Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Eastside 13 and the East L.A. “Blowouts” (walkouts)

They faced 66 years in prison. The‘Eastside 13’ and how they helped plan the East L.A. walkouts,” Los Angeles Times (March 8, 2018)

By Louis Sahagun

“As Los Angeles schools and others this week observe the 50th anniversary of the East L.A. walkouts, when thousands of Mexican American students marched to demand a better education, much attention has focused on those who became known as the Eastside 13. But who were the Eastside 13? They were 13 men secretly indicted by a grand jury June 1, 1968, on conspiracy charges stemming from the East L.A. ‘blowouts.’ The walkouts kicked off March 5, 1968, when students began protesting at Garfield High School, and spread to other campuses to decry the shortcomings of public schools in Los Angeles’ barrios. The walkouts are viewed as a turning point in the political development of the nation’s Mexican American community.
Some local leaders at the time, including Mayor Sam Yorty, denounced the walkouts as a communist plot, and in the months that followed, law enforcement responded with undercover operations, raids and arrests.

In returning the indictments, the grand jurors found there was sufficient evidence to show that the protests staged at Garfield, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Belmont high schools were not spontaneous, but rather the result of careful off-campus planning by non-students. Defense attorneys would later argue, successfully, that the protest organizers were merely exercising their 1st Amendment rights. But when the indictments were handed down, each defendant faced 66 years in prison.

Among the 13 arrested was Carlos Muñoz Jr., who recalled how the police arrived at his apartment at dawn with guns drawn. Muñoz, then a 20-year-old college student, had been writing a paper for a graduate seminar on the ‘international communist movement’ when the officers broke in. One of the officers noticed a stack of books on the kitchen table where Muñoz had been typing. He scanned the names of the authors — Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx — and yelled out, ‘We’ve got the goods on this damn communist agitator!’

Also indicted on multiple charges of conspiracy to disturb public schools and conspiracy to disturb the peace were Sal Castro, 34, a teacher at Lincoln High, and Eliezer Risco, 31, a Cuban-born editor of La Raza, a newspaper circulated in the Mexican American community. Indicted members of the militant Brown Berets, who often took the title of ‘minister,’ were David Sanchez, 19, chairman; Ralph Ramirez, 18, minister of discipline; Fred Lopez, 19, minister of communication; and Carlos Montes, 20, minister of public relations and holy grace. Others indicted were Gilberto Olmeda, 23; Richard Vigil, 27; Joe Razo, 29; Henry Gomez, 20; Moctesuma Esparza, 19; and Juan Sanchez, 41. [….]

The indictments were struck down in 1970 by an appeals court in a case that became a cause celebre to Chicanos. ‘The No. 1 thing that the walkouts achieved is that it gave our own community a voice — that we didn’t have to rely on what other people thought we should be doing or who we should be,’ said Esparza, who went on to become an award-winning filmmaker, producing movies such as ‘Gettysburg,’ ‘Selena’ and ‘Walkout,’ a dramatization of the 1968 Chicano student protests. ‘I never gave up my identity as a Chicano,’ Esparza said. ‘The struggle never ends.’” The entire article is here.

See too:

The Chicano Movement & the 1960s:
  • Acuña, Rodolfo. Occupied America: The Chicano’s Struggle Toward Liberation. San Francisco, CA: Canfield Press, 1972.
  • Castro, Tony. Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican America. New York: Saturday Review Press, 1974.
  • Chávez, Ernesto. “¡Mi Raza Primero!”— Nationalism, Identity, and Insurgency in the Chicano Movement in Los Angeles, 1966-1978. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002.
  • Donato, Rubén. The Other Struggle for Equal Schools: Mexican Americans during the Civil Rights Era. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997.
  • García, Alma M., ed. Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings. New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • García, Ignacio M. United We Win: The Rise and Fall of La Raza Unida Party. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1989.
  • García, Mario T. Memories of Chicano History: The Life and Narrative of Bert Corona. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994.
  • García, Mario T. and Sal Castro. Blowout! Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.
  • Marin, Marguerite V. Social Protest in an Urban Barrio: A Study of the Chicano Movement, 1966-1974. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1991.
  • Mariscal, George. Brown-Eyed Children of the Sun: Lessons from the Chicano Movement, 1965-1975. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.
  • Mariscal, George, ed. Aztlán and Vietnam: Chicano and Chicana Experiences of the War. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999.
  • Montejano, David. Quixote’s Soldiers: A Local History of the Chicano Movement, 1966–1981. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2010.
  • Muñoz, Carlos, Jr. Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement. London: Verso, 1989.
  • Navarro, Armando. Mexican American Youth Organization: Avant-Garde of the Chicano Movement in Texas. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1995.
  • Navarro, Armando. The Cristal Experiment: A Chicano Struggle for Community Control. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.
  • Navarro, Armando. La Raza Unida Party: A Chicano Challenge to the U.S. Two-Party Dictatorship. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2000.
  • Oropeza, Lorena. ¡Raza Si! ¡Guerra No!: Chicano Protest and Patriotism during the Viet Nam War Era. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005.
  • Rendon, Armando B. Chicano Manifesto: The History and Aspirations of the Second Largest Minority in America. New York: Macmillan, 1971.
  • Rosales, Francisco Arturo. CHICANO! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. Houston, TX: Arte Público Press, University of Houston, 2nd ed., 1997.
  • Vigil, Ernesto B. The Crusade for Justice: Chicano Militancy and the Government’s War on Dissent. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.

Images (from top to bottom):
  • John Ortiz addresses fellow students at Garfield High on March 7. (H.O. McCarthy/Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library)
  • Sheriff’s deputies form a line near Garfield High on March 5, the first day of the student “blowouts.” (Joe Kennedy/Los Angeles Times)
  • Freddie Resendez rallies students at Lincoln High School. (Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library; Los Angeles Times)
  • Members of the Brown Berets, above, listen to a speaker on June 9, 1968. (Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library; Los Angeles Times)

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Rising Seas, Sinking Cities

The title of the post is from the subtitle of a recent book by Jeff Goodell, The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities and the Remaking of the Civilised World (Little, Brown and Co., 2017), which I’ve yet to read but is reviewed by Meehan Crist* in the London Review of Books: “Besides, I’ll be dead” (Vol. 40, No. 4 · 22 February 2018). Goodell’s book concentrates on one of the more disconcerting and eventually devastating effects of the rise of temperature causally tied to climate change (hence ‘global warming’): the imminent threat of sea level rise which, according to Elizabeth Kolbert, is explained “with characteristic rigor and intelligence. The result is at once deeply persuasive and deeply unsettling.” And, as Crist helpfully and succinctly reminds us in her review,

“Global sea level rise is hard for scientists to predict, but the trend is clear. Massive ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic have begun to collapse, in a phenomenon known as ‘marine ice-sheet instability,’ which previous models of global sea level rise didn’t take into account. When the Paris Agreement was drafted just over two years ago, it was based on reports that ice sheets would remain stable and on the assumption that sea levels could rise by up to three feet two inches by the end of the century. In 2015, NASA estimated a minimum of three feet. In 2017, a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the pre-eminent climate science agency in the United States, revised estimates up dramatically, stating that by 2100 sea levels could rise by more than eight feet. Last year, a study estimated that if carbon emissions continue at present levels, by 2100 sea levels will have risen by as much as 11 feet. Higher sea levels mean higher storm surges, like the nine-foot surge that inundated Lower Manhattan and severely affected neighbourhoods in Long Island and New Jersey, but also that low-lying coastal areas, from Bangladesh to Amsterdam, will be underwater in less than a hundred years. It’s worth remembering that two-thirds of the world’s cities sit on coastlines. In a high-emissions scenario, average high tides in New York could be higher than the levels seen during Sandy. A rise in global sea levels of 11 feet would fully submerge cities like Mumbai and a large part of Bangladesh. The question is no longer if – but how high, and how fast.”

