Third Culture Queen vol. 12

Modern Thought | Commentaries on today’s culture and progress

Hey y’all,

In some fun news, San Francisco can’t do much but it can piss off the NRA.

Although I may agree with the label, it’s not the most productive measure in the world. However, based on how McConnell reacted to #MoscowMitch, I think it’s safe to say that these traitor-laced jabs get under their scales.

As I mentioned earlier this week, my goal for Thursday’s edition is to share the stories I find that discuss the most pressing issues of our day. Today’s edition includes:

  • Climate Change – Blue New Deals, Great Floods, and the Gulf Coast

  • Equity – LGBTQ+ History, Racism, and Voting Rights

  • Politics – Industrial policy, Urbanism and Worker’s Right

I hope everyone has great end of their work week and weekend! Make sure to sure share any good reads you stumble upon. :)

Happy Reading!

– Kyle (@kgborland)

PS – In non-political news, the Smithsonian is paying for folks to go to museums! Check out the website below to see if there are any participating institutions near you.

Modern Thought

  • A "Blue New Deal" Would Benefit More Than Just the Oceans (Inverse)

    Politically, a blue new deal is just a concept for now. But this year, scientists have also raised concerns that if the global community doesn’t work to protect oceans, we might not get a chance to fully understand the benefits they can have for health, both mental and physical.

    The United Nations has designated the decade between 2021 and 2030 as the “Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.” Amongst other goals, this initiative is supposed to help create an atlas of the ocean and workshop solutions to help countries manage the health of their marine environments. Right now we’re in the “planning phase” of this program, and some scientists are already worried that we’re not acting fast enough.

    In March, an editorial in The BMJ argued that public health experts and marine scientists need to accelerate their efforts to protect the ocean as more and more work shows just how much it’s tied to human health.

    (Related: Visual Capitalist)

  • A Gay Black American Who Stared Down Nazis in Name of Love (Narratively)

    In the fall of 1938, Peggram met the person who would change his life. There is no record of how Peggram met Danish scholar Gerdh Hauptmann, who was studying fine art and painting at the Sorbonne, for the same reason that there is no written record of any facet of their relationship: They were gay, in a time when few dared to write such feelings down. Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that this was the definitive romantic relationship of Peggram’s life. Hauptmann taught him Danish; he taught Hauptmann English. Within a year, he would write that they were “inseparable.”

    When Peggram and Hauptmann told the story of their arrest to the Baltimore Afro-American, they did not mention homosexuality. They were taken into custody, they said, because the authorities felt “a Dane has no right to be a friend of a Negro.” After several days of interrogation, the Germans decided that Peggram would be permitted to leave German-occupied territory, but that Hauptmann, as the subject of a conquered country, would be compelled to join the German army. But, as the Afro-American put it, Peggram and Hauptmann “swore that whatever came, they would not break up.” (Related: T Magazine)

  • An Op-Ed From the Future on Election Security (LawFare)

    This crisis was both predictable and partially avoidable. Since 2016, many institutions have warned the American public and Congress of the potential risk to U.S. democracy. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report from last summer, which followed Robert Mueller’s anguished plea for action, contained the evidence needed to understand that this kind of attack was possible. While an open society like that of the United States will always have some vulnerability to attack, action by Congress to set standards for election systems, fund upgrades to federal and state capabilities, and create legal structures for coordination between the public and private sectors could have prevented some of these problems.

    In the bigger picture, the reluctance of the U.S. Senate and president to appropriately punish Russian malfeasance in 2016 likely emboldened Russia to try again in 2020. The Russians were not alone in their actions this time. It is now believed that the cyberwarfare arms of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the Lazarus Group of North Koreaas well as patriotic hacking groups in Vietnam and Pakistan were all involved in the Election Day shenanigans, likely without any foreknowledge or coordination. (Related: IJR)

  • Black Women Aren’t Here To Solve Your Racism Problem (The Riveter)

    Twenty years after working at Elle, I found myself at another women’s media outlet, this one online and almost completely white-staffed. I was hired as a managing editor, but with the provison that I would also write, because by then I had authored five books, and was widely published as an essayist, cultural critic, and profile writer. A few months into the job, old YouTube videos of a regular freelance writer for the site surfaced and exposed her as a racist — using the n-word, among other things. As managing editor, and the only senior black staffer, it was well within my purview to strongly recommend we cut ties with her, because racism is intolerable. My white supervisors disagreed, and not only insisted on giving her the chance to apologize, but decided that I should be the one to work with her in crafting the apology for publication.

