Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Intel's Racism

Speaking of the need to organize new progressive campaigns, look at this ad released by Intel. Although I am late to the news, I thought that it was important to pass along because I know that I had not seen it. Who in their right mind even thought that this would be a good ad to send out? Nevermind that, who is the person that even thought of this design to begin with? Of course, Intel Corporation apologized for the ad:

The intent behind our ad campaign "Multiply Computing Performance and Maximize the Power of Your Employees" was to convey the performance capabilities of our processors through a number of visual metaphors. Unfortunately, while we have used a visual of sprinters in the past appropriately, this ad of using African-American sprinters did not deliver our intended message and in fact proved to be culturally insensitive and insulting.


We are sincerely sorry and have identified specific steps covering heightened cultural sensitivity, our review and approval process, and just using more common sense to ensure that this does not happen again.

On the one hand, this is an excellent example of how structural racism works. I do not believe that any executive from Intel actually intended the message of slave ships to come across in this ad (if for no other reason than it would jeopardize their company image). But, lets think of the steps required for this to make it into publications. First, the creative idea had to be generated. Second, that idea had to be approved as a viable line for production. Third, the prototypes and mock-ups would have to be approved. Fourth, production would occur. Fifth, the distribution arm would have to find publications to place the ad. Sixth, they would have to actually distribute the ad[1]. The fact that, in this process, there were not enough people who who would look at this ad and realize the problems with the kind of "hidden" racism that invades our everyday lives. When we talk about racism, we think of Bull Connor's dog and hoses, but things like this show an equally problematic form of racism.

On the other hand, I question that assessment of negligent, albeit really stupid, people who fail to realize how this ad comes across because of this. Intel is footing the bill for a citizen-initiated proposal in California to eliminate class action suits regarding civil rights issues. Let's look at the last line of that apology again:

We are sincerely sorry and have identified specific steps covering heightened cultural sensitivity, our review and approval process, and just using more common sense to ensure that this does not happen again.

Looks like they are not doing well so far...

If you would like to help get the ballot initiative pulled in California (or at least get Intel to stop paying for it), I will be including a link in the sidebar to the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights on the sidebar or you can click here.

[1]And, the publications and others who actually approved of this ad in their distribution also deserve public outcry and swift punishment as well...they are getting off easy.

Hallow Victory

From Inside Higher Ed:

An Ohio appeals court has rejected a suit challenging Miami University’s policy of offering domestic partner benefits to employees. The decision, which upheld a lower court’s ruling, was not based on whether such benefits are legal or conflict with the state’s ban on gay marriage, as the suit charged. Rather, the appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling that under Ohio law, the conservative lawmaker who sued lacked the standing to do so — either as a taxpayer or as a tuition-paying parent. The court ruled that taxpayers do not have a general right to challenge any decision by a public entity. As for the tuition-paying parent argument, the court noted that tuition funds are not used to pay for the benefits, and that any parent who disagrees with a university’s policies is free to stop paying tuition. The decision and briefs are available on the Web site of Lambda Legal, a gay-rights organization that fought to defend the benefits.

While I am elated that the Ohio courts upheld the Miami University policy not to discriminate, I find it a shockingly hallow victory. Rather than saying that the law is wrong, violates the Fourteenth Amendment or some other kind of substantive challenge to the law, it is upheld by the fact that taxpayers don't have standing.

I didn't expect any court to actually do this (save for maybe the perfect combination of judges on the Ninth Circuit). Unlike activist judges, these judges actually respect the rule of law and things like precedents. What worries me, however, is that people are going to look at the headline for the ruling ("Ohio Win for Partner Benefits" in this case) and think that there was some broad sweeping win for LGBT rights. There wasn't. And, if anyone actually does have standing and sues, then the results could be disasterous.

I just don't see progressive change happening through court decisions. People seem to fetishize Brown v. Board of Ed and Roe v. Wade as major turning points in winning rights for people of color and women. But I think that's exactly the issue: they were turning points in the campaign. The work that went into those campaigns is what ultimately made them successful, not the decisions themselves. It seems to me that the lessons we learn in school seem to whitewash the true nature of social change (e.g., Rosa Parks sat because she was tired -- no, she was organized to participate in civil disobedience). Courts are social products and judges are members of society; if they see the world around them changing, then their decisions are influenced by what are considered standards in society. Without the kinds of sustained campaigns that these victories were built on (for instance the first March on Washington was proposed during WWII), the courts might not have made those decisions.

While this decision is definitely a victory, it is not the kind that I will be gleefully celebrating.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Consumer Cities

Part of the reason that I got interested in studying gentrification is its importance in shaping American (and, as I am finding out world) cities. It is a fascinating location of a whole bunch of fundamental theoretical debates. And I don't mean "theoretical" in the sense of academically removed ivory tower stuff, but real fundamental debates about the underlying social issues facing American society. Gentrification, and the debates surrounding gentrification, narrow in on fundamental questions about the role of public financing for housing, jobs, education but also issues surrounding the environment, diversity and the role of public and private institutions in the development of new political ideas.