I want to highlight the section of Crist’s review which raises a number of psychological questions and topics surrounding the well-attested and apparently recalcitrant phenomenon of “climate change denial:”

“Sea level rise is a problem humans are particularly ill-equipped to handle. We’re not good at thinking on geological timescales and ‘we are not wired to make decisions about barely perceptible threats that gradually accelerate over time.’ [I happen not to like the metaphor here, and don’t believe constitutional myopia is simply an ineliminable part of human nature.] To help explain inaction in the face of rising seas, Goodell invokes, as others have, the five stages of grief outlined by the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, [and] acceptance. He suggests that in Miami at least, denial is giving way to anger and bargaining, with overtones of fear. But classical grief paradigms, in which the object of attachment has gone and must be mourned, don’t map neatly onto the experience of living in a city that may soon be submerged. Reading this, it seemed to me that there is another psychological paradigm, less often invoked in discussions of climate grief that might be more apt. In the 1970s Pauline Boss, studying families of soldiers who had gone missing in action, coined the term ‘ambiguous loss’ to describe the arrested mourning that follows a loss without closure or understanding.

Boss describes two types of ambiguous loss: when the object is physically absent but psychologically present (as with soldiers missing in action), and when the object is physically present but psychologically absent (as with Alzheimer’s disease). The first helps illuminate the arrested mourning often experienced by climate refugees. How do you mourn a home that is sinking into a faraway sea, but remains psychologically present? The second type of ambiguous loss is appropriate to the experience of living in an area threatened by a rise in sea levels. The object of attachment is there but not there – still present, but slowly disappearing. How do you mourn the loss of someone whose hand you can still hold? How do you mourn a home increasingly prone to flooding, but not submerged, yet? The parallels aren’t perfect, but even the disjunctures reveal how wickedly hard the problem of climate grief can be. When a beloved person is slowly disappearing into the fog of senescence, the endpoint is known. With rising seas, the endpoint remains unknown. Three feet? Eight feet? Grief is stalled by uncertainty. For what eventuality should you and your community prepare? Of what do you need to let go in order to move forward? The incentive to wait and see is powerful. But hoping for a rise in sea levels of just one or two feet by 2100 is starting to look a lot like self-delusion, and for those who have the luxury of choice, clinging to life at the waterline is increasingly an exercise in self-defeat. For politicians and the rich, who prosper from maintenance of the status quo, it is increasingly unconscionable.”

There’s much food for thought here, and you can select from the menu for yourself, but I want to note that there appears to be, in addition, a number of (related) cognitive and so-called social biases, as well as sundry irrational cognitive mechanisms and informal fallacies of reasoning and argumentation that might account for the persistence of climate change denial and the corresponding failure to acknowledge the motley possible and probable harms identified with climate change as direct and by-product effects of modern (hyper-) industrialized societies to properly comport themselves with the ecological systems and processes that sustain all forms of life on our planet (some of the effects may turn out to be beneficent, but these are considerably outweighed by the growing list of environmental harms): cognitive dissonance, the confirmation bias, conservatism with regard to belief revision, hyperbolic time-discounting, neglect of probability, normalcy bias, wishful thinking, denial, status quo bias and system justification, in-group bias, undue reliance on the availability heuristic, argumentum ad ignorantiam, fallacy of composition, and fallacy of prejudice come quickest to mind.

I urge you to read both Goodell’s book and Crist’s review, well aware that the diet of news on the home front as well as news from abroad (e.g., the ongoing war in Syria, the bombing of Yemen, the worldwide refugee crisis, acts of genocide against the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar, terrorist bombings, reactionary and often fascist political parties and movements, and so forth and so on) can be rather depressing. But our religious traditions and philosophical worldviews have cultivated an abundant supply of spiritual exercises or therapeutic regimens and time-tested means for cultivating mindfulness and a proper sense of perspective that should keep us from sliding into despair and depression, prevent us from feeling overwhelmed or paralyzed, and steel us for the ongoing struggles for a saner and more just world, one which further contributes to the historical progress made thus far in the quest for general human emancipation, progress that has been at times episodic and uneven (and it not of course assured) yet the general direction remains constant and encouraging.