    I spent an entire day working with this young white woman on her “apology” — and it very nearly killed me. Both because I made her sound a lot smarter than she was, and because with every exchange between us, I felt like I was being psychologically assaulted. We posted the apology, and guess who doubled down on her racism less than an hour later? On Twitter, no less. “You were right,” one of my white supervisors said, feigning self-defeat, as if she’d just lost a round of rock, paper, scissors over who would take out the day’s trash.

    Black women are hired, and then we are all too often used at the whim of our white supervisors and colleagues. Regardless of title, level of entry or established goals for growth and promotion, we are simultaneously unseen and overseen, a token of diversity held to the technicalities of our positions only when we seek to go beyond expectations and assumptions. White co-workers in media spaces, which are already predominantly white: you can do better by listening to your black colleagues, particularly, but not exclusively, on issues pertaining to race.

  • California Bill Makes App-Based Companies Treat Workers as Employees (NYT)

    Under the measure, which would go into effect Jan. 1, workers must be designated as employees instead of contractors if a company exerts control over how they perform their tasks or if their work is part of a company’s regular business.

    In California, the legislation will affect at least one million workers who have been on the receiving end of a decades-long trend of outsourcing and franchising work, making employer-worker relationships more arm’s-length. Many people have been pushed into contractor status with no access to basic protections like a minimum wage and unemployment insurance. Ride-hailing drivers, food-delivery couriers, janitors, nail salon workers, construction workers and franchise owners could now all be reclassified as employees.

    “Today the so-called gig companies present themselves as the innovative future of tomorrow, a future where companies don’t pay Social Security or Medicare,” said State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, a Democrat. “Let’s be clear: there is nothing innovative about underpaying someone for their labor.”

  • CNN will also host a 2020 town hall focused on LGBTQ issues (The Week)

    …the LGBTQ focused town hall that will reportedly take place next month in Los Angeles, is intended to give candidates a chance to talk about their policy platforms in detail and have nuanced discussion related to topics shown to be a priority for Democratic voters.

    "The evening will constitute the largest-ever audience for a Democratic presidential town hall devoted to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) issues," the release reads, "and will mark the first time in history that a major cable news network will air a presidential event devoted to issues of importance to the LGBTQ community."

  • Growing Partisan Divide in Views of Higher Education (Pew Research Center)

    new Pew Research Center survey finds that only half of American adults think colleges and universities are having a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days. About four-in-ten (38%) say they are having a negative impact – up from 26% in 2012.

    The share of Americans saying colleges and universities have a negative effect has increased by 12 percentage points since 2012. The increase in negative views has come almost entirely from Republicans and independents who lean Republican. From 2015 to 2019, the share saying colleges have a negative effect on the country went from 37% to 59% among this group.

  • Leo Tolstoy: “Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves?” (Lapham’s Quarterly)

    “If I do not smoke, I cannot write. I cannot get on; I begin and cannot continue,” is what is usually said, and what I used to say. What does it really mean? It means either that you have nothing to write, or that what you wish to write has not yet matured in your consciousness but is only beginning dimly to present itself to you, and the appraising critic within, when not stupefied with tobacco, tells you so. If you did not smoke you would either abandon what you have begun, or you would wait until your thought had cleared itself in your mind; you would try to penetrate into what presented itself dimly to you, would consider the objections that offered themselves, and would turn all your attention to the elucidation of the thought. But you smoke, the critic within you is stupefied, and the hindrance to your work is removed.