But, there are times when I find it uncanny how well timed things are. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I was discussing Lance Freeman's book in the context of the paper that I was am writing when the next day the AYR published a review of it. But, today I found something that is probably even more directly relevant. From the Creative Class Group (Richard Florida's consultancy business), there was a link to this article in the International Herald Tribune. It is discussing the role of demand-driven location decisions in the economic development of cities and how cities can cater to those demands. There was one particular part that caught my attention, however:

The number of these "consumer immigrants" - those moving back to the city seeking a better quality of life - is relatively small compared with the hundreds of thousands of poorer economic migrants who traditionally head to the inner city.

But the "consumer immigrants" have a special significance because they are rich. They are the wealthy, educated, creative types that Bloomberg wants to engage with in his PlaNYC, his initiative to ensure that the extra million souls he predicts will arrive by 2030 do not produce an unlivable crush in Manhattan.

He is pushing for a congestion charge to cut traffic and pollution, plans an all-hybrid taxi fleet, wants to plant one million new trees, and would like to make sure that every New Yorker lives within a 10-minute walk of a park. These are all innovations that the upper-middle classes increasingly take for granted.

In his reinvention of New York as a greener city, Bloomberg may have drawn comfort from the cover story of New York magazine this week. It showed that, despite the city's grime and noise, New Yorkers are among the healthiest in the country.

Interestingly, this is precisely the conversation that I am responding to in the paper that I am currently writing (vainly, it seems — though seeing this gives me hope that the issue is important). There are several critiques that I have of this and I outline them below.

First, it is true that the number of "consumer immigrants" is vastly outnumbered by the number of "economic migrants" nation-wide. But, the thrust of this argument assumes that assumes that the "poorer economic migrants" are not simultaneously consumers or may desire nice places to live[1]. And, wouldn't the economic payoff of those vastly numerically more numerous migrants be, overall, a greater economic boom to the city if it captured that demand?

Second, the initiatives that Bloomberg is proposing are seen, in many ways, as very progressive causes. And, I would argue that they are in fact very progressive causes. The problem is that the solutions are not. They reflect, in a certain way, the return of a New York tradition: the Rockefeller Republican. The effect of congestion pricing is also going to mean that places like Home Depot, Costco, etc. are going to be able to write off the extra overhead costs, but the smaller business person who relies on delivery to Manhattan is going to face a signficant reduction of profits. I in principle I agree with the fact that we need to reduce the use of cars; however, the recent subway problems after the flood indicate that money might be better invested in the mass transit system. Same with the "greening" of the taxis: Bloomberg ain't payin' for it - he's making the taxi drivers do that.

Finally, and I think that this made me the most irate, it might be true that New Yorkers as a whole may be becoming more healthy. But, let me offer an alternative explanation beginning from the premise of this article that more rich people are moving to the city. More rich people are moving in. Rich people tend to have better health than poor people and rich neighborhoods have better health than poor communities (net of individual differences in income)[2], therefore, it may simply be that the sick people are dying or being pushed out. The implied assumption in that statement is that all New Yorkers are healthier but, in fact, it may just be that New York residents are richer - which is the very point of this article.

There are reasonable debates to be had about whether the "consumer city" is good or bad public policy and I would be interested to hear what people think about these proposals. While the environmental effects and social mixing of diverse cities are important, we also have to think about policies that are fair to the service-workers and current residents that provide the cheap labor that makes the "consumer city" possible. Furthermore, we also have to see that the demands and needs of all city residents are met and not necessarily pander to the few rich "consumer immigrants" that might move to the city.

Ah, so much here -- so I am going to go finish this paper now and let you know what I find out about these issues...

[1] On another note of language, it is interesting how this argument might be able to recast the immigration debate — or if it will be used to recast the immigration debate.
[2] A. Diez Roux, 2001. (For propriety's sake I should mention that I work on a project on which Ana is a co-PI)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Half Full or Half Empty?

I have spent the last two and half weeks trying to write the introduction to this paper. The eight pages that describe what I am doing, which, at least theoretically, should be the easiest to do.

But, to frustrate me further, I came across an article tonight that is a major review of the literature that describes some of the fault lines and problems in the field. I have been doing the research for this paper fo six months and I found this paper tonight! One can look at this discovery as a good thing—most of the introduction to my paper actually outlines the fault lines described in this review. And, finding this paper (it was based on an editorial comment co-authored by the same person a couple years earlier) has definitely pointed out some interesting readings to go to when I write the next one of these infernal things. On the negative side, though, what the hell is so wrong with my research skills that I didn't find this paper until tonight!!! Six months!!! Ah, now I feel better.

