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hidden externalities: when failed states prioritize business over education

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Much has been discussed in the media about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; for example, to compensate for the absence of coordinated support, working mothers are carrying more caregiving responsibilities. However, the full range of externalities resulting from governmental and organizational decisions (or in the case of some governments, “non”-decisions which are decisions in practice) often are less visible during the pandemic.  Some of these externalities – impacts on health and well-being, careers and earnings, educational attainment, etc. – won’t be apparent until much later.  The most disadvantaged populations will likely bear the brunt of these; organizations charged with addressing equity issues, such as schools and universities, will grapple over how to respond to these in the years ahead.

In this blog post, I’ll discuss one under-discussed implication of what’s happening in NYC as an example, and how other organizations have had to adjust as a result.  Mayor DeBlasio has discussed how NYC public schools will close if NYC’s positivity rate averages 3% over 7 days.   At the same time, indoor dining, bars, and gyms have remained open, albeit in reduced capacity.  People, especially parents and experts, including medical professionals, are questioning this prioritization of business establishments over schools across the US.

Since the start of the 2020 school year, NYC public schools has offered limited in-person instruction.  A few informal conversations I’ve had with parents at NYC public schools revealed that they found the blended option an unviable one.  Due to capacity and staffing issues, a public school’s blended learning schedules could vary over the weeks.  For example, with a 1:2:2 schedule, a student has 1 day of in person school the first week, followed by 2 days in person the following week, then another 2 days in person the third week.  Moreover, which days a student can attend in-person school may not be the same across the weeks. This might partially explain why only a quarter of families have elected these.  Overall, both “options” of blended learning and online learning assume that families have flexibility and/or financial resources to pay for help.

What’s the cost of such arrangements?  People have already acknowledged that parents, and in particular, mothers, bear the brunt of managing at-home schooling while working from home.  But there is another hidden externality that several of my CUNY freshmen students who live with their families have shared with me.  While their parents work to pay rent and other expenses, some undergraduates must support their younger siblings’ online learning.  Other students are caregiving for relatives, such as a disabled parent, sometimes while recovering from illnesses themselves.  Undergraduates must coordinate other household responsibilities in between managing their own online college classes and additional paid work.  Without a physical university campus that they can go to for in-person classes (excluding labs and studio classes that are socially distanced) or as study spaces, students don’t have physical buffers that can insulate them against these unanticipated responsibilities and allow them to focus on their learning, interests, and connections. 

Drawing on the financial resources available to them and shaping plans around “stabilizing gambits,” several elite universities and small liberal arts colleges have sustained quality education for their students with their in-person classes, frequent testing, and sharing of information among dorm-dwellers.  But in the absence of any effective, coordinated federal response to the pandemic in the US, what can public university instructors do to ensure that their undergraduate students have a shot at quality learning experiences?  So far, I’ve assigned newly published texts that guide readers through how to more critically analyze systems. I’ve turned to having students documenting their experiences, in the hopes of applying what they have learned to re-design systems that work for more diverse populations.  I’ve tried to use synchronous classes as community-building sessions, coupled with feedback opportunities on how to channel our courses to meet their needs and interests.  I’ve devoted parts of class sessions to explaining how to navigate the university, including how to select majors and classes and connect with instructors.  I’ve connected research skills to interpreting the firehose of statistics and studies about pandemic, to help people ascertain risks so that they can make more informed decisions that protect themselves and their communities and educate others.  I’ve attempted to shift expectations for what learning can look like in the absence of face-to-face contact.  Since many of the relational dimensions that we took for granted in conventional face-to-face classes are now missing (i.e., visual cues, physical co-presence), I’ve encouraged people to be mutually supportive in other ways, like using the chat / comments function. In between grading and class prep, I’ve written letters of recommendation, usually on very short notice, so that CUNY students can tap needed emergency scholarships or pursue tenure-track jobs.  In the meantime, our CUNY programs have tried to enhance outreach as households experience illness and job loss, with emergency funds and campus food pantries mapping where students reside and sending mobile vans to deliver groceries, in an effort to mitigate food insecurity.  

Like other scholars, I’ve also revealed, in the virtual classroom, meetings, and conferences, how the gulf between work/family policies is an everyday, shared reality – something that should be acknowledged, rather than hidden away for performative reasons.  Eagle-eyed viewers are likely to periodically spot my child sitting by my side in a zoom meeting, assisting me by taking class attendance, or even typing on documents in the background.  My capacities to support undergraduate and graduate learning, as well as contribute to the academic commons by reviewing manuscripts and co-organizing academic conferences, have depended on my daughter attending her school in-person.  Faculty and staff at her school have implemented herculean practices to make face-to-face learning happen, and families have followed agreements about reducing risks outside of school to maintain in-person learning. That said, given current policy decisions, it’s just a matter of time when I will join other working parents and my CUNY undergraduates making a daily, hour-by-hour complex calculus of what can be done when all-age learners are at home.

All of these adjustments and experimental practices are just baby steps circumnavigating collective issues.  These liminal times can offer opportunities to rethink how we enact our supposed values in systems and institutions.  For instance, do we allow certain organizations and unresponsive elected leaders to continue to transfer externalities to those who are least prepared to bear them?  Do we charge individual organizations and dedicated members, with their disparate access to resources, to struggle with how to serve their populations’ needs?  Or, do we more closely examine how can we redesign systems to recognize and support more persons?

Written by katherinechen

November 18, 2020 at 5:42 pm

open borders 2020: this weekend!

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The Open Borders Conference will be this Saturday, Nov 21, 2020 – all day!! We will have panels in the Western Europe, New York and Los Angeles time zones. We will have four key note addresses and more panels. Our key note speakers will be Samah Sisay (see above), Harsha Walia, Helena Maleno, and Shikha Dalmia.

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

November 17, 2020 at 7:44 pm

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book auction open until 9pm tonight!!!

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Brief note: the book and art auction is now open. We will take bids up until 9pm. Go to this link: https://www.instagram.com/openbordersconference/

Each book or artwork gets its own blog post and drop bids in the comments. We will also livestream via instagram from 8pm to 9pm. So go to the instagram and click on the round icon for the account to access the livestream. Hope to see you there!

+++++
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

November 12, 2020 at 6:56 pm

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book auction for open borders back on schedule – check it out

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The Open Borders Conference is having a fundraiser. From now until Thursday at 9pm, we will be auctioning books via the Open Borders Instagram page. Here’s how it works:

  • For the next few days, we will post pictures of the books on the Open Borders Instagram page.
  • Until 9PM on Thursday, you can bid on books – just write the price (e.g., $20) in the comment section. Only bids with time stamp 9pm or sooner will count.
  • If you win, just donate the amount to the Free Migration Project and indicate the book you won. We will not take cash or checks.
  • If you don’t have an Instagram account, email me at hoosierfab@gmail.com and I will proxy bid for you.
  • From 8pm to 9pm, I will be doing an Instagram livestream with Jamila Hamami, a New York area activist and writer, in support of the auction. So tune in and have some fun.
  • I am donating a copy of “From Black Power” and my own copy of Caplan and Weinersmith’s open borders book.

