Monday, November 12, 2018

5 Facts about Crime

On our theme of using actual data to make arguments, here's a Pew Research Center study about crime rates in the US, in contrast to political discourse about them.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Another Week Like That

Woodard's 11-Nations map held up pretty well during the mid-terms.  Leaving aside the important effects of gerrymandering and voter suppression ("Why Wasn't the Blue Wave Bigger?"), the map predicts that Democrats, standing for social improvement through collective action and regulation, would have a harder time advancing in the Old South and Greater Applachia than in midwestern Yankeedom.  And that's what happened.  Wisconsin and Michigan reverted to their historic baselines, and Georgia and Florida didn't quite depart from theirs. One change to watch is that Far West, which has been solidly Republican for a few decades, is increasingly in play.

We also have had another mass killing, this one in a country-western bar in Ventura County halfway between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. The shooter has now been identified, and fits a pattern we'll discuss next week.  If you're interested in this issue, consider this piece, What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Shedding Light on an Especially Violent Week of American Hate

The first question is always the same: can we understand insane acts like the several that made massive news this past week (two senior citizens killed for being black in a grocery store, pipe bombs sent to leading Trump opponents, 11 murdered in a Pittsburgh synagogue)? The course's answer is yes we can. More on that in lecture and section this week.

Two others are, why do people pick the wrong targets? Can detection-like inquiry reduce this problem?  This piece confirms the relevance of this problem in the pipe-bombing case. David Dayen, a prominent financial journalist (author of Chain of Title), starts with this:
Cesar Sayoc, the Donald Trump-loving Floridian who was taken into custody in relation to pipe bombs mailed to prominent Democrats, was foreclosed on in 2009 by a bank whose principal owner and chair is now Trump’s treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin.
Also relevant: this journalist's Twitter thread about the knowledge problems created by "both-sidesism," which, as we know, detectives like Sherlock Holmes scrupulously avoid.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Chicago Police

I mentioned Marlowe's description of police brutality and then the Chicago Police Department's perennial problems with this. Then I discovered the New York Times had an editorial that very day on the subject.   It starts like this:
Chicago erupted three years ago when the city belatedly released a video showing that a white officer had essentially executed a black teenager named Laquan McDonald and that the police and city officials lied about it for months. The public’s outrage drove the police superintendent and county prosecutor from their jobs. Last Friday, 12 jurors convicted the officer, Jason Van Dyke, of second-degree murder after less than eight hours of deliberation.
Take a look.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Echoes from the Toronto Drive-By Killings

Some course themes reappeared in this crime. One was "suicide by police"-- the van driver specifically requested that the officer shoot him "in the head."  The second is police killings: this cop did not take the bait.  He shouted repeatedly, "get down or be shot," but he did not shoot, even when the driver charged him with a weapon. The restraint here was remarkable and something I'd like to see much more often in the U.S.  The third is "toxic masculinity," tied directly back to Isla Vista's killer Elliott Rodger.  Alek Minassian's
last Facebook post read: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
Small world, not in a good way.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Saturday, February 17, 2018

What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings?

We discussed this briefly in Thursday lecture in the wake of the latest mass killings at a US school, this time 17 in Florida.  The answer to the question is in the chart.  Check out the whole article--where the chart has labels--including the brutal last line.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

28 Films for Black History Month

The New York Times has an excellent list. The most obviously relevant to our course are Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) and Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), a remake of Walter Mosley's first Easy Rawlins novel (I'll be showing clips in lecture).  But they're all relevant to Noir Cause 4 that we'll be discussing - Legacies of Slavery. I once watched House Party and Daughters of the Dust back to back--there's a wide range of great stuff here.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

New York Times Pieces on Two Major National Sexual Assault Stories

There's another piece in the Havey Weinstein saga of sexual harassment and assault over many decades--Uma Thurman's much-anticipated story.  Her comments at the end are especially interesting.  So is her story about Quentin Tarantino forcing her to drive in a car crash in Kill Bill.  It might seem that she was relatively unscathed by Weinstein (and Tarantino), given her very successful career. This column makes clear that this is not the case.

The NY Times has also investigated the FBI inquiry into Dr. Larry Nasser's assaults under cover of medical treatment of teenaged and pre-teen female athletes. Notice the way the key "clue" appears here--not to mention the apparent problems with how the FBI handled the cases.   There are lots of overlaps with the course discussion of Cause 2 of noir culture that we started on Thursday.

Monday, January 29, 2018

IRL Examples for Noir this Week

These articles talk about two sides of the same noir coin. One discusses why the U.S. hasn't been able to move from military engagement to diplomacy in Afghanistan.  The other argues that, back home, political rivalry is turning into war with an enemy.

We'll be using "noir" in a way that is expansive, in order to describe a set of cultural forces. We'll also try to be concrete and precise.

One interesting passage from the Afghanistan piece:
Mr. Trump is not the first president to struggle over how to align goals with reality. In 2009, as President Obama escalated combat troop levels in Afghanistan, his advisers identified only two vital American interests in the war, according to participants, the kinds of interests that might justify sending soldiers into battle. 
One was the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. The second was the terrorist threat posed by Al Qaeda “and its affiliates.” Neither problem really existed in Afghanistan; they resided over the border, in Pakistan. After 2002, Al Qaeda’s most lethal operators largely fled to Pakistan. Mr. Obama’s strategists nonetheless rationalized their escalation on the grounds that if Afghanistan fell into chaos, Al Qaeda would return — a plausible fear but an indirect and even speculative reason to send American men and women to war.
Our course's first of six causes of noir culture is "the generalization of war."  Was the Obama Administration's strategy an example of this?

From the same article:
In effect, Pakistan’s strategy of nuclear deterrence, conceived to keep India’s military at bay, has also deterred the United States. The United States has so feared the risks of violent disarray in Pakistan that it has tolerated interference by Inter-Services Intelligence in Afghanistan since 2001 that it otherwise would most likely not have accepted.
Does this suggest that the credible threat of force works to protect a weaker power where negotiations would not?  Could Pakistan have done something less noir in dealing with the U.S?  Does U.S. foreign policy only (or mostly) respect threats of force? Lots of questions!

The other piece is called "Is Our Democracy Wobbly?" (the online title is different).  It claims that democracy depends on "two basic norms," "mutual toleration and "forbearance."  It says that "democratic norms are vulnerable to polarization," and when that happens,
Parties come to view each other not as legitimate rivals but as dangerous enemies. Losing ceases to be an accepted part of the political process and instead becomes a catastrophe. When that happens, politicians are tempted to abandon forbearance and win at any cost. If we believe our opponents are dangerous, should we not use any means necessary to stop them?
This is how democracy died in Chile. Before the 1973 coup, Chile was Latin America’s oldest democracy, buttressed by vibrant democratic norms, including a well-established “culture of compromise.” Chileans liked to say that there was no political disagreement that could not be settled over a bottle of Chilean cabernet. But beginning in the 1960s, Chile’s culture of compromise was shattered by Cold War polarization. 
We'll talk about Afghanistan later in the course (as a thought experiment on whether detection can replace invasion), so think a bit about what is going on there (two major mass slaughters of civilians in the past week) and why.  And bear in mind the question of US democracy as we get into Chandler's The Long Goodbye, which doesn't think too much of it.