We’ll bring things to a close with the conclusion from our review:

“What will happen in the next eighty years remains far from certain. There is a tipping point after which ice sheets will fully collapse – Greenland holds enough water to raise sea levels by roughly 22 feet – but researchers don’t know where that point lies. In January, NOAA released a major report on sea level rise that factors in current ice-sheet collapse and more than doubles the median rise in global sea levels predicted at the time of the Paris Agreement, from 2.3 feet to 4.9 feet. Goodell’s conclusion is crystal clear: ‘If we want to minimise the impact of sea level rise in the next century, here’s how we do it: stop burning fossil fuels and move to higher ground.’ If humans stopped using fossil fuels entirely by 2050, we might face two to three feet of sea level rise by the end of the century. Instead of 4.9 feet. Or 11 feet. But the water will come. The future depends on how humans rise to meet it.” 

* Meehan Crist is a writer in residence in biological sciences at Columbia University. She hosts a podcast called “Convergence.”

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Amartya Sen and the Marxist Critics of Capitalism

Is Amartya Sen “the century’s great critic of capitalism”? The short answer is no, he is not “the century’s great critic of capitalism,” but surely Sen can be included in our pantheon of the foremost critics of capitalism. The conclusion that captures the essence of Tim Rogan’s piece in Aeon is as follows: “There have been two critiques [i.e., the ‘moral’ and the ‘material’] of capitalism, but there should be only one [i.e., a critique that does dialectical justice to both the material and the moral modalities]. Amartya Sen is the new century’s first great critic of capitalism because he has made that clear.” I don’t think Sen needs to be elevated to such “commanding heights” if only because it casts a shadow over all his comrades who have likewise been laboring on this selfsame endeavor, proving themselves equally adept as great “critic(s) of capitalism” according to Rogan’s criteria. In any case, the fact that the majority of Sen’s books were published in the previous century makes this premature or living “canonization” a bit silly (a social scientific or cultural variation on the ‘great man’ theory?).

I have long publicized the social scientific and philosophical virtues of Sen’s work, at least when provided the opportunity (in intimate conversational settings, in public lectures, in blog posts, etc.), so I’m inclined to find Rogan’s argument largely persuasive. As Rogan rightly states, “In Sen’s work, the two critiques [i.e., the ‘moral’ and the ‘material’] of capitalism cooperate. We move from moral concerns to material outcomes and back again with no sense of a threshold separating the two. Sen disentangles moral and material issues without favouring one or the other, keeping both in focus.” Sen has never self-identified as a Marxist or Marxist economist, although he has often acknowledged his debts to Marx (among others, from Aristotle to Adam Smith), which perhaps explains why Rogan is anxious to single out Sen’s critique of capitalism for celebrity-like acclaim.

Over the years, more than a few progressives and ostensible or sincere Leftists have been rhetorically reticent about invoking Marx or Marx’s theoretical ideas (and by extension, Marxists), motivated perhaps by motley and occasionally justifiable reasons, not the least of which is the oppressive and even suppressive or repressive political and cultural climate in this country. Here is where I part company with one of the founders of the (New Left) Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), emeritus sociology professor (and still a local activist and friend), Richard Flacks. In Making History: The Radical Tradition in American Life (1988), Flacks proffered advice to this generation’s youngest activists, arguing that they should refuse the temptations of a “Leninist” answer to “social democracy,” that “the appropriate counter-position” is found in “pacifism—as a philosophy to guide extra-parliamentary activism and as a practical framework for deriving strategies of radical action.” There is much of principled and strategic value in that counsel, even if I don’t like the term “pacifism.” Flacks does not want this generation to repeat the (strategic, political, and moral) mistakes of earlier Leftists (not few of which he experienced first-hand), at least those that hankered after conventional political power, looking (often uncritically) to models of revolutionary praxis abroad in countries with colonialist and imperialist histories, countries with precious little by way of democratic experience or bourgeois legal rights, and thus with historical, socio-economic and political conditions starkly different from the capitalist democracies (welfare state regimes) in the affluent North in which they lived:   

“Activists who choose a radical path and an elitist practice must begin their journey by refusing absolutely to reach for power, seeing instead that their mission is to serve as exemplars of moral being and action. They must refuse absolutely the belief that history can be short-circuited through violent intervention. [I think I understand what Flacks means by this, but others may not choose a charitable interpretation.] They ought to study Thoreau, Tolstoy, Gandhi, Muste, and King as models of history making, rather than Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Che, and Fanon.”