Remember that you can also support the conference the old fashioned way by buying a ticket for $15. Please check out the program as well. I hope you can bid.

+++++

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)

Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!

A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)

The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 

Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street

Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

November 10, 2020 at 9:17 pm

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relief, sadness, and determination

The election of Donald Trump was the first time I had ever felt threatened by the outcome of an election. The US definitely has problems, but, sorry, Mitt Romney and John McCain were not scions of a new White supremacy as many might like to say. But Trump was the first candidate of a mainstream party to openly advocate ideas that, I thought, had been relegated to the dustbin of history. He essentially wanted to close the US enitrely to migration, wanted trade wars with China, and was happy to dog whistle genuinely violent racist groups. I never bought into the most hysterical talk. For example, I openly laughed when a friend of mine seriously argued that Trump would start a nuclear war. But still, Trump was a serious problem.

I briefly felt relief when it became clear that Trump had been voted out but very soon there after, sadness set in. The person who was voted in had supported some incredibly damaging policies. For me, Biden’s biggest mis-step was voting for the Iraq War. This is no small thing. The war took the lives of nearly 5,000 American troops, wounded thousands more, and devastated entire nations. And this is not isolated. On some of the biggest issues, Biden has been on the wrong side of history. He supported the 1994 crime bill, which many believe made law enforcement needlessly punitive, and, in the 1980s, was one of the politicians who began the process of turning Supreme court nominations into a zero-sum, winner takes all political battle. And of course, it is not clear what Biden did, if anything, to try to halt or slow the massive wave of deportations that occured during the Obama administration. The badness of Trump, or the diversity of the Democratic ticket, does not wash away those stains. I feel no pride or joy and I didn’t dance in the streets.

However, if you can stop thinking of politics as a television show where knights in shining armor defeat dragons, you have a more expansive view of the world. On Tuesday, a number of jurisdictions legalized narcotics, essentially nullifying the War on Drugs. That is clearly a good thing and it was made possible by local activists who spent the time and energy to campaign for those referenda. I think a very deep approach to politics is to recognize that the reality television show known as Congress and the White House does have its place and those folks weild genuine power, but that really substantial social change can be acheived in other ways. You won’t get awards or millions of Twitter followers, but if you helped your state vote to end drug prohibition, you have directly improved thousands, perhaps millions, of lives. And that’s more important than just about anything you can do in politics.

+++++
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

November 9, 2020 at 12:44 am

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(almost) post election comments on nov 5, 2020

Around 10pm on Tuesday night, a number of friends on Facebook noted that if Biden were to win Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska’s 2nd district, he’d reach 270 electoral votes. Since then, I stopped thinking about who would win and more about take home points.

First, the national polls did as good as usual. In the Real Clear Politics average of polls with four candidates, Biden had 50.6%, Trump 43% and 3rd parties had 2.6%. The popular vote as of late Thursday? Biden has 50.47%, Trump 47.8%, Jorgenson had 1.15% and Hawkins had .23%. The message here is simple: undecideds moved to Trump, or finally admitted to voting for Trump, and some 3rd party people moved to Trump or admitted that they weren’t really going 3rd party. I’ll also note that this result – Biden exceeding 50% – is consistent for a challenger running during a recession.

Second, the state level polls were mixed. Some states were simply way off while others did well. The RCP poll average for Ohio was about 6% off – way beyond the margin of error. Similarly, Wisconsin was supposed to have a Biden win of +6% . The polls in Michigan and Pennsylvania were actually close to the final, or nearly final, results. If you know polling, this is expected. State polling is ususally less accurate than national polling. I haven’t seen any way so far to fix the problems that state level pollsters tend to have.

It is also worth noting people’s emotions. For me, this was not an emotional roller coaster. Rather, it was like watching a normal election in very, very slow motion. If you understand that all those mail in ballots tilt Democrats, then you’d guess that Biden had the stronger position. Nothing shocking given the recession and pandemic, but just really, really slow.

Third, the real big surprise is that Democrats lost ground in the House and didn’t get much traction in the Senate. This may seem puzzling from one point of view – presidential winners (sometimes) have coat tails. But perhaps it is less surprising from the view that the election might have been a referendum on Trump and people were happy with the status quo. Another possibility is that the emergence of a strong progressivism a la Sanders simply has limited mileage in competitive districts. In other words, people may be happy to dump Trump but pulling the trigger for Sanders and AOC might be one step too far.

Finally, I’ll note that some policy issues I favor did well. Decriminalization of narcotics made headway and that it is something civil libertarians, abolitionists, and progressives should see as a big gain. Also, as a sign of improving toleration, a number of LGBT candidates did well and won their races. If you have additional insights, put it in the comments!

+++++
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

November 6, 2020 at 1:04 am

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book spotlight: billionaire wilderness by justin farrell

Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and The Remaking of the American West is a book by Justin Farrell that uses ethnography to explore how super, duper, like incredinly wealthy, people think about the environment. Farrell hung out in Wymoing in an enclave of people who have made, or inherited, vast fortunes and he gets to understand how they see “nature” and use it.

The book is a lively and interesting exploration of a subculture that few people ever get to see. I’m quite impressed by his ability to gain access to research subjects. This is definitely an excellent contribution to the sociology of elites and it sits well next to the works of other sociologists of elites, like Lauren Rivera and Shamus Khan.

The main point of the book is that the ultra rich have used “nature” as a place they can buy and turn into a retreat that has highly symbolic value for them. The result is that you now have these enclaves where the ultra rich sit next to some very working class people. In a sense, the book might be an extension of a Bourdieusian analysis of conservation – conservation is simply another field where financial and symbolic resources for status competitions. But I’d also add that Farrell covers some more humanistic elements of the story as well. Wealthy respondents talk about the enclave as something that isn’t the same as buying another yacht or mansion, there’s definitely a desire for something more in life. While status competition is defintiely a big part of the story, it’s not the only part of the story.

So a thumbs up from me. Required reading for environmental sociologists, sociologists of elites and stratification scholars.

++++
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

November 4, 2020 at 12:17 am

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final election 2020 commentary

As of this morning, Real Clear Politics has the four way race going for Biden at around 52%, Trump 45% and the Libertarians (Jorgenson) and Greens (Hawkins) at about a combined 2.5%. I am not going to spend time forecasting elections results because the popular vote is clearly going to Biden. Nate Silver’s posits a 10% chance of an Electoral College upset for Trump and that seems reasonable. A Trump Electoral College win is definitely unlikely, but not outside the realm of possibility. If you’re a Democrat, you might enjoying knowing that Michigan progrssive groups have been massively spam texting me for a month becuase I used to live there. Clearly, “we’re not letting THAT happen again!”

Instead, I’ll add a few comments about other aspects of this election. Let’s start with 3rd parties. I take this election cycle as more evidence for the “parking lot” theory of third parties. A lot of voters will say they are interested in 3rd parties in surveys but when it comes around to voting, they really just want a brand name major party politician. This year just confirms the hypothesis. The Greens and Libertarians are doing even worse than in 2016. We have a beleagured president and a tepid challenger and yet, third parties are just having no impact, aside from being spoilers at the state and local levels. The message to me is clear – 3rd parties remain pretty ineffective tools for political influence for fringe ideas.