But, then again, there is glass all the way full news.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Awfully Close to Home

Walking down the street last night, I found out that my neighborhood is going to be graced by the presence of Union Market. I had no idea what a Union Market was, so I went to their website to find out:

We are a neighborhood specialty food market—a one-stop shop for the best in fresh, prepared and gourmet foods. Union Market is a new enterprise that is a product of cooperation between the former Management team of one of New York's most prestigious food outlets, Gourmet Garage, including Mr. Marko Lalic (Former General Manager of Gourmet Garage SoHo), Mr. Martin Nuñez (Former Corporate Director of Operations and General Manager of Gourmet Garage 7th Avenue, West Village) and New York food industry veteran Mr. Paul Fernandez. Utilizing our combined experience of over forty years in the specialty food business, we developed the concept for a store that is Your Neighborhood Source for Fine Foods. That store is Union Market.

Sounds like it is not much more than a specialized version of Whole Foods. Though, I will give them this—rather than raze an entire block of existing units, they did just knock down walls between three adjacent storefronts to build it. It isn't going to be a giant gourmet big-box, but it does mean that "South Slope"[*] has officially hit the yuppie radar screen. I guess it shouldn't be that surprising given that posts have been published about the southward creep of restaurants even after the original expansion of restaurants in the area, but I guess that the Union Market feels much more corporate than many of these other restaurants, food stores, etc. I'm just hoping that it doesn't expand too quickly in the next year and force us to find a new place. On the other hand, it would be valuable experience that I could chalk up to "participant observation."

[*] South Slope is the southern most part of Park Slope. According to Wikipedia (which, I believe to be the most reliable source for things like this), "South Slope" does not exist as a formal neighborhood. However, as an indication for its in-between status as a designation not quite yet captured by the local real estate market, the Wikipedia entry for Park Slope (permanent link to revision) "South Slope" is mentioned as a bordering neighborhood that has become consumed by "greater Park Slope" as real estate agents have become "increasingly generous about the borders of Park Slope". return

It Only Gets Better

Also from Gowanus Lounge: HIPSTER OLYMPICS!!!

Funny shit.

The New New Look

As you may should have noticed, the good old PragId has a new masthead. I think that this is the last part of my crazy plan to "redo" the image of this here blog.

The photo is taken by Adrian Kinloch. Adrian is an amazing photographer and designer (he is what I wished I could have been in architecture school). And, beyond that, he has a really cool blog, Brit in Brooklyn, which has photographs that capture the essence of living in Brooklyn. In order to do Adrian full credit, I have pasted a larger scale image; but it is well worth viewing the full size image. Adrian was kind enough to let me use the image here.

For those of you who may ask, the photo is of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower in Brooklyn. The restaurant no longer stands as it was an inconvenience on the way to Bruce Ratner's Brooklyn land grab. Beyond the formal qualities of the photograph (the use of the figurative foreground against the strong negative space and the "pop" of the color in the bell tower against the background of the blue sky - yeah, that's right, I studied art history and architecture), I also love this image for what it stands for. You will notice that the top of the tower (specifically, the part that actually contains the clock of said "clock tower") is still shrouded behind construction fencing. I say "still" because the developer told people that it would be completed by July 4th -- but now that date is "until the fall sometime". The photograph preserves the image of the JRG restaurant which was sadly demolished in the pursuit of profits for Ratner & Co. (see Adrian's picture of the site now) . I think that, more than any single photograph I have seen (or any piece of art, for that matter), it tells the narrative of the worst kind of urban development.

Friday, August 24, 2007

More Weird Shit Blogging

Alright - I don't know what is up with the world today that my daily reads include such weird and crazy things. Most mornings, my reads include things like the latest shady thing that Bruce Ratner has done and debates about higher ed policies, yet it seems like today is full of really crazy shit. First, there is the hipster video and now there is this (via).

First, I find it hard to believe this:

Why do we love books so much? Perhaps it's the smell.In a survey of 600 college students 43% identified smell –- either new book smell or old -- as the thing they most love about books as physical objects.

I can think of one of two things. First, the survey was designed in such a flawed manner (it was conducted by Zogby after all, no need to flay that dead horse) that they asked dumb questions. I mean, I might "miss" the smell of traditional books, but you know what I would miss more -- being able to fit it in my backpack so that I could reference it during class. Or, I might miss the fact that my backpack doesn't weigh six to eight extra pounds because I have to lug my laptop everywhere. Or, maybe I miss being able to take notes in the book while I read. But, I guess I just "don't understand kids these days." The second thought that I have is that smell is just one of the many things that people rank highly and Cafe Scribe just wants to make headlines (it worked) by instituting this, which is—by far—the weirdest part of this:

In an attempt to win over skeptical college students, Café today announced plans to launch the world's first smelly e-book. Café CEO Bryce Johnson says that beginning in the back-to-school month of September the company will send every e-textbook purchaser a scratch & sniff sticker with a certifiably musty “old book” smell.

“Students who use CaféScribe download our software to read and annotate e-textbooks and other documents on their laptops,” explains Johnson. “By placing these stickers on their computers they can give their e-books the same musty book smell they know and love from used textbooks – without any of the residual DNA you sometimes find stuck to the pages of used textbooks.”

