food for thought: before thanksgiving edition

I’ll be taking a week off from posting links next Wednesday due to holiday weekend travel. You’ll see “food for thought” return on December 3rd!

Shawn Wen @ The New Inquiry | The Ladies Vanish.

Of course books don’t digitize themselves. Human hands have to individually scan the books, to open the covers and flip the pages. But when Google promotes its project—a database of “millions of books from libraries and publishers worldwide”—they put the technology, the search function and the expansive virtual library in the forefront. The laborers are erased from the narrative, even as we experience their work firsthand when we look at Google Books.

Mona M. @ The Toast | “Brown and Queer in America”: On Being a Bridge.

When you are both brown and queer in America, you have to interpret for everyone — your liberal straight friends from your old life, your queer friends from your new one, your pragmatic family that believes you can think your way out of any uncomfortable taste or tendency if you try hard enough. You’ll have to be the lens through which “progressive” America, where you learned to think, can view the “traditional,” “conservative” culture you come from — you know the one, where Hijra is a gender you can put on your I.D. card, and you’re named after a female incarnation of a male god — and vice-versa. It doesn’t feel like a superpower anymore; it feels like a burden you do not want to bear.

You will have to learn how to constantly say to people, “They are not as bad as you think they are.” You have to get to know my bigoted family, largely white friend community of advanced pansexuals. They are lovely people, really. And you will have to get to know the woman I will eventually be sleeping with, Mom. You will have to get to know her and recognize that she is not a freak, and neither am I.

Michael Schulson @ Salon | “It’s symbolic annihilation of history, and it’s done for a purpose. It really enforces white supremacy”: Edward Baptist on the lies we tell about slavery.

Baptist, a professor of history at Cornell, has spent much of his career helping to undo this narrative. In “The Half Has Never Been Told,” he lays out a sweeping economic history of slavery. Baptist traces the flow of human capital from the Atlantic seaboard to the cotton fields of the deep South. He describes how slavers used whippings to extract more work from their property. He details how slave labor and loans secured with human collateral helped drive the industrial revolution.

These observations aren’t new. Baptist’s real achievement is to ground these financial abstractions in the lives of ordinary people. In vivid passages, he describes the sights, smells and suffering of slavery. He writes about individual families torn apart by global markets. Above all, Baptist sets out to show how America’s rise to power is inextricable from the suffering of black slaves.

Tressie McMillan Cottom | Mapping the Margins of Higher Ed. (Links out to PDF)

Digitally-mediated, user-generated narratives can be used to center voices marginalized through other empirical modes of inquiry. I take the case of for-profit colleges to consider how using social media content as digital ethnographies, paired with intersectionality theories, can critically interpret hegemonic narratives of non-traditional students in online, for-profit degree programs. The study presents findings from a content analysis of Facebook posts from an online support group. The members are all earning their PhDs from online for-profit colleges. An analysis of 291 posts produced over six months by 49 participants evidences how students co-create organizational accounts of meaning that resists dominant ideologies of rational college choice models.

Colleen Flaherty @ Inside Higher Ed | Health Benefits Fight at Harvard.

Lots of colleges and universities have recently made changes to employee health care benefits, and some have encountered strong opposition from the faculty — most notoriously at Pennsylvania State University, which tried to fine employees for not completing annual screenings with personal questions about mental health and family planning. Most of the Penn State plan was abandoned amid faculty outcry, but key components remained; there, and in most cases, administrators have said at least some benefits changes are necessary, pointing to ballooning health care costs, concerns about complying with the Affordable Care Act, and budget woes. But what about the wealthiest institution in the world? Does it really have to overhaul the benefits it offers faculty? That’s what professors at Harvard University are asking – and protesting.

Scott Kirsner @ The Boston Globe | In the sharing economy, a rift over worker classification.

The worker of the future will not be an employee — at least if some of today’s fastest-growing and best-funded startups have their way. They’re positioning themselves as “technology platforms” that simply connect people with independent chauffeurs, house cleaners, or errand-runners. For the most part, the armies of workers that companies like Uber or TaskRabbit are assembling — often after screening interviews, background checks, and training programs — are treated as independent contractors and receive no benefits.

A class-action lawsuit filed this summer in Massachusetts and California courts is challenging that. The suit asserts that Uber improperly classifies its drivers, who own their cars and use Uber’s smartphone app to get work, as independent contractors. No sick time, no health insurance, no 401(k) contributions.

Sara Ahmed @ feministkilljoys | Feeling Depleted?

Feeling worn down: I think feminist killjoys are familiar with this feeling, that sense of coming up against the same thing, whatever you say or do. We have, I think, in face of this feeling to think about how to protect ourselves (and those around us) from being diminished. Audre Lorde taught us that caring for one self can be “an act of political warfare” as a form of self-preservation not self-indulgence (1988: 131). There are “those of us,” she reminds us, who were “never meant to survive” (1978: 32). The relations we develop to restore, to replete, are world making. With each other we find ways of becoming re-energised in the face of the ongoing reality of what causes our sense of depletion (I am willing to use the language of causality here, causality as contact zone). We can recognize each other, find each other, create spaces of relief, spaces that might be breathing spaces, spaces in which we can be inventive.

(And if you like that, also take the time to read Ahmed’s “Pushy Feminists“)

Molly Redden @ Mother Jones | Catholic Church Argues It Doesn’t Have to Show Up in Court Because Religious Freedom.

When Emily Herx first took time off work for in vitro fertilization treatment, her boss offered what sounded like words of support: “You are in my prayers.” Soon those words took on a more sinister meaning. The Indiana grade school where Herx was teaching English was Catholic. And after church officials were alerted that Herx was undergoing IVF—making her, in the words of one monsignor, “a grave, immoral sinner”—it took them less than two weeks to fire her.

Herx filed a discrimination lawsuit in 2012. In response, St. Vincent de Paul School and the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, her former employers, countered with an argument used by a growing number of religious groups to justify firings related to IVF treatment or pregnancies outside of marriage: Freedom of religion gives them the right to hire (or fire) whomever they choose. But the diocese took one big step further. It is arguing that, in this instance, its religious liberty rights protect the school from having to go to court at all.

While doing some research on living wage levels nationally, I came across this useful report from the Crittenton Women’s Union: Massachusetts Economic Independence Index 2013 (PDF). Despite their focus on Massachusetts, I think they provide some valuable assessment of what level of income it actually takes to be financially independent as a household (Spoiler: It’s more than working full-time at minimum wage will earn you.)

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