Second, I’d like to talk about police reform and the “party in the street” hypothesis – namely, movements back off when their party is in power. In the Spring, we saw a big push for police reform and even some folks arguing for defunding or abolition. I thought that when Kamala Harris became the VP nominee, we’d see some big push back from party activists because of her “law and order” record. But very little happened. My prediction is that should Harris win, many police reform folks will praise the candidate that they loather earlier in the year. The Party in the Street hypothesis 1, police abolitionists 0.

Have any other perspectives on this election cycle? Put it in the comments!

++++
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

November 3, 2020 at 4:14 pm

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the economic paradox of quality television

Old style network television was based on the following economic model. Make a bunch of stand alone episodes and advertisers pay for it. If you get lucky, you get to syndicate the show and future advertisers can pay for it again. The aesthetic trick is to make sure that each episode is relatively self-contained so that in the short term, new viewers can easily pick up. If you can’t just turn it on and get it, it will be hard to syndicate.

The big evolution in modern television is arc story telling. Rather than have stand alone tales, television episodes form one long narrative. The first show to completely do this and hit it big was the Soprano’s in the early 2000s. But you could also see arc story telling in earlier science fiction, like Deep Space 9 and Babylon 5. Now, the default mode for television on streaming platforms is the story arc.

This presents a pretty serious economic problem. Arc stories are really powerful in ways that old procedurals and sit coms are not but they undermine the economic logic of television. Short term, it is hard to build an audience unless they buy in early. For most shows, it is just hard to pick up a show in season 3 and get it. Long term, it’s horrible. As much as I love Game of Thrones, it will be very hard for future viewers to start in season 6 and really get the most out of it. In contrast, the all time great sit com show, Friends, still keeps making new fans every single day. It is so “stand alone” that young people think it’s about them – in 2020!

So this leads to some very perverse dynamics in the modern entertainment industry – high quality shows are very likely to get cancelled. Netflix is notorious for this. If you can’t get an audience by season 2, you get chopped. And other streaming services aren’t much different. This has resulted in some very daring shows – like Sense8 on Netflix – getting chopped very early and leaving people hanging. And I can’t blame network executives. It’s expensive and if you can’t get viewers, you have a problem.

If you believe this analysis, then we may see a shift back from “prestige” arc story to traditional stand alone story telling. Instead of betting on the next Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, streamers may try to mimic network television and go for the next Monk or Friends – shows that are very easy to replay in the future.

++++
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

October 30, 2020 at 12:17 am

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covid mitigation stringency: some data

A few days ago, commenters on the blog argued that I was fighting a strawman by suggesting we move from strict measures to a laxer “protect the elderly” position. Lockdowns in response to COVID simply weren’t happening and my argument was entirely off base. Here, I’ll briefly review some evidence on COVID mitigation measures. My suggestion for COVID – focus on at risk groups such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions – may be wrong, but the evidence does not suggest that I am fighting a straw man.

First, the media is reporting that many parts of the world are becoming more stringent:

Of course, the media may be missing the story. They might be exaggerating things or I might be selectively looking at things. There is actually an independent source of data that tracks the stringency of COVID mitigation: The Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker. Their rank nations from 0 (no response) to 100 (the banning of nearly all gatherings).

If you look at the data, you will immediately see extremely wide variation in government response. I have chosen five nations to show the range and how it varies over time. The US as a whole, it is safe to say, has modulated between moderate to high stringency – from 60% to 70%. New Zealand has widely oscillated between a near 100% rating and a 20% rating. Sweden is cruising along at 40% – moderately lenient but not as open as the media would suggest. Ireland has been pretty strict, but for one month, dipped low. Peru has been very strict the entire epidemic – nearly 100% most of the time.

Why do I bring this up? Simple. Many nations are definitely highly stringent and some are very stringent. Some are not stringent at all. Discussing curfews, mass quarantines, and the like is not fighting a strawman. Focused COVID mitigation – “protect the elderly” – may be a bad idea, but the debate over strict COVID measures is real and needs to be had.

++++
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

October 27, 2020 at 7:51 pm

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book auction fund raiser for open borders 2020

Update: The book auction will be moved to November 12.

I am fund raising for open borders 2020 – a global online conference for people interested in maker a freer and better world. The easiest way to help is simply to buy a ticket. $15 – for a gathering of some amazing people. Click here. But you can also participate in the book auction. We have some great books to donate – and you can get a copy signed by the author! We will do a live chat on October 28, Wed, at 8pm. While we chat, just bid on books! Click here for more information. Test edit.

+++++
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

October 26, 2020 at 7:35 pm

Posted in uncategorized

i want $15 from you – open borders 2020 fund raising

On November 21, 2020, we’re having the 3rd Open Borders conference. It’s open to all people – Left or Right, Black and White, and more! And we have three amazing keynote speakers: European immigration activist Helena Maleno, star journalist Shikha Dalmia and Vancouver civil rights defender Harsha Walia. It’s online so you can participate from anywhere you have an Internet connection.

But we do need a teensy weensy bit of help. We have some costs, like translators and paying for tech support. The easiest way to help out is to simply to buy a ticket, even if you can’t make it that day. It’s only $15. We also waive the fee for anyone who asks.

Another way to help us out is to participate in the Open Borders book auction, which will occur on Wednesday, October 28. We’ll be doing a live event and you can log in and bid on signed books. It’ll be fun!

+++++
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

October 23, 2020 at 12:20 am

Posted in uncategorized

more tweets, more votes: biden edition

The main empirical claim of the More Tweets, More Votes paper is that in the 2010 and 2012 Congressional elections, candidates who got more tweets relative to their competitor got more votes relative to the competitor. For a long time, I thought that Trump was an exception to the rule. He always gets attention, no matter if he’s winning or losing. Even in the original data, we found many cases where scandals, and other factors, could create exception to the MTMV line.

Well, this recent article in Axios suggests that maybe even Trump, the master of social media trolling, may actually be conforming to the MTMV hypothesis. They don’t use the MTMV methodology, but use a different measurement of engagement online to show that Biden now has more Twitter attention than Trump. Sociologically, what is happening is that people are realizing that Trump is probably going to lose and they’re paying attention to the expected winner. If you have other explanations of the graph, please use the comments.

+++++
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

October 21, 2020 at 12:08 am

Posted in uncategorized

long term covid effects: commentary on yelin et al. (2020)

On this blog, we’ve had a debate over my opinions on COVID policy. To summarize, here is my view:

  1. Most of the damage from COVID is disproportionately shouldered by the elderly.
  2. Harm from COVID is relatively rare among non-elderly adults and young people.
  3. It is possible to reduce transmission to elderly people with relatively simple policies like age screening, increased testng for care givers and encouraging the elderly to reduce contacts with younger people who have been out in the community.
  4. Widespread lockdowns and closure have some very damaging effects such as unemployment, mental health problems, and erosion of the community.

