Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Can This Course Help Explain Why Police Killings of Black Men Keep Happening?

As the course was getting started, two more police killings sparked national attention and protest.  On September 16, Terence Crutcher was killed after his car broke down outside Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The officer responsible, Betty Shelby, has been charged with first degree manslaughter. Four days later, Keith Scott was killed in Charlotte, NC, as he got out of his SUV in an apartment parking lot (a mourner is pictured at left).  As of today, no one has been charged.

Scott's wife released a harrowing video she made as the incident occurred.  After coming under quite a bit of pressure, the Charlotte police department released some of their video footage.  Today, the London Daily Mail tabloid ran a story claiming that Scott was a gun-carrying former convict whose wife had filed a temporary restraining order against him last year.  And so it goes.  Terence Crutcher was clearly unarmed, and Keith Scott appears to be unarmed, at least to me, though the video released so far has not settled the issue.  The New York Times ran a piece collecting some of the videos of the shootings that have put the issue of police killings on the national agenda.  Rakeyia Scott's video is like the one made by Philandro Castile's girlfriend outside St. Paul, Minnesota last July as he lay dying.

The "causes of noir" that I mentioned on Thursday refer to historical, cultural and social factors that create conditions in which actions like the killing of black males becomes more rather than less likely.  While discussion of individual cases often focuses on direct causality (whodunit and why), the course analyzes indirect causality as well.  This is when background or contextual forces shape events, often invisibly and beneath the surface.  We'll see whether by mid-way through the course we can shed light on the indirect causes of the killings that are increasingly being called an "American epidemic."

Crash Procedure English 193 Fall 2016

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.

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.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Murder and Addiction: Two Sunday Themes

The New York Times has two good stories related to our topics.  One explains why Mexican drug cartels have been killing mayors, which is quite an interesting as well as horrifying story.  The other focuses on death by drug overdose, and its fairly shocking recent increase.  There's an ironic racial angle as well:
There is a reason that blacks appear to have been spared the worst of the narcotic epidemic, said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a drug abuse expert. Studies have found that doctors are much more reluctant to prescribe painkillers to minority patients, worrying that they might sell them or become addicted.
“The answer is that racial stereotypes are protecting these patients from the addiction epidemic,” said Dr. Kolodny, a senior scientist at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University and chief medical officer for Phoenix House Foundation, a national drug and alcohol treatment company.

This follows an earlier study about a sudden rise in suicide among middle-aged whites, which was attributed to increasing economic isolation, among other things.  In any case, here are a couple of good windows into contemporary social reality via some detective non-fiction.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

El Chapo and Drug Prohibition

Here is the Sean Penn interview with Sinaloa cartel chief Guzmán that I mentioned in lecture. The Mexican drug wars have received extensive coverage, including excellent material from actual journalists and investigative organizations like ProPublica.  See David Epstein's long piece, "How DEA Agents Took Down Mexico's Most Vicoius Drug Cartel,' on how you can win battles in the drug wars, like (again) arresting a kingpin like Guzmán, and still lose the war.  Here's Epstein on El Chapo at Propublica.  On the pointlessness of the drug war, see the exchange on Democracy Now.  This interview and the one that follows covers the connection between the drug wars and the state of Mexican government and society. The noir era starts with Prohibition (of alcohol) in the United States in 1920 via constitutional amendment.  Drug prohibition has been near-universal global policy ever since, with effects that many people, including conservative Latin American policymakers, now consider to be unacceptable. Is there a connection between the war on drugs, social underdevelopment and the  massacre of students in the state of Iguala in 2014? More on this as the course unfolds.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Their Pain is what got us here in the first place: that's what I learned from my troll

Here are a few items related to our Detective Fiction themes to kick off the new round on this course:

  • Free-floating hate: Jezebel and now GQ writer Lindy West talking about being massively and constantly trolled, and what happens when your troll has a change of heart and takes you inside the trolling mind.  This is a rebroadcasted segment on the always excellent This American Life (first from January 2015). 
  • Sexual assault: Propublica did a detailed investigation of an 18 year old woman who accused someone of rape, and then recanted, and then . . . 
  • World War on Drugs. From close to home, "Devils, Deals and the DEA."  A must for Chapo Guzman buffs.
Welcome back to the class where there's no clear boundary between fiction and truth