First, notice that Flacks fails to cite Marx on either side of his ledger! I happen to believe young radicals on the Left should study all of the above, even if their ethical dispositions and orientations find them favoring, say, Gandhi, Muste and King, over Lenin, Trotsky and Mao. The latter remain worth of study, for any number of philosophical and practical reasons. As the late philosopher Hector-Neri Castañeda wisely put it,

“Some fail to see the richness and complexity of human experience, yet, more importantly, some fail to see that the world is capable of being different in different contexts or perspectives [a point made rather systematically and emphatically in Jain epistemology]. Often the presupposition is straightforward: there is one world and an indivisible unity of man and world, hence, they assume, there is just one theory of the structure of man and world.”

Our well-considered or seasoned moral and political commitments should not be threatened by a thorough examination and (in part moral) assessment of Leftist figures, theorists and strategists of all stripes. Nor should Rogan fear acknowledging and according due attention to those Marxists who, with Sen, do justice to both the moral and material modalities of the critique of capitalism. There is no need on this score for a Rawlsian-like veil of ignorance or rhetorical dissimulation.

Rogan ignores contemporary Marxist critiques of capitalism that, in the widest—and what I prefer to think of as the best—sense do indeed have a strong moral dimension, exemplified, for instance, in the works of G.A. Cohen, Michael Harrington, and Jon Elster. This rendering explicit what is often implicit in Marx himself (and not just in the ‘early writings’) is given a rather more systematic articulation (one need not agree with all the particulars) in the Rawlsian-inspired or –provoked work by R.G. Peffer: Marxism, Morality, and Social Justice (1990). And this moral component has not come at the expense of “material” concerns and foci, as David Schwieckart’s books, Against Capitalism (1996) and After Capitalism (2002) amply demonstrate.

No doubt the (bourgeois) academic legal theorist and philosopher Brian Leiter would dismiss most of this literature for its “normative” (moral and otherwise, as not all norms are moral norms) orientation, as simply the sullied product of Western academic Marxists (distinguishing between its Anglophone and Continental European incarnations) writing for fellow “bourgeois academics.” This is not the place to attempt a rebuttal of that dismissal, but I do want to remind readers, in the words of Jeffrey Reiman, that

“Marxism has made two recent contributions to moral philosophy. The first has been to stimulate a deep and wide-ranging discussion of the moral status of capitalism, provoked by the attempt to determine whether the Marxist critique of capitalism is a moral critique and, if so, on what moral ideal the critique is based [here I would add that it is arguably more than one moral ideal and at least several moral principles and values]. The second has been to force moral philosophers to confront the problem of ideology.”

Reiman later points out that “Marxism’s practical and partisan nature is what brings it into contact with moral philosophy,” and this, I think, gets to the heart of matters; that is, at least if we view ethics and morality (which is not reducible to a first-order morality of formal or structured propositions and judgments, be they deontic or utilitarian) as integral to what it means to flourish, to live “rightly” and well, to aspire to “the Good.” For the Marxist moral and material critique of capitalism speaks clearly and urgently to our everyday (dispositional) “nexus of distinctive sensibilities, cares, and concerns that are expressed in distinctive patterns of emotional and practical response” (David Wiggins), as contemporary Marxist philosophers and theorists have demonstrated with uncommon intelligence and vigor.

I close by citing a somewhat neglected and no doubt forgotten work that embodies the merits of a material and moral critique of capitalism: Maurice Cornforth’s The Open Philosophy and the Open Society (1968) (the title alone may account for its neglect). Cornforth’s book is a well-argued and perhaps quaint defense of Marxism against the well-known attack on Marx’s theory by Karl Popper, one that artfully combines moral and materialist sensibilities in its critique of capitalism. I leave you with a taste of his ardent and incisive defense:

“Dr. Popper confuses militancy with advocacy of violence. Marxism advocates that mass organisations of working people should not be prepared meekly to abide by instructions issued by authorities not controlled by themselves and victimising working people for the benefit of their exploiters. They should be intransigent in their opposition to any sort of control of power by the exploiting class. And they should be united in their demands for what they immediately want done, and prepared to back their leaders and those in whose hands they entrust power in getting it done. This attitude of opposition to the dictation of an exploiting minority should not be confused with an attitude of violence directed against democratic institutions.