Points #1 and #2 are very much the consensus. Most people seem to accept #4. #3 is more contended – but I am puzzled about why focusing on at risk people is seen as such a misguided policy. It’s what we do for other illnesses (e.g., if your family doesn’t have a history of sickle cell anemia, we won’t monitor you for it). The conclusion , however, is pretty simple: a relatively “open” policy – relase the young, protect the elderly. There are a growing number of epidemiologists who are moving toward this position. Even the WHO is backing off on lockdowns as a default method for COVID mitigation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

October 19, 2020 at 8:13 pm

Posted in uncategorized

tohsinori kondo (1948-2020), you flippin’ rocked

++++++
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
Intro to sociology for just $1 per chapter – INSANE BARGAIN!!!!!
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

October 19, 2020 at 12:48 am

Posted in uncategorized

social theory without super heroes

A while back, I did a podcast with Kyle Green about Theory for the Working Sociologist. He’ll release it later this semester but I wanted to report on an exchange we had. He asked me about the movement among scholars to revive earlier figures like DuBois. Cooper and others. I said a few things. First, many of these figures have been overlooked because of the history of racial discrimination in our country and in our discipline. Second, I am actually a fan of going back into sociology’s history and reviving lost thought. There might be something valuable.

But I did warn Kyle about something. I don’t want the old canon of sociology “superheroes” to be replaced with a new canon of “superheroes.” Why? Two major reasons. First, social theory should be about understanding the social world, not valorizing particular people. When you read X’s writing because X is popular, you’re doing intellectual history not science. I honestly don’t care about Marx the person. But I do care whether the theory of class conflict is actually an accurate theory of the world. When we do “superhero” social theory (e.g., Marx, Weber, Durkheim), we really miss the point. Having a new team of superheroes just reproduces the problem.

Second, when you set up a team of sociology superheroes, you create a mythology and encourage ad hominem reasoning. For example, a lot of people want DuBois to be a new sociology super hero. I think he’s a great sociologist, but DuBois had a lot of problematic positions. For example, he was an unapologetic Stalinist. Seriously – click on the link. By treating DuBois as a new superhero, you will not see the complete person.

Also, by treating social theory as a superhero issue, you might be tempted to make ad hominem attacks. For example, a lot of people are gunning for Weber because, frankly, he had some really racist views of non-white people. Seriously – click on the link. I think the critics are correct, but that doesn’t imply that his other ideas are wrong. That’s a logical fallacy.

Will I still read and teach DuBois and Weber? Sure! The logical validity of an argument does not depend on who speaks the argument. Some readers would say that there’s a sort of contamination – people with racist ideas produce incredibly racist theory. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. You simply need to assert independent judgment. Is Weber’s theory of Calvinism a secret imperialist plot? Nope. Is Souls of Black Folk a secret defense of Stalinist gulags? Give me a break!

Here’s the bottom line. I really get nervous when people start arguing about the lives of dead sociologists and which ones we should worship instead. Really, they are all false gods. The only thing you should do when you read any sociologists is just take the theory and look for supporting and contradicting evidence. That’s it.

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Written by fabiorojas

October 16, 2020 at 12:54 pm

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migration restriction and the arrest of activists

One of the biggest lessons I got from hearing Shikha Dalmia speak at the 2018 Open Borders conference was that migration restriction violates the rights of people in the host nation. Want to hire Juan from Mexico City? You can’t. Want Juan to be a guest in your home? You can’t. Basically, the restriction of migration entails the violation of the freedom of assembly and commerce that most of us enjoy.

I also appreciate that migration restriction also harms people who advocate on behalf of migrants. WHYY, the NPR station in Philadelphia, reported on the arrest of Nancy Nguyen at her home after she protested in front of the home of a border control official. The charge? Trespassing and littering (!), because she placed some signs on the man’s lawn. In my view, this is obvious over-reach by law enforcement.

Let me add an extra note here. I think it is correct to presume that a public official should be able to spend time at home without a crowd on their lawn. But doesn’t that standard also apply to people from other cities or countries who just want to live in peace in a new place? In other words, if you think that people should be able to be at home without harassment, doesn’t it also apply to me if I want to hire or marry a person from a different country? Why shouldn’t me and my friends from other nations be left alone?

My hope is that authorities drop these charges and people can focus on the bigger issue – there is a very large and very punitive system that makes life miserable for millions of peaceful immigrants.

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Written by fabiorojas

October 14, 2020 at 6:25 pm

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the prisoner’s dilemma in 2020

This is a post whose content I have been meditating on, for a long time, since I last wrote about my concerns about responses to SARS-CoV-2 in March.  For years, I’ve taught about the classic prisoner’s dilemma in the context of Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom’s Governing the Commons book.  Ostrom’s book draws on collectives to explain how such groups collectively self-manage and regulate common resource pools like fisheries and grazing grounds; her work offers some insights into how to tackle shared, contemporary issues.  For example, many of us have concerns about how to combat environmental degradation, where the longterm outlook is often hard to forecast against shortterm gains and externalities generated by corporations. 

With SARS-CoV-2’s worldwide spread, the prisoner’s dilemma is now evident in everyday decisions on the part of individual people, organizations, and governments. These decisions, in aggregate, have both immediate and longterm consequences for all:

Scenario 1Both parties defect: Most or all persons fail to wear masks properly, socially distance to the fullest extent possible, and/or live and work with conditions that promote safer interpersonal contact (i.e. gets tested with short turn-around results, cooperates with contact tracing, spends time outdoors or indoors with open windows, enhanced air circulation, etc.).  The outcome of not reducing risky activities manifests in collectively worse outcomes for everyone – societies experience more illnesses, more need for hospitalizations at the same time (which hospitals cannot handle given staffing and equipment capacity), more deaths, more not-yet-know longterm effects, more uncertainty, etc. 

Scenario 2One party defects while the other party cooperates: One party refuses to do social distancing, mask usage, etc. while the other does.  The outcome is still worse for everyone, but less so compared with when both parties defect.  

Scenario 3Both parties cooperate: Everyone engages in proper mask wearing, social distancing, regular, rapid testing, etc.  These actions hopefully push transmission down to few or no cases.  This is the most ideal outcome from a collective health standpoint.

In NYC, my students and their communities have learned the hard way about the consequences of the prisoner’s dilemma, especially given the failures of various elected leaders and organizations to properly conceptualize and communicate risk.  I tried my best, from the beginning of the spring semester, to prepare my undergrad and grad students, my household, and those around me for what I thought was likely to happen, based on what I had read about China and recommendations from qualified experts.  For example, I told students to start identifying neighborhood businesses and organizations that they might have to patronize, should they no longer be able to travel.  If they lived in the dorms, I encouraged them to think through plans for returning home.  I asked students to test working online with their devices.  I intensified my teaching of decentralized organizing techniques, including mutual aid.  I spent time in multiple meetings, explaining to administrators my preparatory steps for moving online, and drafting and sending emails asking decision-makers at various organizations to take steps to protect communities.  I contemplated what to do if I got incapacitated.