3 in 10 of the surveyed students associated “mustiness” with the books they most loved, although 16% -- possibly those most likely to hit the books early in the day – associated best-loved books with the smell of “freshly-ground coffee.” Other smells mostly failed to bring books to mind, although respondents were more likely to associate pleasant smells (cut grass, freshly baked bread, cookies baking) with books than unpleasant ones (sweat, mildew, grease).

Am I missing something? Am I the only one that finds the smell the last thing that I miss about books?

Since you can't wait for Punk Rock Monday...

For those of you who can't wait for Punk Rock Monday, I have a gem for you (via Gowanus Lounge):

Hipsters are the new jocks! Hold on... what!?!?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Once again, you will notice my prolonged absence from teh internets. Luckily, this time it was self-imposed as E. was back in town for the weekend. She has been temporarily reassigned to live in Las Vegas for the month (alright, not really "reassigned" but it sure as hell feels that way) and was here this weekend. Although we maintained her Pacific timezone sleeping schedule, it was nice to actually be in the same place again. Damn, and we thought we had already put in our time doing it last year. Alas, like all good things, it came to an end and E. is now sleeping in Vegas and I am in the Big Apple...

My opinions on the viability of any social movement or organization that expects total dedication and cares so little about the quality of life of its members (paid or not) aside, it has been a frustrating experience overall. On the one hand, I have been busy with ASA and got to have three really good friends stay over. On the other, I moved to NYC to be with E. and it is frustrating that she was informed that she would be leaving across the country for a month. My one hope is that I can actually use this time productively in order to get things accomplished, like "finishing" one paper and getting another project moving.

But, just for the record, I want to say: this sucks.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Teh Internets

I am having all kinds of problems with my internet connection today. I called Time Warner and, after getting caught in automated menu hell ("If you would like service, please say 'service'" ["Service"] "Thank you. You chose service. Would you like to find out information about your service" ["YES!!!"] "Okay, then. Are you having a problem with your cable. If so, say 'cable'. If you are having a problem with your internet connection, say 'internet connection'. ["Internet Connection"] "Good. Now, would you like service, if so say 'service.'" - You get the idea].

But, I never realized how much I relied on the internet connection. Part of it is that many of my files are on the internet. This is obviously a problem and something that I got myself into by placing them on the internet. Given my need to be mobile, and often using several different computers, it is still - even with temporary service discontinuities - the best bet. But, what is even more frustrating is that I don't feel like I can do anything until I figure out how to get back onto the internet reliably. It is like realizing that you don't have your keys before leaving the house. You could take the spare set, but you really don't want to leave until you find your set of keys because, well, you want to know where they are. Of course, then you are probably late and/or frazzled by the time you get to wherever it was that you were going when you realized that you lost your keys.

Anyway, that is going to be my excuse for getting nothing done today... Maybe it will start working soon and I can actually get something done before the end of the day.

ASA, etc.

This past week has been super crazy. I was attending the American Sociological Association annual meetings (which have received extensive coverage at Inside Higher Ed this week). This largely meant catching up with friends and going out to LOTS of meals and coffees, etc. Having felt very out of place at other conferences I have gone to in the past, the combination of moving away from Ann Arbor and having friends who have jobs and are no longer at Michigan made me realize that the real value of these meetings is being able to catch up with old friends. The combination of catching up with old friends and having the ability to commute to the meetings made this one especially enjoyable, but I can see how they will be great in the future as well.

Not all of this was non-academic thrills. I got to see several presentations that were excellent. Probably the most helpful was one where several journal editors provided tips to help get manuscripts published. For those who are interested, an excellent low-down is provided by anomie. It was really helpful thinking about how the actual nuts-and-bolts of this profession work. I also went to a really interesting session on urban sociology that included a paper about bars and nightlife in the Lower East Side. I decided after that talk that I really screwed up trying to develop my "project" (a.k.a. the dissertation - but somehow I heard a lot of people call it that this weekend) and should have come up with something that would allow me to go out to bars and qualify it as research. The paper was actually really interesting and relates to a more quantitative project that we were looking at possibly doing, so that was pretty cool. The other papers in the session were also interesting.

Since I have been so absent, I need to get my nose to the proverbial grindstone. But, since Dave and I were discussing the Columbia expansion project, I thought that I would pass this article about the project. Following the links provides a really good picture of what is happening regarding the "Manhattanville" or "West Harlem" project (depending on whether you would like to side with the University or with the Community). It was an interesting read regarding the role of universities in their communities, especially when those communities tend to be more poor, less white and have less political power than the university administrations.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Better Late than Never

Although this might be too late to even matter, given our obsession with only covering the news that happened in the last thirty seconds, but I thought I would take a tiny bit of time to write my postmortem on the debate Tuesday night. I know, there was already another one last night; but, all told, I think that it might help me as much as inform you on what I think about the election and the state of politics in this country.

