The kind of professor the New York Times loves!

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2017

From Harvard, and barely coherent:
Just for the record, Professor Miles graduated from Harvard, in 1992. She got her doctorate, in American Studies, at Minnesota.

According to leading authority on her career,
she's currently "a professor at the University of Michigan in the Program in American Culture, Center for Afro-American and African Studies, Department of History, and Native American Studies Program."

We're not entirely sure that we know how to disentangle that string of words. But then, we had a similar reaction to Professor Miles' op-ed column in today's (hard copy) New York Times.

We're not even entirely sure how to explain what the column asserts. A cynic might say that Professor Miles is the kind of professor the New York Times like to publish—the kind of professor who's Harvard-credentialed, but at best only barely coherent.

As the column starts, it makes something resembling perfect sense. Smoothing the op-ed's language a bit, the professor says that this nation's brutal racial history wasn't confined to the South:
MILEY (9/11/17): The violent furor that erupted this summer over the removal of Confederate monuments in several cities was a stark reminder that Americans remain trapped in the residue of slavery and racial violence. In confronting this difficult truth, our attention is naturally drawn to the South. And rightfully so: The South was the hotbed of race-based labor and sexual exploitation before and after the Civil War, and the caldron of a white supremacist ideology that sought to draw an inviolable line between whiteness and blackness, purity and contagion, precious lives and throwaway lives. As the author of three histories on slavery and race in the South, I agree that removing Confederate iconography from cities like New Orleans, Baltimore and Charlottesville, Va., is necessary and urgent.

However, in our national discourse on slavery’s legacy and racism’s persistent grip, we have overlooked a crucial fact: Our history of human bondage and white supremacy is not restricted to the South.
So far, so fairly obvious. That said, the column becomes harder and harder to parse, limn, scan or paraphrase as it proceeds. By the end of paragraph 3, the professor is saying this:
MILEY: Historians of the United States are continually unearthing an ugly truth: American slavery had no bounds. It penetrated every corner of this country, materially, economically and ideologically, and the unjust campaign to preserve it is embedded in our built environments, North and South, East and West. Detroit is a surprising case in point.
In that passage, Professor Miley almost seems to say that there exists an "unjust campaign to preserve" slavery.

That may not be what she meant. She may mean to refer to some historical "campaign to preserve" slavery—some such campaign in the past.

Whatever she means, she says this unjust campaign to preserve slavery "is embedded in our built environments," and she cites Detroit as "a surprising case in point." So far, she hasn't explained what this means.

As it turns out, what does she mean? She seems to mean that many cities and counties in Michigan bear the names of people from past centuries who supported slavery, and even tried to defend it against abolition. This includes the politically famous Macomb County, Michigan, which is apparently named for William Macomb, "the largest slaveholder in Detroit in the late 1700s."

For ourselves, we didn't know that; apparently, neither did anyone else. The professor cites a Detroit journalist who "began a catalog of these names" in 2012, suggesting that these connections weren't widely known before that time.

At any rate, it seems that a question has emerged by this point in the professor's column:

Does it matter who Hamtramck, Grosboeck or Livernois, Michigan is named for? Different people may have different answers to that question. It never becomes entirely clear what the professor thinks.

In large part, that's because her column becomes more incoherent as it proceeds. Go ahead! Tell us what's being said here:
PROFESSOR MILES: Detroit is just one example of the hidden historical maps that silently shape our sense of place and community. Place names, submerged below our immediate awareness, may make us feel that slavery and racial oppression have faded into the backdrops of cities, and our history. Yet they do their cultural and political work.
Question: Is it true that some set of "hidden historical maps" "silently shape our sense of place and community" in some way? Do you even feel sure you know what that means?

Do "place names, submerged below our immediate awareness," really "make us feel that slavery and racial oppression have faded into the backdrops of cities, and our history?" Do you feel sure you know what that means?

If these place names are "submerged below our immediate awareness," how can they make us feel anything? If the "historical maps" in question are "hidden," do you understand how they could "shape our sense of place" at all?

Is it true that "place names, submerged below our immediate awareness," are doing some sort of "cultural and political work?" What sort of political work are those place names doing? Do you have the first farking idea what this professor is saying?

Do you know what the professor is saying? For ourselves, we have no clear idea. We'd have to say that her work, while quite emotive, isn't obsessively competent. Sadly, that's par for the course when the New York Times decided to publish pseudo-progressive professors.

Work like this is par for the course at the New York Times. As this professor continues, so does the clarity shortfall:
PROFESSOR MILES (continuing directly): The embedded racism of our streetscapes and landscapes is made perhaps more dangerous because we cannot see it upon a first glance. In Detroit and across the country, slaveholder names plastered about commemorate a social order in which elite white people exerted inexorable power over black and indigenous bodies and lives. Places named after slaveholders who sold people, raped people, chained people, beat people and orchestrated sexual pairings to further their financial ends slip off our tongues without pause or forethought. Yet these memory maps make up what the University of Michigan historian Matthew Countryman has called “moral maps” of the places that we inhabit together.
In what way are the names of those streets and communities actually "dangerous?" The professor seems to acknowledge that people don't know the racial history of the people for whom those places are named.