Marxism makes no proposals for the use of violence to destroy legally established democratic institutions, where such exist. [….] For us, the question of violence can only arise as a question, on the one hand, of how to resist violent attacks on democratic institutions, on the activities of democratic organisations, and on the implementation of democratic authorities and, on the other hand, of how to overcome violent methods of preventing democratic institutions and democratic rights being won. As Marxists have said again and again, if the ruling class resorts to violence, either to deprive people of existing democratic rights or to prevent their winning them, then violence must if necessary be used to defeat this violence [in the lexicon of forest fighters on chaparral ecological terrain, sometimes one needs to ‘fight fire with fire,’ keeping in mind that this is not the principal strategy or tactic used in ‘wildland’ fire suppression]. But without a doubt, the better organised, the more disciplined and the more united the democratic mass movement is [cf. the United Democratic Front in the South African struggle against apartheid], the less opportunity is there likely to be for the ruling class to resort to violence, and the less violence will be required to repel violence if it occurs. [….]

The underlying economic reason why the bourgeoisie became champions of the rule of law is clear enough. It is because this was an indispensable condition for security in the commercial development of the home market. Without it, they could never have become as prosperous and powerful as they did become. And this necessitated laws to protect the right to exploit and curtail the right to oppose it. Marxists are opposed to exploitation, and oppose it even when the law steps in to protect it. But that, says Dr. Popper, means we want to break the rule of law and carry on without it [which is to confuse anarchism with Marxism], whereas without law [at least in our time and place, during this epoch of history] there can only be anarchy or tyranny.

The law which Marxism opposes is law in so far as it has been instituted to protect the rights of exploiting classes. We are not in favor of submitting to laws which are designed to protect the security and right of exploiters and hamper the organisation of the masses. We propose to nullify such laws. But that is not to oppose the reign of law in general.”

Please see, “Why Amartya Sen remains the century’s great critic of capitalism,” by Tim Rogan in Aeon, 27 February, 2018. 

Further Reading:

A rather brief but delightful history of “the thing” or “X”

A brief but delightful history of “the thing” or “X” in algebra from Daniel R. DeNicola (the * material is from Wikipedia):

“One could argue that the entire discipline of algebra is a tool for gaining knowledge by managing ignorance. Algebra abstracts mathematical relationships from numbers, allowing the manipulation of unspecified quantities (a, b, c … x, y, z) to represent unknowns. It is from its use in algebra that X became a common symbol for ‘the unknown.’

The meaning of the letter X may be traced back to the Arabic word for “thing,” or šay.ʾ Early Arabic texts such as Al-Jabr (820 CE), which established the principles of algebra* (and gave the discipline its name), referred to mathematical variables as things. So, we might read an equation as ‘3 things equal 21’ (the thing being 7). Much later, when Al-Jabr was translated into Old Spanish, the word for šayʾ was written as xei, which was soon shortened to X. Today we find X used to designate phenomena that are mysterious (X-rays, The X Files, The X Factor, X the Unknown), or the unknown or forgotten (as when Malcolm Little honored his ancestors by changing his name to Malcolm X). X is the symbol of our ignorance.” 

* “The word ‘algebra’ is derived from the Arabic word الجبر al-jabr, and this comes from the treatise written in the year 830 [ca. 813-833 CE] by the medieval Persian mathematician, Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, whose Arabic title, Kitāb al-muḫtaṣar fī ḥisāb al-ğabr wa-l-muqābala, can be translated as The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing. The treatise provided for the systematic solution of linear and quadratic equations. According to one history, ‘[i]t is not certain just what the terms al-jabr and muqabalah mean, but the usual interpretation is similar to that implied in the previous translation. The word ‘al-jabr’ presumably meant something like ‘restoration’ or ‘completion’ and seems to refer to the transposition of subtracted terms to the other side of an equation; the word ‘muqabalah’ is said to refer to ‘reduction’ or ‘balancing’—that is, the cancellation of like terms on opposite sides of the equation. [….]  The term is used by al-Khwarizmi to describe the operations that he introduced, ‘reduction’ and ‘balancing,’ referring to the transposition of subtracted terms to the other side of an equation, that is, the cancellation of like terms on opposite sides of the equation.” 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Who are the homeless?