Let me start -- since this appears to be the custom -- by declaring the "winner" to be Dennis Kucinich. I put "winner" in quotes because I think that this is the thing that disturbs me the most about the political class in this country. Politics among the main-stream media is a game. And, for all of their chatter and objections to the MSM, many of the larger blogs are, in fact, guilty of the same thing. There are notable exceptions in both the main-stream media and the blogosphere, but, by-and-large this is still the modus operandi of the political class.

I know that this is not the first political discussion where this has been the case - in fact I wrote an angry letter to Wolf Blitzer after Al Sharpton's Democratic Convention speech in 2004 about the fact that the only thing that Blitzer saw fit to discuss was how far over time Sharpton went and whether this would be an embarrassment to the Democratic Party (which, of course, was not only morally and professionally corrupt, but idiotic. The DLC crowd, already too frightened of Sharpton to begin with, already banished Sharpton to the 4:00pm time slot meaning that Sharpton going over by ten minutes didn't matter. Yet, this was too nuanced of a point for Blitzer and he proved too stupid to pick up on). But, I guess this seemingly laborious tangent gets at my larger point which is this:

No Politics (capital "P") is ever going to create the change that we need without the politics (little "p") to support it.

In other words, candidates pander to this kind of media attention horse-race Politics as if it were the run up to the World Series because rich and/or powerful people see this as a giant game in which, if they are players, they will look brilliant (and, as no small benefit, gain power and/or money themselves). I know, this is not a big shock and seemingly nothing that hasn't been said before. Wow, so powerful people corrupt politics against the interest of most of the population. Call the newswires!

It is not, for me, that this is a point that hasn't been made; but, for me this debate actually showed the potential of another kind of politics that sits outside of media punditocracy. Candidates were forced to interact with (gasp!) a crowd. And, yes, it was raucous. Why was it raucous and why did they not heed Olbermann's pleas to be quiet? Because every single one of the members of that crowd was there to help them make an excruciatingly important choice: Who do I want to be my next President? Who am I going to support by going and knocking on doors (because, let's face it, that is what all of the candidates want, even though, to quote Bill Richardson, all will "continue to take labor's money")? People should be engaged for that decision - it is more scary how passionate most people are.

Olbermann realized this and stopped trying to get them to be quiet. Kucinich realized this and played to the crowd. Clinton tried as best as she could to get into it, but was obviously uncomfortable. Obama has gotten too used to talks in punditry and has lost his community organizing sense. The DLC attack dogs (a.k.a. Dodd and Biden) were too busy attacking Obama and Edwards so that Clinton could look above the fray. And, despite what my esteemed colleague thinks, Richardson didn't make any sense to me (though, apparently, he did much worse last night). And Edwards...John, John, John... No one is there to listen to how you walked the picket line 200 times or have hob-nobbed with labor federation presidents. First, if anyone in that stadium has walked off the job, they have probably walked their own picket line over 200 times. You don't earn credit by walking picket lines X number of times - because you are in a stadium full of people who have done it more. And, second, while you are pandering to the correct people who actually make the endorsements, I would guess that a significant majority of rank-and-file members have a profound distrust for their leadership (and, speaking as a former local president, it is good to have mistrust in one's leaders - they should have to earn it).

So, my horse-race odds casting, though I hate it is as follows. Clinton got out of there unscathed (helped by the fact that there was mysteriously no question about her union-busting lead advisor), Obama looked good, but didn't win much particularly since he was in his home state. Kucinich was the man and Edwards lost, I think, all hope of breaking into the top two. There, I did it.

But, the bigger point that I think that the Democrats can learn from this is the potential power of the crowd. That debate was fun - people cheered, they booed, they waved behind the camera. That is America. Those are the people who give the President their job. I thought that the Democrats lost a huge opportunity during the 2006 State of the Union address. Tim Kaine had just gotten elected governor in a reddish state, the feeling was jubilant, the base was mobilized and people were beginning to realize that the President was out of touch. Bush hardly mentioned New Orleans only four months after the Hurricane and saw fit to talk more about human-animal hybrids. Tim Kaine could have delivered an address "in front of the American people" by giving a public speech to his new constituents in Virginia. And, the symbolism is so stark that even the punditocracy wouldn't miss it - there would be President Bush giving his speech to Congress the ultimate "insider's" venue while the Democratic rebuttal was given to a slice of the American people. The applause wouldn't be staged; no endless sitting and standing, this side clapping, that side sitting on their hands all following the lead of the Majority and Minority Leaders. No, real live people deciding when they would applaud and boo.

But, as long as Clinton and Obama look to get out unscathed, quite literally afraid of the unwashed masses, then progressive politics really have no chance. Despite what the DLC Democrats think, we aren't going to out fundraise or outspend Republicans, but we can, if we find leaders who can, connect with people. It is scary that a single candidate knew how to work that stage in the Democratic primary. And for it, he might have won my vote. Democrats should strategize that.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

I thought...

