Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chinatown Issues for building a quiz question

First, there are those slides that summarize the real Owens Valley deal on which the Chinatown screenplay is based.

The movie does quite a good job of translating the real history.

What's noir about this complicated, multi-year business deal? Hmm, that could be a good quiz question.

Then there's Gittes' failure, which I rushed a bit at the end of that lecture.

We can decide together when you want to discuss noir economics (monopoly capitalism as Cause #5) or Gittes's middle-class weakness.

Causes of Noir #4: Ferguson MO Grand Jury Verdict (UPDATE 1 12/9; UPDATE2 12/17)

I'm going to focus in lecture today on Birdman, men who kill, and psycho- patho- logy, so will post some text and links here to keep myself in check during lecture itself.

A key example of one of our issues came to a head last night when a St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson (above) on any of five counts in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO last summer.  Grand juries do not need evidence sufficient to convict, but only enough to bring the case to trial. The grand jury did not indict him even for involuntary manslaughter, so the result is an exoneration of the officer's conduct in the shooting.

The New York Times has a useful timeline.

The grand jury transcripts have been posted. This is an unusual move, and you can experience the Rashomon effect of contradictory interpretations for yourself.

Much current coverage has featured the protests. See for example local St. Louis coverage. One report suggested that most of the damage was to black-owned businesses along Ferguson's main shopping street, while the vaunted National Guard forces were protecting public buildings including the police department. A  St. Louis friend of mine wrote last night that "Ferguson is lost."

A thorough account of the testimony that won over the jury is here (Michael Brown charged and threatened him, and allegedly made him "feels like a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan".

There are defenses of the grand jury verdict. One example is "Justice Was Served in Ferguson."

 We've been calling our fourth cause of noir culture "legacies of slavery," and have discussed levels of inequality that enable unilateral conduct and the ongoing radicalization of that conduct.   The Ferguson killing brought together some traditional practices:
  • policing style perceived as unjust and discriminatory ("overpolicing")
  • a white person killing a black person in the name of self-defense
  • trial by grand jury rather than by (public, adversarial) jury
  • non-punishment of the white person for killing the black person
We've talked about how in a noir world justice does not contain violence with the truth, and here we have a kind of case study.

I'll talk about "suicide by police" in the next couple of lectures. Is there an undertone of this motive in the transcripts?  (This of course puts all the more pressure on police NOT to cooperate by pulling the trigger.)

Comments pro and con are welcome.

UPDATED 12/9: The Hands Up Don't Shoot movement has been supplemented, in the wake of the non-indictment of the officer who killed Eric Garner on Staten Island with an (illegal) choke hold), with the I Can't Breath movement.  Protests continued over this past weekend, including protests in Berkeley.

Some useful commentary in the past 2 weeks:

"Why It's Impossible to Indict a Cop" The Nation Magazine (a legal overview)
"Why We Won't Wait,"  UCLA History Professor Robin D.G. Kelley on civil rights precedents and anger
"Ferguson Grand Jury Evidence Reveals Mistakes, Holes in Investigations," Huffington Post analysis of grand jury proceeding (11/25)
"Barack Obama, Ferguson, and the Evidence of Things Unsaid," Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic on the limits of Obama's moderate race position.
"Protesters Take to the Streets of Berkeley" Berkeleyside (12/7).  good images
"Unarmed People of Color Killed by Police, 1999-2014" Gawker 12/7.  a truly disturbing "yearbook" with short descriptions of the circumstances of death attached to the photos.

UPDATE 2: many commentators on the Ferguson case noted that when the grand jury refused to indict Officer Darren Warren, it must have taken as truth the claim that Michael Brown charged Officer Warren like a football player, with his head down.  It appeared that only one witness made this claim--"Witness 40""-- which was contradicted by all other witnesses.   The plot thickened: on December 15th, the website Smoking Gun revealed that Witness 40 is Sandra McElroy, a woman with a history of racism, mental illness, and check fraud who may not actually have been on the scene.  The story, along with McElroy's confirmation that she was witness 40, is here

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Exotic Learning Machine

I've talked some this term about learning, and comparing it to the detection process in these books and films.

Real learning is an active process, and I've also discussed my ongoing concern that the lecture format that is common in public universities doesn't encourage active learning.  I assigned my piece about advising in France earlier this term, and am planning to add a layer to this on Tuesday.

Then today the New York Times published an interesting piece about learning.  Towards the end it says this:
One reason scientists suspect that studying in pairs or groups can be helpful is that students are forced to talk to one another about the material — or better yet, argue about it. These are all forms of self-examination, and as such deepen learning more than passively rereading or reviewing the material.
So that's your WRG's for you!  And then there's my favorite paragraph:
The brain is an exotic learning machine, to put it mildly. It does not take orders well. You can tell it to remember the major players in the settling of Manhattan, stress how crucially important that is, and on the test a week later very little comes back. And yet you might remember nearly every play in the San Francisco Giants’ Game 7 World Series victory. Why? Because the brain doesn’t listen to what you say; it watches what you do. And thinking often about Madison Bumgarner pitching, talking about the game, arguing about it: These are mental actions, as well as subtle forms of testing knowledge.
Cognitive scientists aren't just re-installing another testing regime, but trying to figure out the role of self-testing in learning. There are some good ideas in this piece. The book he mentions, Making it Stick, has a lot of ideas that could make your college studying much more effective.  To be continued Tuesday . . .

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Innocent who plead Guilty

In lecture yesterday I discussed a rewrite of The Long Goodbye in which Marlowe would have framed an innocent Eileen Wade, and added that many people plead guilty when they are innocent, for various reasons.  Here's a new piece on the subject from the New York Review of books, which argues that 20,000 people who were wrongly convicted are currently serving time.  The excessive use of plea bargains (95% to 97% of all non-dismissed cases) is a major reason. The photo is of Brian Banks, a Long Beach high school football star who served five years for a crime he didn't commit on advice from his defense attorney.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The Original Marlowe

Is this man at the left--Samuel Marlowe, the first licensed PI west of the Mississippi, or so it is thought.  He was born in Jamaica and, after setting himself up in LA, had among his many activities a long correspondence with Dashell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.  Thanks to Daniel for pointing to the LA Times story about this.