Here’s what we experienced, healthwise, in the spring 2020:

  • a death of the senior-most colleague in my department
  • a student, who had been ill himself, learned of a death in his extended family, during groupwork in my class
  • students and their family members hospitalized
  • students and CUNY colleagues suspected they had COVID-19 symptoms (headaches, fevers, cough) but couldn’t get tested for COVID-19
  • one student’s entire family got sick, possibly from their child’s school which had teachers who had been hospitalized. This student almost died due to an nearly too late diagnosed complication of COVID-19.
  • death of a parent at my child’s school

My CUNY colleagues reported similar or worse experiences; for example, one undergraduate lost both parents to COVID-19.  Everyday during our lockdown, every passing siren was an auditory reminder of how failed states can deplete collective capacity to coordinate effective action.

When I talk with academic colleagues and my research communities across NYC and the US, they have reported voluntarily following the recommendations of experts who have researched public health, indoor air quality, and aerosol diseases.  Most are at organizations that have allowed them to work from home or outdoors.  They have chosen to reduce exposure and transmission risks, for example, by wearing masks and replacing riskier activities, such as dining and socializing indoors with those outside of their households, with other kinds of activities like virtual meetings, walking together outdoors while masked, etc.  Some do it out of concerns for their own health; others are concerned for those around them.    

When we talk about how life has changed and will continue to change, we acknowledge that we have the means and privilege to do this, and that we do this in order to collectively reduce risks for those who cannot.  Accepting such changes has not always been easy, especially when we are unsure when we can next gather with loved ones safely, across long physical distances.  Each day feels like the 1990s movie Groundhog Day, but with deaths, illness, and grief.  The temptation to individually defect, in an attempt to return to the 2019 “normal,” is high.  That said, mutual cooperation is much easier if we think of our interdependent futures, as well as our connections with prior and upcoming generations.

In the absence of coordinated state action, informal and formal organizations can step in. Organizations like schools and universities can offer decision-making guides to their members about the impact of participating in get-togethers and similar “individual decisions” upon surrounding communities. Organizations can support people in collecting data that might not otherwise be deemed by gatekeepers as worthy of inclusion. With these steps, people can learn about possible risks to their community, and take actions that might eventually generate a collective best, rather than worst, outcome for all.

Written by katherinechen

October 7, 2020 at 6:35 pm

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Tagged with ,

bambi (1969)

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October 4, 2020 at 12:26 am

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an issue with amy coney barrett and most other supreme court nominees and justices

Sometime this Fall, Amy Coney Barrett will likely become a Supreme Court Justice. A lot of people are shedding tears over Mitch McConnell’s rush to get Barett on the court. Well, if you believe what politicians tell you about election year court appointment norms, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

Instead, I want to draw attention to an issue with Barrett and most other elite jurists. People who get appointed to that level – appeals courts and the Supreme court – usually have very little experience in criminal law. If you look at most justices on the Supreme and appeals court, they have spent very, very little time defending regular people on criminal charges. Usually, a Supreme court nominee goes to an elite law school, then works for the government at an elite level and then goes to work at a fancy law school. In the mix, they may spend a few years working in corporate law or in “boutique” firms defending unusual or elite clients. Very rarely do they have deep experience with criminal law, or even regular civil law. For example, I think the only Supreme Court justice that spent a lot of time in criminal law was Sotomayor – and she was a prosecutor. It is very rare for an elite judge to have spent an extended period in criminal defense.

Barrett’s biography indicate a similar trajectory, with some modification. After graduating from Notre Dame, she clerked for Scalia and then worked for Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, which tends to represent high profile DC clients like Ted Kennedy, and then Baker Botts, which defends notable Republicans, such as Bush v. Gore. And then she returned to law school as a professor and then moved to the appeals court. Her academic specialty? Constitutional law. As far as I can tell, Barrett, like most jurists at that level, has very little experience with normal people with normal legal problems.

By itself, it’s not a problem. No lawyer can know every type of law, but when an entire legal system is full of leaders who actively avoid and lack experience of a major branch of the legal system, that’s an issue. I could go through and discuss issues where I may agree or disagree with Barrett, or the circus that Supreme Court nominations have become, but I prefer to argue for nominating bench that is diverse in terms of legal experience, and that may be just as important as demographic and ideological diversity.

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October 2, 2020 at 12:10 am

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it’s probably ok to send kids to school during COVID: a review of some research about young children and covid

My COVID policy: protect the elderly, release the young. The basis for this recommendation is simple: young people are at very low risk for mortality from COVID. However, a common refrain is “won’t kids catch COVID and take it home.” Well, we now have some evidence that can provide insight.

In Science Magazine, Snape and Viner review a few studies that now focus on the issue of whether small children are responsible for variation in infection rates. Let’s dig into these studies:

First, do kids bring COVID from home to school? Viner’s team has a preprint and the answer is “probably not.” They review the literature to find contact tracing studies that explore how often children were likely to be spreaders vs. adults. The answer? .56 – children are half as likely to be spreaders as adults.

Second, do kids bring COVID from school to home? This is hard to estimate, but Snape and Viner cite recent research on contact tracing and find that school kids are a very small fraction of the people who actually spread COVID. For example, Public Health England study of nasal swabs in British children shows that a tiny fraction of kids at home have active COVID infections. How infrequent? 3.9 out of 100,000.

Of course, this isn’t the last word. But right now, data indicate that children spreaders are not the issue. It’s not zero transmission, which is an incredibly tough standard, but it’s simply small compared to adult transmission. I also note that the studies that Snape and Viner cite use data from the Spring when we were initially reacting to COVID. Today, we know that masks work and keeping physical distance works. Schools are also moving to low density set ups, such as having classes outside when possible and rotating the student attendance (e.g., only 50% of students show up on a given day). Thus, the risk of disease from young people is probably lower in Fall 2020 than Spring 2020.

The conclusion here is simple: opening parts of society aimed at young people is fairly safe. Kids rarely get sick from COVID, they spread less disease than adults, and the prevalence of COVID among kids is really, really low.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 30, 2020 at 12:47 am

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release the young, protect the elderly: further consideration of an “open” covid policy

As loyal readers know, my position on COVID policy is simple: protect the elderly, release the young. Why? COVID is very low risk for young people, but extremely damaging for people who are older. This position is very much an “open” position. Here, I’ll discuss some recent evolutions in this argument.

First, Linkdn’s new website ran an article by Martin Kulldorff, who teaches at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s hospital. In brief, he argues for a position similar to mine. Instead of society wide lock downs, we should be age focused. We should come up with policies that minimize costs on young people while reducing risk for older people. A few quotes:

With age 70-79 as baseline, relative mortality risks are shown in Table 1. For COVID-19 exposed individuals, people in their 70s have roughly twice the mortality of those in their 60s, 10 times the mortality of those in their 50s, 40 times that of those in their 40s, 100 times that of those in their 30s, 300 times that of those in their 20s, and a mortality that is more than 3000 times higher than for children. Under Scenario B, with higher exposure among the young, the age differences are even larger.

In other words, the risk of mortality for the elderly is 3000 times more than children. He admits that perfect information is not available, but what we do have suggests that burden of disease is incredibly lopsided.

