What I’m reading this week: 11 March 2016

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I apologise for not updating my weekly reads in a week. Last week was horribly hectic and busy; this week hasn’t been much better, but I have a small collection of reads from the past fortnight.

First up, a little bit of good news from France, in honour of International Womens’ (Workers) Day. François Hollande, president of France, was profiled in the latest issue of Elle France, discussing various ‘feminist’ issues. Le Monde‘s Catherine Mallaval and Virginie Ballet summarise the article and discuss the history of French presidents and their attempts at connecting with women. France in general, in my view, still has an issue with equality amongst the sexes, but Hollande calling himself a feminist is probably better than anything we’ll get out of our male American leaders. [Article is in French.]

It’s not all good news in la belle France, though. Le Monde reports on findings from the European Council on issues of racism there, especially in the rise of harassment towards Muslims and Jews, along with general xenophobia. The council especially notes that France’s concept of la laïcité is taken to extremes very often, by banning outward expressions of religion that are deemed ‘ostentatious’. France is the very definititon of a ‘problematic fave’ as my students would say. [Article is in French.]

Coming back to America, then. The election continues apace, and now we are in an interesting place: the Republicans don’t want their winner to continue to win, and the Democrats are pushing further and further to the left. Danielle Kurtzleben writes about Tuesday’s (9 March) primaries, and what there is to learn.

Veit Medick, the Washington correspondent for Der Spiegel, writes about Donald Trump’s rise and the worry it is bringing people in the Republican party and in intellectual circles in his article Donald Trump und der Super Tuesday: Angst um Amerika. You can see my thoughts on his Super Tuesday win, and Super Tuesday in general, right here.

And finally, Emma Lindsay explains parts of the complicated history of racism tinged with classism and why it’s helping Donald Trump at the Medium. Being white and being poor, she explains, is probably still better than being black and being poor, because:

To summarize, no one wants to occupy the “last” place in society. No one wants to be the most despised. As long as racism remains intact, poor white people are guaranteed not to be “the worst.” If racism is ever truly dismantled, then poor white people will occupy the lowest rung of society, and the shame of occupying this position is very painful. This shame is so painful, that the people at risk of feeling it will vote on it above all other issues.

Whilst this is not a new argument, Lindsay’s essay is well-timed and well-written and a good look at the mindset of poor, white America.

Until next time. – SDM

Photo by Javier Rodriguez

What I’m reading this week: 26 February 2016

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This week I’ve been terribly busy with work, where I’ve had three football (soccer) matches this week and oral exams. Of course this means my reading has been done in the morning during planning/at lunch.

I’ve been worried politically about two things: Donald Trump and the Brexit; of course I’ve been reading about other things. But, to the things I’m worried about first. Donald Trump’s rise is not only of national importance, but internationally as well. Libération has a story about Trump from , entitled Trump, du cauchemar à la réalité (Trump, from nightmare to reality – article is in French) if that tells you what most French people feel about him. I always enjoy reading articles about America from the perspective of other nations.

Election season seems interminable here in the United States, especially so since President Obama is on his second and final term. This means the race is wide open, and so has begun in 2014. NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben writes an article about the laws governing how short elections can be. The length of campaigns goes from Japan’s paltry twelve days, to the USA’s ridiculous 877 days. I don’t mind Britain’s 139 days, or nineteen weeks, though some Brits might disagree with me.

Heading back to the European Union for a moment. Many countries in the EU have much stricter laws governing speech. Stricter laws cropping up after terrorist attacks are being too widely applied, according to civil rights groups. Spain and France are some of the worst offenders of this ‘strengthening’ of laws, according to an article by Raphael Minder at The New York Times. Whilst I don’t mind some of the restrictions against freedom of speech, like Germany and France banning Holocaust deniers, there are moments when it goes too far. Freedom of speech is definitely a complicated thing.

The refugee crisis has brought out some of the worst in human nature. The Swedish Metro‘s Evelina Pålsson wrote an article about some refugees paying for contracts to rent flats (sometimes up to 70.000 SEK or 8200 USD) and being locked out of their flats. I’m not sure why people are so awful, but this is a reminder that there are people in the world that will take advantage of the desperation of the worst-off among us.

And my last worry is the Brexit; there will be much arguing and debate before the 23rd June referendum. The BBC shares an article about an important facet of the argument: the economy. Most arguments for staying in the EU revolve around it, and many British companies wrote a letter to say that ‘an EU exit would deter investment in the UK.’ What the voters believe is not up to them. We shall wait and see, of course.

Until next week. – SDM

Photo by Stefan Schweihofer

On Nevada and South Carolina

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I am not sure what I was expecting, honestly. Clinton, though she won and has a load of super delegates (people who are worth more than other delegates I suppose), she still isn’t smashing her direct competition into the ground. I am still undecided, though I did vote in advance. I feel that unless Clinton takes over half of the states on Super Tuesday, she will still have to fight.