  • Local newspapers are suffering, but they’re still (by far) the most significant journalism producers in their communities (Nieman Lab)

    We found, for instance, that while local newspapers accounted for roughly 25 percent of the local media outlets in our sample, they accounted for nearly 50 percent of the original news stories in our database. Local newspapers also accounted for nearly 60 percent of the local news stories in our database (again, while accounting for only 25 percent of the outlet in our sample). Essentially, local newspapers produced more of the local reporting in the communities we studied than television, radio, and online-only outlets combined.

    Local newspapers also produced just over 38 percent of the stories that addressed a critical information need. And, when we focused exclusively on stories that met all three of these criteria, local newspapers accounted for almost 60 percent of those stories. In sum, by all of the criteria we employed to assess local journalism output, local newspapers over-performed relative to their prominence amongst local media outlets.

  • Next up for the concentration camps: homeless people (Cathy Reisenwitz)

    Why is Trump looking to incarcerate homeless people now? 

    It may be helpful to look at the economics of why he’s pushing to incarcerate migrant families, despite more humane and cheaper alternatives. 

    Today American runs three family incarceration facilities. Two are privately owned and operated: South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas and Karnes County Residential Center (KCRC) in Karnes City, Texas. They’re run by CoreCivic and the GEO Group, respectively.

    Yes, the cruelty is the point. But the money is also the point. 

    Why does ICE pay these companies an average of $133 per person per night when an ankle bracelet costs $15 per day, at most? Because it provides revenues to the cities, relatively high-paying jobs, and outsize returns to CoreCivic’s investors such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, Vanderbilt University, and Jack C. Massey. 

    The detention centers are a massive wealth transfer from American families to stockholders, city bureaucrats, and detention center employees. (Related: VICE)

    Comment: Subscribe to Cathy’s newsletter! It’s one of my favorites.

  • The anti-liberal moment (Vox)

    These criticisms do not arise in a vacuum. They stem from real-world crises, most notably the 2008 Great Recession and the rise of far-right populists like Donald Trump to power. These shocks to the system show, in the eyes of liberalism’s contemporary critics, that something is profoundly wrong with the fundamental ideas that define our politics. It is a belief that “the liberal idea has become obsolete,” as Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

    Unlike Schmitt and Putin, the intellectual critics of liberalism opponents do not typically challenge democracy itself. But they are united in believing that American liberalism as currently constituted is past its expiration date, that it is buckling under the weight of its contradictions. Their arguments tap into a deep sense of discontent among the voting public, a collapse of trust in the political establishment, and a growing sense that institutions like Congress aren’t delivering what the public needs.

    On the right, the anti-liberals locate the root of the problem in liberalism’s social doctrines, its emphasis on secularism and individual rights. In their view, these ideas are solvents breaking down America’s communities and, ultimately, dissolving the very social fabric the country needs to prosper.

    Left anti-liberals, by contrast, pinpoint liberal economic doctrine as the source of our current woes. Liberalism’s vision of the economy as a zone of individual freedom, in their view, has given rise to a deep system of exploitation that makes a mockery of liberal claims to be democratic — an oppressive system referred to as “neoliberalism.”

  • The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History (CityLab)

    In 1994, Cesare Marchetti, an Italian physicist, described an idea that has come to be known as the Marchetti Constant. In general, he declared, people have always been willing to commute for about a half-hour, one way, from their homes each day.

    This principle has profound implications for urban life. The value of land is governed by its accessibility—which is to say, by the reasonable speed of transport to reach it.

    The problem with dispersion is that people can’t simply live next to where they work, especially in dual-income families. Good luck finding a home next to both a bank headquarters and a steel mill. And, of course, many industries like finance and media thrive on concentration. In the U.S., dispersed cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta ended up having even worse traffic than the relatively concentrated ones like New York City, as hordes of far-flung commuters pressing in daily to get to their jobs.  