First, some facts for background and contextual information:
  • A comparatively few number of people with mental illness commit acts of violence.
  • The homeless problem is not due to the “de-institutionalization” of mental health patients.
  • While de-institutionalization or the “shuttering of mental hospitals” did occur from the late 1950s into the 1960s, we should recall that, 
[f]ar from being therapeutic, many of these hospitals were warehouses in which, say, schizophrenics would live alongside epileptics. Patients were often abused and rarely rehabilitated. When drugs that could control the delusions and psychoses of major mental illnesses came along, they were seen as a cheaper and more humane alternative to long-term, inpatient psychiatric care.” [I won’t here address the myriad problems we’ve since discovered about such drugs, noting merely that they have not, on the whole, proved to be an alternative to different forms of therapeutic treatment, even if, in some cases, and setting aside sundry side effects, they ameliorate some of the worst symptoms of severe forms of mental illness, such as psychosis.]
  • It is estimated that roughly one-third of the homeless suffer from some form of mental illness, roughly meaning that they are under current “mental distress” or have a history of psychiatric hospitalization.
  • Surveys of the homeless show that the “vast majority … are poor, just plain poor.” 
This brings us to the moral that motivated of our list of facts:

“Why do so many people accept the conclusion that homelessness is due to de-institutionalization of mental patients? [Notice that President Trump appears to believe there is at least an indirect (perhaps even direct) causal link between mass shootings and such “de-institutionalization.”] Search your memory for the homeless people you saw most recently. What were they like? The unobtrusive homeless person [e.g., the homeless family sleeping overnight in the camper truck parked on the church lot] is easily forgotten. We tend to remember the person who sings on the bus, who intrudes on passersby, who is drunk, or who is obviously high on some drug. Moreover, we prepare ourselves to behave in certain ways if such a person approaches us, such preparation being exactly the type of ancillary event that—as William Wagenaar points out—enhances recall leading to it. Hence our view of ‘the homeless’ is based on the memorable homeless [and the ‘availability heuristic’], people whose emotional and physical debilitation is so severe that it suggests that poverty alone cannot be the cause of their problems.”—From Reid Hastie and Robyn M. Dawes, Rational Choice in an Uncertain World: The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making (Sage Publications, 2001): 86-87.

I’m now prepared to share this excellent piece from the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board: “The homeless in L.A. are not who you think they are

“Many people think of homelessness as a problem of substance abusers and mentally ill people, of chronic skid row street-dwellers pushing shopping carts. But increasingly, the crisis in Los Angeles today is about a less visible (but more numerous) group of ‘economically homeless’ people. These are people who have been driven onto the streets or into shelters by hard times, bad luck and California’s irresponsible failure to address its own housing needs.” The rest is here.
Further Reading:
  • Abramsky, Sasha. The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives. New York: Nation Books, 2013.
  • Austen, Ben. High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing. New York: Harper, 2018.
  • Bender, Steven W. Tierra y Libertad: Land, Liberty, and Latino Housing. New York: New York University Press, 2010.
  • Desmond, Matthew. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. New York: Crown, 2016.
  • Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2001.
  • Failinger, Marie A. and Ezra Rosser, eds. The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases. Anne Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2016.
  • Goodin, Robert E. Reasons for Welfare: The Political Theory of the Welfare State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.
  • Goodin, Robert E., et al. The Real Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Hatcher, Daniel L. The Poverty Industry: The Exploitation of America’s Most Vulnerable Citizens. New York: New York University Press, 2010.
  • Hopper, Kim. Reckoning with Homelessness. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003.
  • Jusko, Karen Long. Who Speaks for the Poor? Electoral Geography, Party Entry, and Representation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
  • Kalleberg, Arne L. Good Jobs, Bad Jobs: The Rise of Polarized and Precarious Employment Systems in the United States 1970s to 2000s. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 201.
  • Kozol, Jonathan. Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988.
  • Liebow, Elliot. Tell Them Who I Am: Lives of Homeless Women. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.
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