Go West, Young Man: Reflections on Oakland By a Transplanted Chicagoan

24 07 2014

It’s a big, left-leaning city with a diverse population and an emerging gentry class, so it’s the same as Chicago more or less. The people are basically the same, because cosmopolitanism and humans being the same. It’s not as segregated, because Chicago is the most segregated. The people don’t seem to be as funny, because I’m new here and haven’t met a lot of people. It’s dirtier because Chicago has alleys. You have to drive couches and stuff to the dump. There are several areas of life that are made alternatively more and less complicated because it is a city in a different state, and thus a different legal regime pertains and patterns people’s behaviors.

This is dumb people shouldn’t write things like this.


How To Get Rich in America

7 07 2014

1. Be born rich

Vergara v. California and the Infinite Equal Protection Loop

17 06 2014

A common mantra of the education reform movement in response to evidence that “teacher quality” is a comparatively trivial cause of education disparities is, “So? If we can do something, anything, to improve outcomes, shouldn’t we?” This is more PR than argument; no, you shouldn’t just do anything. And in any case, you need to demonstrate pretty tight causation to radically upend a carefully built system. Yet, just as policy affection for technocracy seeped into takings jurisprudence in Kelo, policy affection for “labor flexibility” when it comes to workers seems to have seeped into Vergara. The resulting opinion featured a questionable weighing of some evidence over other evidence (in a bench trial, where there was no jury) but, more so, legal reasoning that strained to find a violation of equal protection rights by conflating perfect equality of outcome with basic equality of opportunity–a distinction that makes all the difference in equal protection claims.


Slate’s up–still reporting on education in their business section for some reason–with a story about how the judge in Vergara v. California relied on a basically made up statistic–that 1-3% of California teachers are “grossly ineffective”–to strike down tenure as violating the equal protection rights of children of color, who are disproportionately likely (based on trial testimony) to be assigned to a “grossly ineffective” teacher protected by tenure. The Court had to ignore copious evidence in order to rely on this fact–including the very limited role any individual teacher plays in determining standardized testing outcomes used to make this “grossly ineffective” distinction. But, as the legal expert cited in the Slate story points out, the bigger problem is the shaky legal reasoning. And indeed, it is a befuddling opinion not because the Court repeatedly chose to weigh the plaintiffs’ fuzzy data and testimony significantly more heavily than that of the State, but because the equal protection scheme required for it to make sense would result in infinite equal protection violations. 

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Organizers, Lechmere and The Supreme Court’s “Trespass” Concern Trolling

5 06 2014

On Tuesday, Walmart succeeded in getting a temporary restraining order against the United Food and Commercial Workers (“UFCW”) and OUR Walmart, an organization of activists and Walmart employees, preventing “non-Walmart employees” from entering onto Walmart’s property. This looks to be Walmart’s strategy to fight the growing direct-action movement by UFCW, allied labor and community groups, and OUR Walmart; they successfully sought injunctions in Texas, Florida, and Maryland along the same lines last year.

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A Longe Waye To Go For that Jokke

4 06 2014


Near the end of his long reign, King Cole, the great jovial king of the wild western lands of what became Britain, faced an existential threat–the solution he found, the fruit of a creative, but humble, mind, is still with us today.

To understand that gift we still treasure, we should first know the history that necessitated it. Read the rest of this entry »

Watson, Robobuses, and the Division of Labor

22 05 2014

I hate to seem like a Luddite, particularly one who defends professional cartels. It’s not a good look. But I once had a back-and-forth with a popular neoliberal type about robot buses. He was arguing that even though introducing robot-driven buses would lead to massive layoffs of bus drivers, it would be a net gain because it would mean cheaper public transit–and thus more efficient and swifter public transit. His point was that supporters of public sector unions like those of transit workers often defend wasteful cartels that work a net negative on society. This is a pretty thought provoking point.

But as with much of the current economic consensus, it breaks down once you stop thinking about it in the abstract. In reality, cheap buses are meaningless if you have a largely under- and unemployed population with nowhere to go and no cash even for the bus. If the fired bus drivers were able to get comparably paid work to build the buses–if they weren’t built with parts manufactured using quasi-prison labor in third world countries–bring on the robots.

Similarly, you have futurists cheering on the development of advanced Watson-like computers as replacements for a good portion of the legal and medical profession, since it has shown a proficiency in diagnostics and even legal rule synthesis.

More and more, the professions that once required expertise and discretion are finding themselves replaced by algorithms, or being sub-specialized such that non-professionals and non-experts can perform this work.

If something can make access to health care and law cheaper, that’s good; but at the same time, if those professions, and the satellite professions that rely on them, are automated, and not replaced with comparable work, it’s the guy who invests in and owns the automatons that will reap the rewards; the distributed benefit of marginally cheaper services is good, but you still have an aggregating under- and unemployment.

This is one of those phenomenon that is worrisome because even though it looks new–LawBot!–it also seems to be eerily forecast by ol’ doom-and-gloom himself, Karl Marx.

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Discrimination and the Nice Guy

21 05 2014

Oops, I Racist’d Again (image via ABC News)

Is discrimination a feeling, or something else? In Slate over the weekend, Jamelle Bouie talked about research out of MTV (just…just keep reading don’t worry about that right now) that either proves something you already knew, or produces a peculiar result: “Millennials” hate racism, aren’t sure racism exists. They want to be colorblind, but in so doing, as Bouie points out, tend to dismiss the very fact that racism is a pervasive (structural) problem.

Bouie makes the point well that this is because “racism” should really be understood as “white supremacy,” not as a species of bad manners or poor attitudes:

The problem is that racism isn’t reducible to “different treatment.” Since if it is, measures to ameliorate racial inequality—like the Voting Rights Act—would be as “racist” as the policies that necessitated them. No, racism is better understood as white supremacy—anything that furthers a broad hierarchy of racist inequity, where whites possess the greatest share of power, respect, and resources, and blacks the least.

What was just as interesting to me however was this exchange on Twitter sparked by Gene Demby, Post-Bourgie founder, lead blogger at NPR’s Code Switch, and fellow bald-with-beard-er, based on an interview Demby conducted. The subject told him that while her father didn’t like people of color, she didn’t consider him racist because she equated racism with being a bad person.

This raised some very vexing questions for me. First, it looks like there’s a contradiction: the idea that somebody could sincerely hold opinions that are racist in content, but not themselves be a racist. How can someone believe something that appears to contradict itself? The contradiction requires some kind of rationale by the person who believes it; there has to be some reason they do not see a contradiction.

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