BR Blog

April 24, 2014 They Came to Bury Him Diana Arterian

“Friends, bitches, countrymen: lend us your ears!” After some hoots and applause, the poet Sarah Vap continued, “And let’s not forget the line that follows that one: ‘I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.’” So began “Friends, Bitches, Countrymen: Contemporary Feminist Poetics” at the University of Southern California on March 26 as part of their Visions and Voices Program. Providing context for the event for a diverse audience, Vap gave what may be the best description yet of third-wave feminist poetics: “Nothing feels more complicated and more relevant to me than figuring out the relationships between language and power, language and gender, language and racism, language and sexuality, language and systemic violence, language and incarceration, language and citizenship.” Indeed.

Vap’s initiative was to bring five thinker-poets to campus for deep interrogation of the practices of poetry and feminism: Dawn Lundy Martin, Carmen Giménez Smith, Danielle Pafunda, Arielle Greenberg, and Stacey Waite. But Vap explained to me later that this event was what she calls “self-organizing”: the participants were in dialogue for months prior, “noting where there were sympathies and antagonisms and resonances and gaps—and sometimes they chose to highlight those resonances, or let those gaps stand, or create resonances….” She did not provide a full event itinerary to the...

April 23, 2014 Nate Silver's Data Narratives Andrew Mayersohn

Nate Silver’s re-launch of FiveThirtyEight is only a few weeks old but is taking fire from all angles. Each critic seems to find a different flaw, picking apart everything from the site’s early content to its guiding philosophy and staff. Marc Tracy is skeptical of Silver’s single-minded focus on forecasting concrete outcomes; Ryan Cooper rebuts the claim that FiveThirtyEight can “just do analysis” without letting liberal or conservative ideology intrude; Paul Krugman points out that trying to let data “speak for itself” is a hopeless endeavor, since data always have to be interpreted in the context of theories.

These criticisms of Silver’s content and method are all valid, but FiveThirtyEight’s fundamental problem is the tension between being clever or original and focusing on what matters most. In this respect, Silver (and other data journalists) may have more in common with traditional reporters and commentators than he realizes.

Silver’s feud with the political pundit class runs deeper than...

April 17, 2014 Thinking Inequality Claude S. Fischer

Now that economic inequality has become a focus of attention—mentions of “income inequality” in the New York Times went up five-fold in the 2010s compared to the 2000s, 200-fold compared to the 1990s—we know a few things about it clearly. For example: American inequality is unusually great among western societies; it has been growing substantially in recent decades; most recently, the gaps have widened especially between the very richest and the rest; and a good deal of inequality is subject to policy decisions (although some folks have been making that point for decades).

One thing that remains quite unclear is how average Americans think about inequality. Do they know about it, care about it, understand it, want to do anything about it?

Americans want action on inequality in a notably American way.

In her 2013 book, The Undeserving Rich: American Beliefs about Inequality, Opportunity, and Redistribution, sociologist Leslie McCall methodically tries to figure out Americans’ thinking about inequality. She disentangles the way Americans have answered a wide variety of survey questions on the topic over the last quarter-century or so, looking for the thread of logic that makes Americans’...

April 15, 2014 Daniel Dennett and Steven Pinker: Can We Become a More Peaceful Species? John Berger

Editors' Note: This video is from a panel at the World Peace Foundation–sponsored conference, Unlearning Violence, held February 13 & 14, 2014. Video of the full event can be found here.

Are humans more peaceful? Do we face a future largely devoid of the endemic violence that has plagued our race for millions of years? In the opening panel of the World Peace Foundation’s Unlearning Violence conference, Dr. Steven Pinker and Dr. Daniel Dennett debated this point. Pinker, the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Decline, argued that all measurable indicators of violence have been steadily declining. According to Pinker, this trend has been driven by several factors. First, global literacy and access to information have increased. With these resources, the public is better able to educate itself, and an educated public is generally a more peaceful one. Second, we are increasing our capacity to extend access to proper nutrition and medicine every day, which decreases the probability of spontaneous violence spurred by lack of basic...

April 14, 2014 Listen to New Recordings of James Baldwin Boston Review

In this brief selection, James Baldwin (1924–1987) reads from two sections of his novel, Another Country. Published in 1962, and set in Greenwich Village, Another Country traces the complex interracial relationships of a group of artists, writers, and musicians, clustered around Rufus, a jazz musician whose suicide affects them profoundly. 

Excerpt 1

The final moments of Rufus Scott just before he commits suicide. As he takes the A train to Harlem, “He had thought that he would get off here and go home,” Baldwin reads. But as he does not get off, and “Suddenly he knew he was never going home anymore.” 

Excerpt 2

The pastor’s sermon at Rufus’s funeral. It is an exhortation to empathy: “Ain’t none of us been...