This is not controversial. This age-COVID mortality association was established in the Spring and is the consensus view. Kulldorff is simply emphasizing what is widely known and accepted. What is unusual is that Kulldorff makes a rather simple argument: if young people are relatively unaffected, we can open much of society, so long as we screen by age. Key quote:

To date, most government mandated mitigation measures have either been age neutral, such as restaurant closures, or targeted at young and middle-aged people, such as school and office closures. A more appropriate age targeted approach is needed. Just as some pubs ban customers under the age of 21, government officials could set temporary upper age limits of say 50, 60, or 65 for visiting or working at restaurants, stores, offices, airports, and other public places. So, for example, while all 60-plus-year-old supermarket cashiers, gas station attendants, police officers, postal workers, garbage collectors and bus drivers should stay home, their younger colleagues should keep working, taking extra shifts as needed.

This is a direct implication of the epidemiology of the illness. If X is not affected and Y is affected, focus on Y and leave X alone. However, much of the discourse in the United States is about policies that affect everyone (like lockdowns) or policies that heavily burden the young (e.g., college and school closures).

In Jacobin magazine, Martin Kulldorff and his colleague Kathrine Yih argued this position further. A few more key quotes. This is Yih discussing the need to evolve policy beyond a simple “minimize cases” approach:

I don’t think it’s wise or warranted to keep society locked down until vaccines become available. There are nine vaccines in large-scale efficacy trials as of mid-September 2020, and my guess is that at least one will be approved for use in the United States by some time in 2021. But this is not certain to happen. Furthermore, neither the effectiveness nor the duration of immunity from any of these vaccines is known as yet.

There are additional uncertainties about how many vaccines can be manufactured, distributed, kept at the requisite temperatures, and administered in a short amount of time after authorization or licensure, and whether a sizeable portion of the population will refuse vaccination. So we can hope but we certainly can’t count on a vaccine saving us either as individuals or as a population in the short term.

Regarding policy, early in the US epidemic, based in part on the experiences of Italy and Spain, the urgency of “flattening the [epidemiologic] curve” was emphasized. It was indeed crucial to take steps to ensure that hospitals and health care resources not be overwhelmed, as they very nearly were in parts of New York City, for instance.

But I have been struck by how this emphasis on keeping the numbers down at all costs has not evolved with time. There is a kind of simplistic goal of keeping people from getting infected, period. Now this may seem like a worthy goal, but with a highly contagious respiratory virus to which most of the world’s population is probably still not immune, people are going to get infected. The virus will spread, quickly or less so, until herd immunity is reached.

In sum, policy can’t be stuck in March 2020, when the only thing we knew was that there was high mortality in a few spots. Now that we know more, we can change the policy. What should that be? Open institutions that have few older people in them. This is Martin Kulldorff:

Children and young adults have minimal risk, and there is no scientific or public health rationale to close day care centers, schools, or colleges. In-person education is critically important for both the intellectual and social development for all kids, but school closures are especially harmful for working-class children whose parents cannot afford tutors, pod schools, or private schools.

You might think this is isolated. But others are coming around to the “release the young, protect the elderly” policy. This is from a recent article in Science Magazine by Matthew Snape and Russell Viner. Key quote:

Abstract: Children have a low risk of COVID-19 and are disproportionately harmed by precautions.

How harmful is COVID for kids? Worst case is that it is similar to adults, but probably few kids get sick:

Evidence from contact-tracing studies suggest that children and teenagers are less susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection than adults; however, community swabbing and seroprevalence studies conducted outside of outbreak settings suggest that infection rates are similar to those in older age groups (13). Only half of children and teenagers with antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 have experienced symptoms, and there is growing evidence that there is a broad range of presentations, emphasizing the limitations of community-based prevalence studies based on testing only children with respiratory symptoms. Hospitalization for severe acute COVID-19 in children is rare, but among these pediatric inpatients, respiratory symptoms are more apparent than in infected children in the community (4). Case fatality in hospitalized children is, fortunately, relatively low at 1% (compared with 27% across all ages) (4).

Do kids spread a lot COVID at home? Not very much:

 Looked at from another perspective, when household outbreaks of infection have occurred, it appears that children were responsible for only a small minority of household introductions of the virus. Also, recent surveys found that reopening of schools in a number of European countries in April and May had no clear impact on community transmission, with cases continuing to fall in most countries after reopening (11).

Do school closures have real harmful effects on children? Probably:

School closures and attendant loss of other protective systems for children (such as limited social care and health visiting) highlight the indirect, but very real, harms being disproportionately borne by children and teenagers as a result of measures to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. In the UK, it is estimated that the impact on education thus far may lead to a quarter of the national workforce having lower skills and attainment for a generation after the mid-2020s, leading to the loss of billions of dollars in national wealth (11). Additionally, there are a variety of other harms to children’s health, including the risk of reemergence of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles because of disruptions to immunization programs.

My serious hope is that these voices become more common. We need to move from “COVID is an existential threat to humanity that needs to be shut down at all costs” to “COVID is a disease with a specific population profile that mitigation policies need to reflect.” In other words, release the young, protect the elderly.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 24, 2020 at 4:45 pm

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contexts summer 2020 is now out!!!!

Hello everyone! The Summer 2020 issue of Contexts Magazine is here and it is A+++. This special issue deals with indigenous identities. The special issue editors are Angela A. Gonzalez and Nicholas Reo. Free for 30 days and all back issues become free after 12 months.

Download it. Read it. Love it.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 21, 2020 at 3:05 pm

Posted in uncategorized

brass against/killing in the name

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Written by fabiorojas

September 20, 2020 at 12:42 am

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the magic level of academia

A long time ago, I learned that you didn’t need to be a scientist or scholar to become a professor. I think it was sometime after Michael Dukakis had run for president because I remember being surprised that a politician became a professor. Dukakis wasn’t alone. Many politicians acquire positions in universities after their political careers are over, including a few at my own institution such as the late Richard Lugar and Lee Hamilton.

I was reminded of this fact a little while back when I counseling a graduate student. I was giving the standard advice. Write good dissertation chapters, show your committee, and workshop them so you can submit to a journal. This student was certainly doing that but also had an extra mission. The strategy was that soon after graduation, they would have a low teaching load and run a research center. Normally, this sort of appointment is reserved for people who are a little older. They’ve established themselves in a field and start a center at their institution, sometimes as part of a retention offer. And I said that. But this person then pointed out a few people who were essentially at junior level and were doing this. In those cases, they had parlayed a career in journalism and popular writing into a cushy job directing a center at a university.

The world I operate in is the “normal” version of academia. You get cushy jobs only if you’ve grinded through a PhD program and spent 5-10 years grinding through the journal system and the junior faculty track. And that’s if you’re lucky. Lots of people complete a PhD and never land academic jobs. But my student had a point. If you look around, you see people who seem to bypass this system. Not a huge number, but’s definitely “a thing.”

I call this zone the “magic level of academia.” This is a world filled with best selling authors, MacArthur prize winners, retired politicians, star musicians, and political activists. It’s obviously not a huge world, but it does exist and it is a career goal one can have. It seems that most of this world is built for “stars” who have reached a pinnacle in their profession and need a terminal position in their career. Thus, most of “magic level” academia is really about older people. Yet, you can still get into this stream of academia at a younger age if you are a normal academic, but become a star in the popular press. A while back, I might have put someone like Richard Florida into such a camp. He became a huge focus in the popular press and was able to move very easily between high profile positions and centers.