I thought that I would get away from tornadoes when I moved out of the midwest. Apparently not.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Blogging the "Forum"

Through Commercial Break #1: Dodd can't complete a response without bringing up some piece of legislation that he has supported and exactly when he supported it. Hillary's answer to NAFTA was saved at the last minute by her invective against Republicans. BTW, I am tired of her line about Democrats fighting each other. On the one hand, Edwards seems like he is trying to fit pre-defined answers into any question and, on the other, Obama seems ill-prepared and hesitant on all of his answers (and, a stadium!!! that's your solution for economic development!?!? granted, it plays well to the trades unions, but GOOD LORD!). Kucinich knows how to get the crowd going but needs to never mention another bill number. Richardson can't give a concise answer and really, talking about getting money - that's not going to help. Did I forget any one? Oh, and Olbermann's the man.

Round 2: Damn it - NO "THREE POINT PLANS" HILLARY!!! Did you notice that KERRY LOST!!! Maybe you were too busy drinking your "no attacking Democrats" Kool-Aid. alright, I'm good now.

None of these clowns has a good plan for Iraq. Although, I can't believe that I am saying this, Hillary sounds the best [1]. I think that both Dodd and Biden are literally sucking up to Clinton for the VP. She doesn't have to attack anyone because she has those two doing it for her.

Finally, a knock-out punch for Obama. Well done defending yourself. Dodd and Hillary look petty - and she got her well-deserved boos. Bringing up the American people and "not Washington-insiders" was nice.

Round Three: Can Joe Biden sound any more insincere and then talk about Pakistan when the wife of a dead coal miner is bringing up her husband? What the hell!!! Kucinich is a IATSE member? No Bill, his town is in Michigan. Don't say that his town is someone else's town. Man, if Dean got criticized for not having any beside manner, then these fools must have the emotions of a rock. He asked about his job - not his VA healthcare, Bill. Dodd has offered legislation!!! I couldn't guess that answer was coming.

If Republicans can't look at that man who just talked about losing his pension, I don't understand how they can honestly talk about workers being selfish in this country.

Edwards knocked that response out of the park! That was an amazing answer. And, telling Olbermann to shut up was awesome. I think that he and Kucinich seem to be the only two who really understand the dynamic in the stadium.

Biden is not helping himself talking about his illness and age. And, btw, if he forgot, Edwards is from a right to work state. Kucinich needs to stop quoting bill numbers. Oh, wait, I already said that. Edwards believe in one America now. Too bad, I liked his "Two Americas" speech. No scabs - nice touch. Biden looks angry and just got booed - nice job Biden, you have succeeded in sticking your foot in your mouth again.

"Green collar" and Hillary can't remember the names of anyone. Although she did a pretty good job with NCLB.

I'm bored round: Richardson doesn't make any sense on this VP candidate - although that was a nice touch saying that any of the members on stage would be a good VP. "Lobbyists are people, too" huh? Hillary didn't answer the question. Nice stance, Obama, not taking money from lobbyists. Nice explanation of "lobbying" and noting the difference between big corporations and big labor. And Hillary and John: LIGHTNING ROUND!!! Keep your response to 30 seconds. And Joe, stop talking down to people. Chris, you need to finish a sentence - particularly if it is one that doesn't answer the question you were asked. 30 SECONDS!!! Kucinich and his bills - I don't want to hear about that, I want to know about the message, not the bills. Nice job talking about the promise to remove the troops. 30 SECONDS - I'M BORED!!! Who cares about Barry Bonds? What a stupid question. Nice answer, Barack. Nice response for Hillary...until the 10 POINT PLAN. NO PLANS. Talk about the issues, not the plans. 455 days? Damn, I don't think that I can stand it?

Bill doesn't make any sense. And he's boring. Yes, we elect governors in this country - we also elect Representatives and Senators as well. I see Barack's next swing is going to be "Washington insiders." I like the fact that he is talking about organizing. Nice answer, Joe. Now don't ruin it. Wow, he didn't. Hillary had a pretty good initial answer, but she is so policy-wonky; hasn't the DLC focus-grouped this. And, Hillary, you have been the Washington insider. You can't be both an insider and an outsider when it suits you. 30 SECONDS!!! Nice answer regarding political financing and we DO need to stop playing nice. Dennis = Seabiscuit. I can guarantee you, Dennis, if you do that, people will be running against you.

Chris Matthews round: SHUT UP!!! Why don't you talk about Edward's response to the "most powerful" moment. You already told us who did well, why would you need to ask anyone else.

P.S. I love Eugene Robinson. I want to be Eugene Robinson when I grow up.

[1]That doesn't mean that I think that she would be the best; only that she sounds the best.[return]

For the Record

The blog, No Land Grab has quoted my post yesterday about the Atlantic Yards Project. In their editorial note, lumi writes, "Ratner has been very successful in getting relatively intelligent people to think that Atlantic Yards is in Downtown Brooklyn, rather than Prospect Heights." Since No Land Grab does not have a comments section in which to reply, I feel that I should respond here.