Nevada is one of those ‘diverse’ states the news has been talking about; Clinton is supposed to be strong with minorities. Once more, the voting bloc of which I am a part is being told twice over that we must vote for Clinton: as a woman, I’m told I’m ‘going to hell’if I don’t support her, and as a black person I am told that she will be ‘best’ for us. I am tired of being told what to do, as a woman and a person of colour. It feels as if I am being treated as a toddler, and it is a bit patronising.

And in South Carolina, Donald Trump takes the lead over Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio by a full ten points. Having lived in South Carolina for two years, I am actually not surprised by this turn of events. South Carolina is a Conservative, fairly xenophobic state (with one exception, James Clyburn) and Trump is talking directly to those people who would rather have stayed pre-Civil Rights Act. But I am heartened by the fact that there is a strong progressive presence. It will take a very long time to destroy the shackles of Jim Crow, antebellum thinking, but perhaps we can get there.

I say this from Georgia, where I currently live. We have similar issues of xenophobia, of strong religious thinking, but where South Carolina has one Black Congressperson, Georgia has four, and our state has large centres of Democratic voting blocs: Atlanta, the capital; Augusta (Richmond County), the second largest city; Athens-Clarke County, the home of the University of Georgia; Macon, a largely Black city and, newly, Savannah. All of these places have enormous populations, but just not enough people vote to make a switch.

People are still guffawing, still disbelieving that a person like Trump could go on and win the nomination. The win in South Carolina is the first one that worries me, because it is the first indication of how the South may go for the Republicans.

The game continues on apace. – SDM

Photo by skeeze

On the Death of Justice Antonin Scalia

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When learning about the Supreme Court, they are always treated as a monolith. The separate justices were never really discussed, unless they were remarkable, or upon their deaths.

Obviously, this is not the case any more. Every Justice on the Supreme Court not only has a name, but some sort of recognisable personality…and sadly, an agenda. Growing up, I always felt that judges were imbued with extreme impartiality; the paragons of fairness. I figured that was the only way that they would have the ability to judge a situation.

The first time I was disabused of that notion was the struggle for Chief Justice Roberts’s position. I admittedly distrusted President Bush, so I would not trust any of his appointments. Chief Justice Roberts, while resolutely conservative, is more moderate than expected. Every other Supreme Court appointment has been a struggle of political proportions.

NPR plays a huge part in my interest in the Supreme Court; Nina Totenberg’s relaying of the arguments is one of my favourite things during All Things Considered and Morning/Weekend Editions. She reads the arguments, only changing her intonation when asking a question. I do yell at the radio when I am particularly incesed. Perhaps I should have been a lawyer.

That being said, I yelled a lot at Jusice Scalia’s arguments and questions. His most infuriating argument was during Fisher vs University of Texas, where he implied that black students weren’t intelligent enough to go to universities:

There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.

Not to mention his dissent of Obergefell v. Hodges, which decided the legality of same-sex marriage. Justice Scalia argued that because it would have been illegal during the time of the writing of the Constitution, it should be illegal today. Being homosexual would have been illegal during the writing of the Constitution, which is utterly ridiculous.

So, when one says one must not speak ill of the dead, I’m afraid I will have to keep silent on this Justice and his bigotry.

Until next time, then. – SDM

Photo by JC Fitz

The Road to My Political Destinations

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The very first car I can remember being in is my father’s Volvo. I’m not sure where we were. The thing about remembering is that memories very often smoosh together when trying to recall them later.

My parents had eclectic musical tastes. My father made tapes for our drives across Europe; I remember listening to Billy Joel and Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire and Cyndi Lauper. I don’t remember ever listening to the radio. Talk radio was clearly out of the picture then.

My father did not vote. He had never registered. He also never discusses politics with me unless it is about poverty and the pervasive anti-Blackness in America. He does listen to a hell of a lot of music though, and reads voraciously.

When my parents divorced, my mother invited a family friend to move in with us to help with the bills and the rent. I’ll call her M. She was a friend of my father’s, I think. M was a military vet and was working for a rental car company, and then John Deere. She was tall and funny and masculine. (She passed away in 2010, of a very aggressive form of cancer.)

M listened exclusively to talk radio on WGAC 580 AM whilst driving. She was a chauffeur for mum and me, before I got my own car, and so we heard it all. I didn’t really know how vitriolic Rush Limbaugh actually was, or how toxic his language was, but his over-the-top conservative language was entertaining, at least, and Kim Kommando’s computer show was informative. I supported Bush, I think, probably because of my constant exposure to Limbaugh and his ilk.

When M didn’t feel like listening to AM radio, we listened to NPR/PRI, but only the BBC World Service and Rick Steves. Those were my first introductions to what I felt was America’s only unbiased news source (though that has changed somewhat now).

September 11th will be its own post in future, but talk radio reached a constant, interminable beat of war-drums after the attacks. I remember I wrote in my journal that it was ‘justice’ and not ‘revenge’ that were were seeking when we sent jets to Afghanistan. I regret this entry to this day.