I use the word “magic” level of academia because success in a non-university domains allows the individual to completely by pass the standard work of academia. People in the “magic level” aren’t expected to battle for space in elite journals or do the grind of running a lab. They have editors at major popular presses eagerly listen to their latest pitches. They don’t mentor dissertation students, or explain why a paper was a B- instead of a B+. And they certainly don’t do faculty meetings! Their job is simply to bring their charisma to the campus, maintain their presence in the public sphere, help some folks make connections, and teach the occasional seminar, where most get As.

I don’t begrudge them this. If having a fancy retired politician helps the university bring in donations, I won’t complain. I also understand that universities are cultural and symbolic institutions. Most people won’t care if a university hires the best scholar who studies symplectic geometry, but they are impressed that a Pulitzer prize winner is on the staff. The magic level of academic has its uses.

As for myself, I will keep treating the magic level of academia as a nearby curiosity. It would be nice to be in that realm, but it’s not really what my life is about. I’m here to do science and I’m here to teach. If the public loves what I say and they promote me to the magic level, cool. If not, I remain grateful. I get to do a job that’s really amazing in an institution that has been nice to me, That’s a good thing.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 17, 2020 at 12:00 am

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how dangerous is it to open college campuses? evidence from enclosed communities at sea exposed to COVID, the us and sweden

How damaging would in-person college be for the college population? I think we have some evidence to help us sort through this issue. Namely, there are some relatively closed communities where people lived in close quarters and were exposed to COVID. We can estimate the damage. These communities are similar to colleges in that they housed people together. We also know, months later, how many people got sick and how many died. Specifically, we can look at ships where people were in close contact and got a lot of COVID.

Worst Case Scenario: The Diamond Princess is a cruise ship that was at sea early in the epidemic. People got sick and it wasn’t allowed to port for a while. The result? According to the wiki, 700 out of 3711 tested positive (18%) and 14 died (.3%). This is a population with many elderly passengers and, also according to the wiki, at least 12 of 14 fatalities were 60 or older. The Diamond Princess did not practice social distancing and, also according to the wiki, held social events like parties. I call this “worst case” because you had an elderly population, high density, and no social distancing. Also, my presumption is that the Diamond Princess medical clinic did not have access to much medical equipment, like ventilators, that could save people. In other words, this has all the conditions leading to maximal harm.

Bad but Closer to Colleges: Many naval ships experienced COVID epidemics. This is important to look into because naval have few elderly people, lots of young people, and those people tend to be in good health. Also, most naval ships have medical staff and facilities that would be better at handling severe COVID cases. Thus, it is more similar to college dorms or fraternity/sorority buildings where people live close together, are mostly young, and mostly in good health. Also, infected college students could access campus clinics. The result? The wiki list of Naval ship COVID epidemics reports that in 24 ships with known epidemics and known crew sizes, there were about 8,890 sailors and 3 fatalities (.03%). Overall, that’s one order of magnitude less than the worst case scenario of the Diamond Princess. In other words, a large boat of young people has 90% fewer mortalities than a boat full of old people.

The CDC has reported on the USS Theodore Roosevelt specifically and there is some good evidence on how social distancing measures worked. For example, the CDC reported that 1273 out of about 5000 sailors tested positive COVID (25%). In a convenience sample, the CDC reported that infection rates among those assigned to wear masks was lower (80% vs. 50%).

Now, let’s get back to the general population and compare mortality rates:

  1. THE US population: As of September, we have about 188,000 fatalities and the trend is downward in the short term. Let’s say that 220,000 people die in the US in the 2020 calendar year. Then the overall fatality rate is .06%.
  2. Worst Case Scenario (mostly elderly, close together no social distancing): .3%
  3. Bad but With Mostly Young People (young health people, some distancing): .03%.
  4. Sweden/Let’s get herd immunity/little prevention: 6,000 / 9,800,000 = .06%.

If you believe colleges are places with young, healthy people close together and some social distancing, then the Navy ship is a similar situation. These ships have a mortality rate *below* the US population as a whole (.03% vs. .06%). Also, Navy ships have a lower mortality rate below Sweden, which has chosen the “no resistance/herd immunity” path (.03% vs. .06%). If you think college campuses would be a complete disaster (like the Diamond Princess, .3% mortality), then you are assuming that colleges are not like Naval ships, not like the US population, not like the Swedish population and more like a population of partying old people. It is theoretically possible, but unlikely in my view.

In terms of policy, I say the evidence suggests that letting people back to college is no more dangerous than these situations: Naval ships – close contact, some distancing; the US – mixed density, mixed distancing; and Sweden – high urban density, no distancing. Value is subjective and maybe these cases horrify you, but as loyal readers know, I think most people would accept this level of risk if they can gain back employment and their social lives.

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September 15, 2020 at 8:50 pm

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sharon isbin/capricho arabe

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Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
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September 13, 2020 at 12:27 am

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notes on stanford’s black studies panel

I was very lucky to be on a panel with some very excellent scholars such as Kimberly McNair, Aileen K. Robinson, and Eddie Glaude, Jr. The issue was how to move Stanford’s unit from program to department. I started off with a historical over view of how Black Studies and Black Power are related. Then, Eddie Glaude, Jr. spoke about the challenges of moving Princeton’s program to department status. Kimberly McNair spoke about the role of activism in the Black Studies field and Aileen K. Robinson spoke about her experiences in various kinds of Africana Studies units.

A few brief comments:

  1. The bureaucratic resistance to Black Studies has been constant for over 50 years. Many of the issues that Professor Glaude mentioned also happened at other programs. While Black Studies is urgent for students and scholars, it must overcome either indifference or hostility at higher levels.
  2. Professor Robinson spoke about the variety of educational experiences to be found in programs organized at departments and interdisciplinary. A key issue is that she found both forms of academic organization had important things to offer.
  3. Professor McNair raised multiple issues. Once that I thought was interesting was the role of activism. One thing that I found in my historical study of Africana programs is that many activists don’t have a sense of what make the university tick and thus sometimes have a tough time.

The big issue in the talk was the shift to the department structure, which grants relative permanence, stability, authority, and resources. I look forward to when the Clayman Institue posts the discussion.

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The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
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Written by fabiorojas

September 10, 2020 at 3:06 pm

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black studies at stanford: check it out!!!!

On Wednesday, noon PST/3 pm EST, I will be on a panel with Eddie Glaude and Kimberly Thomas McNair speaking about the proposal at Stanford to change its Africana studies unit from a program to a department. Register here to attend the event. Thanks for checking it out.

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The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies 
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!!!!

Written by fabiorojas

September 8, 2020 at 3:53 am

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rare early alice coltrane

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September 6, 2020 at 12:04 am

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should harvard randomize admissions?

