Saturday, March 26, 2016

More on the Criminalization of Drug Use

Decriminalization of all drug use (our solution to Noir Cause 3) makes even more sense when we understand the politicial goals behind the strategic criminalization in the 1970s.  Richard Nixon's (r) domestic policy advisor, John Erlichmann (l) laid it out in a 1994 interview to Legalize it All author Dan Baum:
“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Tale of Two Shootings: In the Hospital, In the Park

We've discussed how Easy Rawlins, Black Betty, and much of their Los Angeles came to California as part of the 2nd Great Migration. (That's one of Jacob Lawrence's series The Great Migration, one of the high points of 20th century American art.)  This past Sunday's New York Times had a piece by the journalist and historian Isabel Wilkerson that compares the end of two Great Migration stories--the killing of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 when his family sent him back to the South for a summer vacation, and the killing of 12-year-old Tamar Rice in 2014 in a Cleveland park across the street from his home.
Another reason the article is interesting is its narrative structure: it's a good example of non-fiction writing that uses characters to tell a story with a large historical arc, in under 1800 words (or about two blog posts).  Take a look at the skillful way the two family stories are told.   Another major issue gets us to the second story:  
As in the majority of the 21st-century cases of police shootings in the North, no one was prosecuted in the death of Tamir Rice. Late last December, a grand jury declined to indict the officer who killed him. Decades ago, in the Jim Crow South, Emmett Till’s killers were acquitted by an all-white jury, but at least they had gone to trial.
The Times also ran a major investigative story about why a Black college student in Houston sought help for a manic episode that was producing delusions and wound up with a bullet in his chest--administered in his hospital room.  He survived, and the story was produced in tandem with an episode of This American Life, "My Damn Mind," in which the victim, Alan Pean, tells much of the story himself.  Both are really good, and ponder issues we've raised about the underlying cultural forces that shape Black freedom and justice (and their absence) in the U.S., fifty years after the formal end of Jim Crow.

Friday, February 12, 2016

If You Want some Noir Foreign Policy Reading

Look no further than this piece by Scott Ritter about Syria.  It's ostensibly about Hillary Clinton's repeated mistakes as Secretary of State--related to her faith in "digital democracy"--but it dives quickly into a global shadow network of concealed actors and deceptive goals, with Clinton tied to part of it.   That is Kobani at the left.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Syrian civil war and regulating sex work

There were a couple of good pieces on our course these this weekend.  One, a Guardian op-ed called "What happens next in Aleppo will shape Europe," covers the murk of the cross and doublecross. (Left: Exodus from Aleppo 3 February 2016).
Aleppo will define much of what happens next. A defeat for Syrian opposition forces would further empower Isis in the myth that it is the sole defender of Sunni Muslims – as it terrorises the population under its control. There are many tragic ironies here, not least that western strategy against Isis has officially depended on building up local Syrian opposition ground forces so that they might one day push the jihadi insurgency out of its stronghold in Raqqa. If the very people that were meant to be counted on to do that job as foot soldiers now end up surrounded and crushed in Aleppo, who will the west turn to? Russia has all along claimed it was fighting Isis – but in Aleppo it is helping to destroy those Syrian groups that have in the past proved to be efficient against Isis.
and there's this:
All this is happening at a time when European governments are desperate to win Ankara’s cooperation on the refugee problem. If Turkey now turns into a troublemaker for Nato on its Middle Eastern flank, that serves Russian interests. Similarly, if Europe sees a new exodus of refugees, Russia will stand to benefit.The refugee crisis has sowed deep divisions on the continent and it has helped populist rightwing parties flourish – many of which are Moscow’s political allies against the EU as a project. The refugee crisis has put key EU institutions under strain; it has heightened the danger of Brexit (which Moscow would welcome); and it has severely weakened Angela Merkel, the architect of European sanctions against Russia.
The piece describes Putin, the man of order, as the king of chaos, but with his own interests always in short term view. And Putin is only one of the regions noir princes, in the Machiavellian sense we discussed last week in lecture.

Another piece, on the plan to criminalize the customers of sex workers in Britain is following the Swedish model that targets then client and not the prostitute.  Sex worker and activist Laura Lee says this plan would make sex workers less safe, and explains why: when clients fear prosecution, they don't use the registries that sex workers set up to identify and screen their clients:
“I had a guy call a number of months ago. He was perfectly polite – a little curt, maybe, but I put that down to nerves. When he got to my place, he was very clearly disturbed. He started with hideous verbal abuse, based on sectarianism, and his hatred of sex workers, a hatred of Catholics, just a hatred of who we are and what we do. I kept him as calm as I could, I used every soothing method I knew, I didn’t attempt to argue back. My primary purpose was to get him out of the room, which I did eventually.” She isn’t often alarmed by her clients, but this new inability to screen them has frightened her and her colleagues. “I was left badly shaken by the experience and the knowledge that I had no way of tracing this man to warn other sex workers about him,” she says. Other women have told her that they are “very scared”.
 Tips of the icebergs here.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016

Gangster Warlords and High School Assault & Shaming

There are a couple of good media clips for the weekend.  One is a story about a Sundance documentary on sexual assault and its aftermath in high school.  The film is Audrie & Daisy, and it is about a teen who committed suicide after an assault while passed out at a party, and how her mother pursued the case.  The mother, Sheila  Pott, is rather amazing.  The second is an interview with Ioan Grillo, a British journalist who's worked on drug cartels in Latin American since 2001, and who has a new book, Gangster Warlords, about how the cartels are moving into the political system of Mexico and other countries, and what to do about it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

On Martin Luther King Day 2016

Democracy Now played a recovered audio tape of a speech MLK gave in London in 1964 (transcript and audio are here).  The crucial themes of desegregation and racial equality are there. In this context of this class, you can see the extent to which Dr. King was an interedisciplinary cultural thinker who made connections among realms most people see as separate--domestic racism, foreign policy, police policy, jobs and employment, international economics, and the psychology of personal identity.

In California, protestors shut down the Bay Bridge for a half an hour, for #BlackLivesMatter #BlackHealthMatters #ReclaimMLK and related justice issues.  SF Chronicle coverage is here.

Today, as we start our discussion of noir fiction, film, and society, we'll begin to ask whether noir sanctions or supports protest, revolt, or revolution.  The immediate answer is no--it thinks D for Dissent is for suckers. But does it also lay out psychological and social conditions of the kind that prompt dissent, protest, revolt, and revolution in the 20th century? Stay tuned.