I am a new resident of Brooklyn and it is, in fact, depressing that I might have been duped by Bruce Ratner, et al. I must say, however, that I am not alone looking at this development plan summary [pdf] put together by the NYC Planning Dept. In fact, it appears that the planning department was not so much duped as complicit with the development interests are seeking to expand the definition of "downtown" Brooklyn. As No Land Grab points out, the Atlantic Yards Project sits in Prospect Heights but it seems like a project of the planning department to expand the definition of "downtown Brooklyn" to this area. Especially galling is how the planning department declares that one of the goals of the redevelopment project is to "[s]trengthen connections with surrounding neighborhoods" [1]. I am not sure what building a whole series of high-rises in a community that is composed primarily of brownstones.

Yet, it is not surprising that this happening. It appears that Brooklyn (and by "Brooklyn", I mean the Brooklyn politicians and planning department officials) now has an inferiority complex that they are losing office space to gasp!!! NEW JERSEY!!! Therefore, to show how Brooklyn is a real city, we are going to move the New Jersey Brooklyn Nets to Brooklyn so that it has a real sports team. Following the same "growth machine" politics evident in so many other cities across the country, the Brooklyn elite seem to believe that Brooklyn must grow, grow, grow in order to compete with that suburban wasteland of New Jersey[2]. Even if one buys the interpretation that a place must continually grow to become intrinsically "better" (i.e. so that land developers can earn more money), it seems useless to point out the fact that Manhattan may actually be competing more directly with Brooklyn than New Jersey.

[1]Page 9 of the plan summary. [return]
[2]"Growth machine" politics is described here. [return]

Monday, August 6, 2007

I Don't Think He's Going to Win the Family Values Vote...

Via Jeremy Freese, it doesn't look like Guiliani can even count on the support of his daughter. According to this Slate article, it looks like she is supporting Obama. Can't see that going down well with the "family-values" conservatives; that is, unless they are as flexible on that as they are on crime and punishment.

Speaking of Jeremy Freese, I am looking forward to seeing him talk about Blogs as a Forum for Public Sociology along with Crooked Timber contributor Kieran Healy at the American Sociological Association meetings next week.

How Timely

Today, in the Atlantic Yards Report, there is a review of Lance Freeman's book that I referenced yesterday. The Atlantic Yards Report is a blog dedicated to coverage of the gigantic development company ForestCityRatner's Atlantic Yards Development Project which is going to put expensive condo towers smack-dab in the middle of Brooklyn's downtown. The author of the blog, Norman Oder originally started his coverage in this NYT article and has expanded to cover development in much of Brooklyn.

It is a great review to read because Oder knows the Clinton Hill area that Freeman studies and so it is an interesting take on what Freeman says. I am a little disappointed that Oder didn't bring up Freeman's "political" solution (in addition to the more policy-wonk solutions) of active Alinsky-style organizing, but it still does not detract much from the review.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Race & Redevelopment I: Gentrification

In light of my recent epiphany that I need to figure out a way to make my research relevant and interesting, I am posting my first entry concerning one of the topics that I am researching: who would consider moving to redeveloped neighborhoods in Chicago and why would they consider those neighborhoods. This is the first section that describes the central role that "gentrification" has played in framing the debate.

The term “gentrification” was coined by Ruth Glass in 1964 to describe the process of working class Londoners being displaced by the wealthier “gentry” and changing the face of London as people knew it. The term, over the next four decades has been used widely in academic research as well as finding its way into the popular press and everyday vernacular. The popularity of the term as well as the subject probably has a great deal to do with the fact that the process is one that is incredibly visible. Cities, particularly those in the North American industrial “steel-belt” across the Great Lakes and Northeastern regions, were declared to be doomed in the late 1970s and 1980s. Although the reasons why cities were following this trajectory has been a cause of great debate, and included some combination of economic transformations from a manufacturing to service-based economy, the racial segregation of metropolitan areas and the concentration of poverty, there was a fairly universal agreement on the fact that cities were in a state of despair. Throughout the 1990s and the first years of the 21st century, however, many of those cities formally thought to be doomed have seen a resurgence with residents coming “back” to cities.

Perhaps it is because people’s homes and neighborhoods have such an intrinsic value to them as to make them “a special sort of commodity” [1] that so much attention has been garnered by the transition of neighborhoods from poor to rich. Or, perhaps it is because the polar change in this transition was so unexpected from what was predicted in the 1970s and 1980s for American urban centers. Yet, the fact is that gentrification has taken one of the leading roles in understanding urban theory both academically and in every-day life.

And, while most evidence points to the fact that migration to suburbs has outpaced that to cities, it seems appropriate that gentrification should be a major component of urban theory given the fact that it is such a visible and recognizable feature of contemporary urban contexts. But, in absolute numbers, gentrification is not a trivial occurrence, either. Two researchers, Elvin Wyly and Daniel Hammel, have found that the size of the "urban underclass" which guided much academic and political debate in the 1980s and 1990s (think: welfare reform), is about the same size as the number of people involved in gentrification.