    Today, like its predecessors, the expressway has struck a technological threshold. Its downfall is its limited capacity. Even the biggest highway can move at most a couple hundred thousand cars per day—sufficient for small cities and for long-distance trips, but inadequate in a city of millions. And while people were once content—or at least powerless to resist—the demolition of thousands of homes and entire neighborhoods for new urban highways, those days are also over.

  • The End of the Roman Empire Wasn’t That Bad (The Atlantic)

    In his new book, Escape From Rome, Walter Scheidel, of Stanford, goes further, arguing that “the Roman empire made modern development possible by going away and never coming back. From this developmental perspective, the death of the Roman empire had a much greater impact than its prior existence,” Scheidel writes. He quotes Edward Gibbon’s famous judgment that Rome’s fall was “the greatest, perhaps, and most awful scene, in the history of mankind”—but disagrees with the “awful” part.

    Even when the formal ties of the Roman empire had broken, informal links connected its various parts. In the absence of the Roman state, there was still the Latin language as the original lingua franca; there was still a network of roads. Christianity in some form was a shared religion. Today the links include trade, travel, family lineage, and collaborative research—links that, like the internet, were forged in an era of functioning national and global institutions but with a better chance to endure.

    “With the waning of federal government, you’d see some states really big enough to act as countries, starting of course with California,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, the CEO of the think tank New America, told me. “You could imagine Texas working with Mexico, and New England with Canada—and the upper-Midwest states as a bloc, and the Pacific Northwest.” She pointed out that states can’t sign formal treaties—but then again, the U.S. Senate has not approved a major treaty in years.

  • The Right Industrial Policy for America (Bloomberg)

    Given the recent decline in the quality of governance in the U.S., I have my worries about America undertaking too ambitious an industrial policy. I’d like to see the government solve some more basic problems first, such as limiting school shootings or building out Oakland and San Francisco.

    Perhaps most important, it should be recognized that the U.S. already has an industrial policy — and has for some time. It is a collection of programs and policies at the federal and state level, many of which are highly imperfect, and so the focus should be on fixing what is already in place.

    So if I were designing an “industrial policy” for America, my first priority would be to improve and “unstick” its procurement cycles. There may well be bureaucratic reasons that this is difficult to do. But if it can’t be done, then perhaps the U.S. shouldn’t be setting its sights on a more ambitious industrial policy.

    A second form of American industrial policy is the biomedical grants and subsidies associated with the National Institutes of Health. At a budget of almost $40 billion, it is the largest government-supported biomedical complex in the world, and it indirectly supports U.S. pharmaceutical and medical device exports, as well as biomedical innovation.

    The third form of U.S. industrial policy is an impressive network of state universities, which cover about 73% of all students in higher education, by one 2011 estimate. More than 9% of all college students attend community college in California.

    Comment: I’m a big fan of industrial policy (as is America, truth be told) but I did (selfishly) love his highlight for the need to build out Oakland and SF.

  • This plan would see U.S. build 12m units of social housing (Fast Company)

    But a proposal released on September 5 by People’s Action called “A National Homes Guarantee” lays out exactly how the U.S. could change that—ensuring homes for all.s In a country where more than 3 million families are experiencing homelessness, it’s a multifaceted task. The plan’s goals range from reinvestment in public housing and the creation of a national tenants’ bill of rights, to seeking reparations for historically racist housing policies like redlining and discrimination against people on rent subsidies and, most ambitiously, building 12 million new social housing units in the U.S.

    “For us, this is the major intervention that takes housing off the market and decommodifies it,” she says. The Homes Guarantee proposes taxing the appreciation of privately owned homes, while the 12 million new social housing units would put a massive number of new units off the speculation market entirely. The aim is to shift the paradigm—from homes as wealth stores to basic necessities.