When I finally got my own car, I remembered NPR had the BBC and put it on. I listened to it constantly, from the time I got into my car to the time I got out of it, even putting it on in my bedroom. I am not ashamed to admit that by the time Bush wanted to invade Iraq, I had become seriously disillusioned with Limbaugh’s bombast. I was too young to vote in 2000 (and would have probably voted for Bush), but in 2004 I sent in my vote from university. It was a proudly Democratic ticket, from the president down to the most ‘liberal’ propositions that my very conservative state had to offer.

I will not pretend to know why the things I listened to in the car had so much influence on my political life. It is probably just a bit of strange synchronicity, but I will not pretend that that early exposure to talk radio did not change me. And yes, I still listen to NPR exclusively in the car. The only time I hear Limbaugh is when he’s being played on various podcasts to be lambasted and torn apart–and good riddance to him.

Until next time, then. – SDM

Photo by Marek Kocjan

What I’m reading this week: 29 January 2016

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I try to read articles from all around the world. Admittedly, I usually browse them between classes or at lunch. I get a lot of my news from National Public Radio; I try to avoid watching television for news. Yes, I read mostly left-wing publications. So without further ado, what I’m reading/perusing this week around. I hope to make this a weekly thing, if I can remember. Definitely fort-nightly, at least.

How Iowa Hijacked Our Democracy by Jeff Greenfield : I never knew why we picked Iowa of all places to kick off the grand democratic game of the US presidential election. I hadn’t realised that it’s a fairly young institution (1972). Iowa isn’t a great representative state, although it is an honest place, seemingly. There’s also an alarmingly low turnout rate, although there’s an alarmingly low turn out rate in the US elections, generally.

After reading such a negative look at Iowa, I thought, well what can we do, really? Thankfully, I found some ideas in a handy list form from Danielle Kurtzleben at NPR: No Way To Pick A President? Here Are 6 Other Ways To Do It. There were some really good ideas; my favourite was the rotating regional primary, wherein regions of states would vote together.

Continuing on my American politics read, I am a new subscriber to The New Yorker. When I lived in London, a friend would give me her old copies and I’d read them on the Tube during my commute. I was tired of getting that reminder that I had read half my monthly allotment so I just went in for an educator’s subscription. Hot tip: if you are a school teacher, just call The New Yorker direct at 1.800.825.2510 and you’ll get the discount!

I read two articles from The New Yorker, one about Bernie Sanders and one about Flint, Michigan. I really do like Bernie Sanders over Hilary Clinton, but it’s way too early for me to make that heavy of a decision! The article, Bernie Sanders and the Realists by John Cassidy was a very pithy look at Sanders’s actual chances, and how idealism works in such a cynical environment as the US political system.

And then I read The Contempt That Poisoned Flint’s Water by Amy Davidson and just got angry. How is this sort of blatant and utter corruption even still a thing in America? I should be less naive, I know, but it was disheartening nonetheless. Sometimes, I feel as though America is still a developing nation sometimes, no matter how sophisticated we pretend to be.

Onto world news, then. From Europe, I read Der Spiegel from Germany; The Guardian from the UK (along with the BBC and The Independent, though I don’t like the latter that much); Le MondeLe Figaro, and Le Libération from France and a few newspapers from Sweden and Spain when they pop up on my Twitter feed. I also read Al-Jazeera English when I remember I have the app!

In Der Spiegel, an article about the new refugee identity cards caught my eye; it was an article about how this new identity card would create a faster and more secure way of identifying asylum seekers and getting the help they need. [Article’s title: ‘Asylpolitik: Bundesrat billigt Flüchtlingsausweis’]

From The Guardian’s Simon Parkin, an article about Daesh and its mastery of pop culture: ‘ How Isis hijacked pop culture, from Hollywood to video games‘. It was a fascinating (and long!) read about how Daesh and many other organisations use pop culture in order to entice, indoctrinate and recruit new members.

Le Monde had an article about the proposed changes to Paris’s neighbourhoods, called arrondisements. Redistricting isn’t a super sexy thing, I know, but changing a century’s old system for voting purposes (seriously!) is something that is strikingly similar to American gerrymandering. Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, says that putting together the first four arrondisements would create a larger, more fair voting bloc. To what end, I have no idea, as I am not a Parisienne, but it will be interesting to watch. [The article: ‘Tout comprendre aux vingt arrondissements de Paris’]

And finally, from Le Libération, I read an article by Jean-Manuel Escarnot about two brothers from Toulouse, former Catholics, who have become rappers/singers for Daesh; it’s entitled Les frères Clain, rappeurs catholiques devenus voix de l’Etat islamique. Like The Guardian article above, it shows how sophisticated Daesh is in reaching its audience, using voices from around the world to carry its message to the most ears possible. There is also a fifteen minute documentary about the brothers at Arte Radio that you can listen to here (it is in French).

Until next time. – SDM

Picture by Angelo DeSantis from Berkeley, US