" /> Coruscation: November 2015 Archives

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November 29, 2015

Proportionate response ?

Removing police racial bias will have little effect on the killing rate. Suppose each arrest creates an equal risk of shooting for both African-Americans and whites. In that case, with the current arrest rate, 28.9 percent of all those killed by police officers would still be African-American. This is only slightly smaller than the 31.8 percent of killings we actually see, and it is much greater than the 13.2 percent level of African-Americans in the overall population.

If the major problem is then that African-Americans have so many more encounters with police, we must ask why. Of course, with this as well, police prejudice may be playing a role. After all, police officers decide whom to stop or arrest.

But this is too large a problem to pin on individual officers.

First, the police are at least in part guided by suspect descriptions. And the descriptions provided by victims already show a large racial gap: Nearly 30 percent of reported offenders were black. So if the police simply stopped suspects at a rate matching these descriptions, African-Americans would be encountering police at a rate close to both the arrest and the killing rates.

This is not just about drugs or law enforcement. Poverty plays an essential role in all of this. Jens Ludwig, an economist at the University of Chicago who also directs the Crime Lab there, points out: "Living in a high-poverty neighborhood increases risk of violent-crime involvement, and in the most poor neighborhoods of the country, fully four out of five residents are black or Hispanic."

We will not sharply reduce police killings of African-Americans unless we understand the social institutions that intimately tie race and crime. In her book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," Michelle Alexander argues that the American criminal justice system itself is an instrument of racial oppression. "Mass incarceration operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race," she says.

November 28, 2015

Simultaneously self-evident and inexplicable

Nothing intrigues philosophers more than a phenomenon that seems simultaneously self-evident and inexplicable. Thus, ever since the moral philosopher Philippa Foot set out Spur as a thought experiment in 1967, a whole enterprise of "trolley­ology" has unfolded, with trolleyologists generating ever more fiendish variants.

Fat Man was developed by the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson, in 1985.

The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us About Right and Wrong
By David Edmonds
Illustrated. 220 pp. Princeton University Press. $19.95.

A Philosophical Conundrum
By Thomas Cathcart
Illustrated. 132 pp. Workman Publishing. $14.95.

November 24, 2015


Whereas Ms. Smith's haunting 2010 memoir, "Just Kids," centered on her early years in New York in the late 1960s and '70s and her friendship with Mr. Mapplethorpe, this volume is more peripatetic, chronicling her peregrinations around the world and into the recesses of her imagination, though always returning to her home base in Manhattan. Its unities are not of time and place, but the landscape of Ms. Smith's own mind -- her dreams, her memories, her preoccupation with certain artists (Jean Genet, William S. Burroughs, Sylvia Plath), books ("The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle," "After Nature," "2666") and television shows ("The Killing," "Law & Order," "CSI: Miami").

More in words.

During her travels, Ms. Smith makes pilgrimages to the graves of writers she admires: Brecht, Plath, Rimbaud, Genet. The ghosts of such artists haunt these pages, as do the spirits of her beloved husband and brother. And a dark melody of loss threads its way through this volume. Her favorite coat -- lost. Her favorite Murakami book -- left in an airport bathroom. Her favorite camera -- left on a beach. Her favorite neighborhood cafe -- closed. Ms. Smith buys a tiny house near Rockaway Beach, Queens, and while it somehow survives Hurricane Sandy, she witnesses the myriad losses of her neighbors -- the boardwalk turned to splinters, a friend's cafe gone, hundreds of homes burned to the ground or flooded.

November 20, 2015


As Jonathan Martin and Matt Flegenheimer recently wrote in The Times, Poppy and Bush retainers like John Sununu are bewildered by a conservative electorate that rejects Republican primogeniture, prefers snark to substance and embraces an extremely weird brain surgeon and an extravagantly wild reality show star.

More in words.

November 18, 2015

Idiocy and pomposity of mass media

"The first blogs were a reaction against the idiocy and pomposity of mass media.
Now social media is dominated by the same stories that would have made the local television news. We're in an era of mass social media. I think smarter readers are seeking refuge in subcultures."

Mr. Nick Denton of Gawker Media, in an interview by Instant Messenger on Tuesday

November 17, 2015

Five cups of coffee per day

"In our study, we found people who drank three to five cups of coffee per day had about a 15 percent lower [risk of premature] mortality compared to people who didn't drink coffee,"

-- Nutrition researcher Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health.

November 16, 2015

Next Economy Conference, by Maciej (Idlewords)

Storified Maciej on the Next Economy Conference.

November 12, 2015

Mind maps of cities, by Archie Archambault

Archie Archambault, a designer who's making an ongoing series called "Map From the Mind." Archambault's maps are based solely on his own explorations and time spent with locals in a given city. "It seems kind of dishonest to make a map completely based on secondhand data," he says. "The tradition of mapmaking is surveying and being within the parameters of the space."


November 10, 2015

White people yelp reviews

White people yelp reviews are a thing.

November 9, 2015

Millennial stealth dorms ruining Texas cities -- Citylab

Citylab reports millennial stealth dorms are ruining Texas cities.

Center: ZIP code 78751

In 2000, there were 3,723 higher ed students in 78751 (the area seemingly most affected by 'stealth dorms'). The total population in 2000 for 78751 was 14,005. So, the area was 27% students. In 2011, there were 4,760 higher ed students; the total population was 14,526. The area was 33% students. So, if you are a resident of 78751, of the sixteen people living closest to you one went from being a non-student to a college student. And by the way, four of the sixteen of them were already students. That is what is being described as 'bleeding' a neighborhood.