not knowing.  With that in mind, what strikes me most about Marks’ piece is how baldly it goes to the heart of our politics right now.  As noted above, the point of saying that kids of color have all that they need to succeed is both to dodge the bullet of paying for change, and, more deeply, to avoid confronting all the moral complexity of the reality of others’ experience.

Of course, that’s not a two-step unique to Marks.  It’s the core mental operation required to be a member of the “I got mine, Jack” caucus of the GOP.  Which is why it so important to bust apart the concept that individuals can prosper outside of society. I failed meme school — but in the metaphors I trade in day to day, the way I phrase it to myself is that atoms alone have little value; molecules interacting…now you’re talking.  Elizabeth Warren says much the same notion vastly more effectively.  But however we get the message across, that’s what’s up for grabs over the next year.

Image:  Benjamin West, Queen Charlotte,  c. 1776.

Don’t Read This One, Boston Haters: Bill Russell Testifies, Exemplifies.

February 12, 2011

Bill Russell never flapped his gums idly.  Instead, if you listened to both the words and those moments in which he chose not to speak, you’d learn something.

So we can today.

Russell is often asked about his reaction to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he will receive from President Obama on Tuesday, …

Is this the greatest personal honor in his life?

“A close second,” Russell replied.

Umm, what’s first? The tentativeness of the question elicited the familiar whooping roar of laughter occasionally emitted by this publicly serious man.

“When he was about 77, my father and I were talking,” Russell answered. “And he said: ‘You know, you’re all grown up now, and I want to tell you something. You know, I am very proud of the way you turned out as my son, and I’m proud of you as a father.’

“My father is my hero, O.K., and I cannot perceive of anything topping that,” Russell continued, his voice becoming husky. This being the mature Bill Russell, born on Lincoln’s birthday in 1934, he saw fit to add, “While I am very, very flattered by this honor.”

On the nth day in a row on which stories confirm terrible setbacks for most of us in our long-running class war, let’s remember some heroes for the good guys.  Bill Russell was surely one of them.

Go read the whole piece (and the SI profile that the NYTimes linked to in the quote above).  It’s worth remembering, as Russel does, both from whence he and we have come:

Russell was born in West Monroe, La.; his parents knew people who had been born slaves. Once his mother made a handsome suit for herself, and police officers told her not to wear “white women’s clothes,” [Russel’s daughter] Karen Russell said.

“Black people had to wait in line at a drugstore or gas station, and white people went first,” she continued. “One day, my grandfather tried to pull away from a gas line, and the owner pulled a shotgun and said, ‘Boy, you’re going to buy your gas from me.’ ”

And how far we have come, notwithstanding how much, much farther we have to go:

And what does he, the country’s first black professional coach, think about receiving a medal from its first black president? …

“Well, you know, I know him for a while, long before he was president,” Russell said. “And the last time I talked to him, I said, I am very proud of him, not because he is the first black president, but ‘because you’re an intelligent, competent politician and you arrived at the top of your profession, and so, I’m proud of you for your accomplishments as a man.’ ”

Bill Russell (in what is not intended as an epitaph): Si monument requiris, circumspice...which may be translated as “If you seek his monument, look around you.”

Image:  Francisco de Goya, Retrato del Duque de San Carlos, 1815.