But, I think that another key element to understanding gentrification in the U.S. context is the fact that there is a strong racial component to gentrification in the United States. As the national economy of the U.S. shifted from a manufacturing to a service base, U.S. central cities were not only divided economically, but also racially. Because of explicit racial policies of And, while many people claim that this is largely due to white flight following the urban riots in the late 1960s, the process actually began much earlier and simply increased the rate at which white flight was occurring (for a great analysis of the 1967 riot in Detroit, read Thomas Sugrue's Origins of Urban Crisis). Whether this racial division was the direct consequence of urban economic restructuring or was primarily the result of high levels of racial segregation in most northern and eastern industrial cities is a matter of debate. What is true, either way, is that the poor urban residents in most northern and eastern cities that are likely to get displaced in the process of gentrification are African Americans. In fact, the perception that white people displace people of color as a process of gentrification is so pronounced that two researchers studying predominantly African American neighborhoods where gentrification is occurring noted that their informants mark the existence of gentrification to the time that they saw white people buying houses in their neighborhoods[2].

While gentrification is certainly an important component of the urban environment that needs to be understood to fully comprehend the contemporary development of urban environments, I argue that it is important that gentrification not become the only lens through which urban development is considered. The paper that I am working on currently describes why I think that this is the case and how, in some ways, thinking about gentrification—particularly the context in which gentrification is viewed in the U.S.—can be problematic both for understanding what is shaping residential choices among metropolitan residents and it limits the possibilities of potential urban reform. I am working on writing that part up now, and so will let you know why I think that this is the case in a following post.

[1] Logan, John R. and Harvey L. Molotch. 1987. Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place. Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Press. [return]
[2] One of the studies is an article written by Mary Pattillo (for those interested, I have included the entire citation) who studies the North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood in Chicago. She has very recently published a book, Black on the Block, expanding on that study and which I have not yet had a chance to read. The citation for her article is: Pattillo, Mary. 2003. "Negotiating Blackness, for Richer or for Poorer." Ethnography 4(1): 61-93.
The other study was conducted by Lance Freeman who studied communities in Harlem and the majority-black neighborhood of Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. If anyone is interested in urban issues and wants to read an incredibly written book, I would recommend it to anyone: Freeman, Lance. 2006. There goes the 'hood : views of gentrification from the ground up. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.[return]

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Letter to Readers

What I am studying is interesting. I can tell people about it at parties or at the bar and people are immediately interested. I tell people the “cocktail party” version of my research topic, specifically, “I study why people move to where they move.” And, it’s funny, almost every time I bring it up, people ask something to the effect of: “So, you mean, like, gentrification and stuff.” I find it really interesting that is the first thing that people think of when I tell them that I am studying where people move. Maybe it is being in New York in my mid-twenties or maybe it is something that is so pervasive in people’s minds that people think about it as something truly transformative of urban space that is what is immediately called to mind.

But, somehow, no matter how interesting this is, I am having one hell of a time trying to transfer it to an academic paper that is also interesting. I don’t know if it is because I am trying to hard to fit within current research or if it is because I am trying too hard to fit within rigid notions of what an academic paper sounds like. If it is the former, that would seem kind of silly – the entire purpose of writing an academic paper is to expand current knowledge and trying to fit it inside of certain pre-defined boxes is probably not the best idea. If it is the latter, maybe I need to stop trying too hard to write an “academic” paper and just write what I find interesting. I can always go back and reshape it to an academic paper later. I had an English professor in college who told me, “Just write as if you were speaking to someone, that is the best kind of writing there is.” It was good advice (though I am not sure that I took it at the time; I took the class pass/fail, which, it turned out, was a wise decision). But, I have also realized that I have a difficult time even talking about it to people beyond my one-line cocktail party answer. I can get to three or four sentences without losing entire interest but by the time I finish my first paragraph I can see people's eyes glaze over and I feel like that guy at the party that no one wants to get stuck talking to.

But, I also realize that writing only for academic journals means that my work is relegated to dusty library shelves (or unexplored, dark pixelated corners of JSTOR—not that any of my work has actually been published) where the two or three dozen other people interested in my specific research area read it. I study what I study because I believe that the things that I study are important topics to consider and debate. I want my research to be relevant and therefore I want to be able to explain what I do to people who might not have an advanced knowledge of statistics or urban development or racial segregation. Therefore, I am going to try something new on this here blog: I am going to to try and focus my writing here more on my research and research topics.

I am hoping that this will accomplish two things. First, in a very selfish way I am hoping that it will help motivate me to stay on track since I don't have much of an academic community here. But, second, I want to know what people think of my work and what I write. Is it interesting, boring, incomprehensible, incorrect, actionable? So, for those of you who read my blog fairly regularly, please post (as you always do), your thoughts and comments. Also, if you can, tell friends or colleagues who might be interested in some of the same topics that I write about. Finally, if you don't hear about what I am doing in my research for a while, remind me that I need to share more.