We recently discussed in detail the podcast “Nice White Parents,” which was about the lack of racial integration in a Brooklyn middle school. Interestingly, one policy reform that emerged in the end was that parents successfully lobbied to end the labyrinthine system of admissions. If you want your kid to go to public middle school in that district, rank your schools, send it in, and then wait for the lottery to be announced.

A question I had at the end was: Why not use lotteries and randomization to hand out public school resources more generally? For example, a huge problem in elite college education is that parents invest a huge amount into making their kids “special” so they can get through ultra competitive admissions processes. Low income families and people of color don’t have the financial or cultural resources to play that game, and frankly, that’s by design in many cases (see Jerome Karabel’s The Chosen, for example).

So instead of tinkering with elite college admissions, why not just bypass them? Just say, “look, students with at least XX% SAT or GPA tend to do well here. If you are above that cut off, you will be entered into an admissions lottery.” Since colleges need private donors and public support, you can reserve some slice of admits for alumni, athletes, children of senators, and so forth.

Bottom line: We can’t prevent wealthy parents from pushing their kids, but we do have some tools for dealing with the problem.

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September 2, 2020 at 6:41 pm

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open borders: 2020 conference announced and it’s ultra amazing!!!!

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: It is my pleasure to announce the 3rd Open Borders conference, on November 21, 2020. It will be amazing.In order to promote public safety, we have decided to do this year’s conference online. By going online, we can bring the ideas of the open borders movement to more people in more parts of the world. So check this out: the 3rd Open Borders conference will be held in three different time zones!

Each time zone will have a key note speaker, additional panels, and more. Below, I list our key notes. SIGN UP HERE.

London/GMT: Helena Maleno – the internationally recognized human rights activist and journalist will speak about supporting migration.

New York/EST: Shikha Sood Dalmia is a nationally known writer who covers migration, and other pubic policy topics, for the Reason Foundation.

Los Angeles/PST: Harsha Walia is the executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

In order to attend, simply sign up using THIS LINK. We ask for a small donation to help with costs, like paying for bandwidth and translators. I really hope you can donate or attend the event.

Special thanks goes to our organizing committee: David Bennion, Steve Sacco, Jammila Hammami for making this happen.

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August 31, 2020 at 3:19 pm

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2sich covers gojira who covers deliverance, yes, indeed it is “too sick”

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Written by fabiorojas

August 30, 2020 at 12:34 am

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the political economy of “nice white parents, part 3 – are lotteries justice?

This is the concluding post to my discussion of the NY Times podcast, “Nice White Parents.” A constant issue in education is that we have shifting and competing goals. Pre-Brown v. Board, the whole point was that public schools failed Black students on both counts. Schools simply failed to educate Black students and they obviously treated them in unequal and degrading ways. Post-Brown v. Board, legal separation is over, but there are two related, but distinct issues. First, since schooling is tied to housing in the US, low-SES minority groups will usually have fewer resources. So there is no equality in resources, even if there is legal equality in access (e.g., any resident of this neighborhood is allowed to go to a local school). Second, a lot of parents want “positional goods,” they want the best schools, not merely satisfactory schools. In fact, schooling in the US has shifted toward a model where parents compete for schools – bidding up the price of homes with good schools, competing for spots in “good” schools in urban centers and suburbs, and then competing for college admissions. This, in turn, encourage racial inequality in school.

In the Nice What Parents podcast, this system of parental and child competition is shown to have perverse consequences. Parents endlessly agonize over getting their kids into the right school, coalitions of NWPs endlessly demand more for their kids from the school without including PoCs.

The last episode of the podcast shows how some parents pushed back against this system. They also tackled the issue of equity and by passed the problem where low SES neighborhoods get underfunded schools. A coalition of parents lobbied to have the school district abolish the system where kids compete to get into a school and kids are assigned to school by lottery.

Is the lottery system “justice?” Was the previous system just? A lot hinges on what you think justice is. At the very least, you should get what you pay for. Black parents work hard and pay taxes. Their schools should be adequately staffed and safe. Furthermore, the point of public schooling is not to provide extra special education for some people, but solid basic education for all people. If NWPs want special French classes, they can pay for them.

Ironically, the lottery system of admission is the way that many charter schools run. To prevent parents from gaming the charter school system, many states and jurisdictions require that admissions be randomized. The fact that the PS. 93 parents in Brooklyn pushed for a lottery leads me to suspect that they ultimately decided that parent gaming is not a solvable problem. You just have to by pass it.

So here’s a political ethics question for readers. In what areas of public policy would it be fair and just to randomize access? Can the lesson of schools be transferred to other situations? It’s a good question.

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Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
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August 27, 2020 at 3:00 pm

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the political economy of “nice white parents,” part deux – what do people actually want from schools?

Note: In the previous post, I called the non-white parents “local,” which Andrew Gelman thought was inaccurate. I will now call them “PoCs” (Parents of Color).

This is the second post on the podcast called “Nice White Parents” by Chana Joffe-Waltz. It is produced by the New York Times and it is about the history of a school in Brooklyn where “Nice White Parents” (NWPs) demanded and then bailed on school integration. In the last post, I focused on the fact that public schools often have multiple, conflicting constituents.

In this post, I want to focus on a related issue – exactly what do people want schools to do? If you are an education researcher or sociologist of education, you know this issue well. People want schools to do everything, and I mean everything. A small example: a few weeks ago, I was rereading Angela Davis’ Are Prisons Obsolete? What is her replacement for prisons? You got it – schools!

In the podcast, I found that people discussed or interviewed wanted public schools to do the following:

  • Make good citizens
  • Provide a racially diverse experience for kids
  • Provide a safe place for learning reading and the basics
  • Provide advanced topics like French immersion
  • Provide schooling close to where they live
  • Provide discipline and order for kids
  • Improved standardized test scores
  • Individualized education
  • Prepare people for jobs
  • Equal access to schools
  • Rewards for gifted or high achieving and/or special needs students
  • Provide for democratic input into schools

These are not bad goals, but they do compete with each other and sometimes they conflict. For example, since schools usually draw on local populations, you may get de facto segregated schools if housing markets are segregated. So “school close by” and “racially mixed” are simply incompatible in many places. Something has to give.

In private school settings and charter school settings, the administration can pick goals. They choose some and tell parents “take it or leave it.” In fact, the Success Academy does exactly that. They focus on standardized education, classroom orders, and “one size fits all.” Parents are not allowed to have input and lots of parents leave. This is often easier said than done, as wealthy parents will still press private schools that need money, but I’d would guess the private or charter school administrator has an easier time than their public school counter part.

In terms of PS. 93 in Brooklyn, the school (until recently, which we’ll get to later) seems to have simply let everyone try everything. NWPs tried international schooling and French immersion, which PoCs did not want or need. PoCs wanted basic skills and safety, which NWPs weren’t interested in as their kids often had special tracks. And the administration itself was constantly juggling the demands of all these groups.

The bottom line here is that “Nice White Parents” is not merely a story of racial division in education, it is also a great example of the conundrum of trying to provide a service in a highly open and democratic manner. The intentions are good, but when everyone gets input and no one is really accountable, you get very murky results.

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Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
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Written by fabiorojas

August 25, 2020 at 1:35 pm

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