  • U.S. Cities Play Catch-Up on High-Speed Rail (US News & Report)

    But private sector projects are advancing. In the densely populated Northeast Corridor a company called Northeast Maglev is in the early stages of a project that could eventually connect Washington and New York City in one hour. Virgin’s Orlando-to-Miami network, which will top out at 125 mph, is projected to start running in 2022. The company’s 70 mph Miami-to-West Palm Beach trains began operating early last year. Branson has said he’s “100% confident” the high-speed route will soon extend to Tampa; the company is also seeking funding for a high-speed line between Las Vegas and greater Los Angeles.

    In Texas – a state with large and growing cities spread over vast distances – a company called Texas Central, backed by Citigroup and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, is promising to accept no taxpayer subsidies and is racing against SNCF, France’s state-owned railway company, to open the region’s first network.

    The Texas Central project, says Peter LeCody, president of the nonprofit Texas Rail Advocates, represents the state’s best chance for high-speed rail. And after a favorable Department of Transportation ruling last week, the company could begin construction as soon as next year.

    Passengers, adds LeCody, don’t care how the operation is funded. “We just want to get the doggone thing going.” (Related: The Transport Politic)

  • The White Power Movement From Reagan to Trump (The Nation)

    Q: Let’s talk about Donald Trump’s place in the White Power Movement. The El Paso killer’s manifesto quoted Trump extensively about an invasion from Mexico, but your history and analysis suggest a different way of understanding Trump’s role in white nationalist violence.

    A: The last time this movement declared war and carried out assassinations and stole military weapons and began a cycle of paramilitary training was not under a liberal president—it was in the second term of the Reagan administration, when arguably they stood to benefit from a lot of the policy coming down from the federal government. The idea that a sympathetic executive will make for a reduction in violent White Power activism simply doesn’t hold true in the historical record from Reagan to Trump.

    This social movement is organized across a spectrum of sort of intensiveness. If you think about a series of concentric circles, what we’re talking about in the period that I study is a very small number of people, 10,000 to 25,000 at the center, who live and breathe this movement. Those are the people who might become violent, and who live their entire lives in this movement. They attend White Power churches, they pick each other up from the airport, they provide childcare to one another, they get their marital counseling in the movement. Often they live in communities that are entirely within the movement.

    Outside of that, there are another 150,000 people who regularly attend rallies, purchase the newspapers, and send contributions. Outside of that, there’s another 450,000 people, who don’t themselves buy the newspapers, but who regularly read the newspapers. In the next circle are people who would never themselves read something that says “official newspaper of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” but who might agree with some of the ideas in them, especially if they’re presented by a friend or if they come to them from someone they trust. That outer, more diffuse circle is a place where people are talking now about “invasion.”

  • Why the Gulf Coast Is Uniquely Vulnerable to Disasters (The Atlantic)

    Wetland cities sitting on or near a gulf that generates some of the fiercest storms on earth are becoming more vulnerable to the “natural” hazards they’ve long battled. Their development is booming, but in the process the cities have torn out the wetlands, paved over the prairies, and built an economy (and politics) around the carbon-heavy oil and gas industries. The cities grow. Local disaster managers do the best they can to prepare. And then they wait, hoping the circulation of wind and water does not bring the worst case to them. But it will, eventually, and everyone knows this, except when they manage to forget it. This is a slow tragedy in innumerable acts.

    Alexis Madrigal: Aside from vulnerability to the same kinds of weather events, what unites the region?

    Cindy Ermus: Infrastructure. I should mention Ted Steinberg’s afterword to Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South sums things up by looking at the slow disaster of infrastructure in Florida. In the case of infrastructure, this negligence takes decades and eventually comes to a head when Hurricane Katrina or Harvey makes landfall.

    For example, infrastructure is what made Katrina the kind of disaster that it was. Decisions had been made on the ground. Things that could have easily been done and were instead neglected in terms of the construction of levees and the decisions of the Army Corps of Engineers in previous decades. Then there is the disappearance of the wetlands on the coast of Louisiana, which were disposed of to increase traffic to the Port of New Orleans. The wetlands are nature’s way of serving protection against big storms.

    (Related: Longreads, Pulitzer Center and Southerly)

Thought Provoking Links