If so, where is the "danger" in those names? What "work" are those place names doing?

At this point, one paragraph remains in the professor's column. In it, she seems to say that we should eliminate these dangerous names, although even that isn't clear.

Her apparent suggestion would make more sense if she'd explained what the "danger" is. Absent that sort of clarity, we will offer two points:

First, it's maddening to see pseudo-progressives offer work of this type in place of serious efforts to improve the lives of black children. The Times tends to offer this kind of emotive incoherence in lieu of serious work about the nation's public schools, to cite one groaning example. To the Times, a jumble like this is close enough for gonzo-emotional work, especially where race is involved.

Second point: this is exactly the sort of thing people predicted when the first Confederate statues started coming down. All the way down to Donald J. Trump, hacks predicted that our silly liberal tribe would start running through the streets, suggesting that statues of Washington and Jefferson also had to come down.

Our tribal apologists insisted that Donald J. Trump was being crazily wrong, as usual. Along have come the Harvard-educated professors to show the world that Donald J. Trump was understating our capacity for lazy, incompetent, low-IQ work—work of the type which makes many others roll their eyes at our underwhelming tribe.

The New York Times has long had contempt for the nation's low-income kids. By way of contrast, it loves the kind of Harvard-educated professor who offers them emotional word clumps like this.

Should Hamtramck, Michigan get a new name? Everything is possible! What doesn't seem possible is this:

The New York Times doesn't seem able to find a professor who 1) is highly-credentialed and 2) can express herself clearly. Beyond that, the Hamptons-based gonzopaper doesn't seem able to give a fig about the seriousness of race.

That column today is barely coherent. Do you think club members at the Times were actually able to tell?

37 comments:

  1. For decades, Detroit has been governed by Democrats and by blacks. These leaders faced a challenge when the auto industry shrank, and they blew it. That's why Detroit is a mess.

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    1. Ah yes. The answer is always so simple. It's "democrats and blacks" fault. That's some deep-thinking there, my friend. Right out of the conservative tribe's playbook of memes. Thanks for the original thought, there. Do you think you are getting some sort of confirmation of these bs views from Somerby's blog?

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    2. Fair enough, Anon. The mention of Democrats was a shot.

      But, the mention of black leaders was on point. The fact that Macomb County was named for a slave-holder didn't prevent blacks from being elected to leadership positions in Detroit government. IMHO this disproves the article's thesis.

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    3. You think MLK Blvd never inspired a black child to aspire and transcend poverty? If you were only ever surrounded by names and images of powerful white men where would you get the idea that simeone black could get ahead?

      During segregation, there were powerful black leaders of African American society who were role models and mentors but that society disappeared with desegregation. Now that black individuals are trying to suceed in white mainstream society it is harder when the images if success are all white, or even symbolic of active suppression of black inclusion. That seems pretty obvious.

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    4. I partly agree with you, Anon. I have mentioned several times in comments here that I wish David Blackwell were better known. This brilliant, black mathematician would be a wonderful role model.

      However, what's being done is negative -- eliminating names that were Southern or whose lives were offensive by modern standards. IMHO these names are not holding black children back.

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    5. Another great black role model would be Thomas Sowell. This brilliant economist became the leading pundit and philosopher of conservatives. Sadly, he gets shunned, because he was conservative. That shunning shows that a lot of people who claim to favor black advancement really just favor the Democratic Party.

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    6. Whatever happened to Alan Keyes? He used to be the conservatives go-to black guy? Did his stock drop?

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    7. Well, we don't have to go any further to illustrate White Conservative Racism is alive and well than this post. That's what happens when sudden change comes to a community and you have those BLACKS in charge. Beyond that, Thomas Sowell is an ass who wrote some of the worst syndicated pieces I've ever read: he once claimed Vince Fosters death was more suspicious that the JFK assassination. A totally partisan creep.

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    8. Greg -- Sowell's columns were a sideline. He should be judged on his many insightful, well-researched books. Paul Krugman is a good analogy. He's a brilliant economist who deserves his Nobel Prize. But, based on his NY Times columns, he would not be judged highly.

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    9. Is he one of those economists who'll tell you cutting taxes for the wealthy is the only effective way to raise revenues?

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    10. "Is he one of those economists who'll tell you cutting taxes for the wealthy is the only effective way to raise revenues?"

      I don't recall him saying that.

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    11. You don't recall you say, Comrade?

      He just wrote a fucking book about it, that's all.

      ***************
      "Trickle Down Theory" and "Tax Cuts for the Rich" 1st Edition

      by Thomas Sowell (Author)
      ****************

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    12. mm -- I haven't read that book. Have you? Can you confirm that the book argues that cutting taxes for the wealthy is the only effective way to raise revenues?

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    13. Here is an oddity. Economist Fred Foldvery writes:

      "In his article “‘Trickle-Down Theory’ and ‘Tax Cuts for the Rich,’” economist Thomas Sowell states that he could not find a single economist who has ever presented a trickle-down theory or advocated a trickle-down policy. No such theory is found in current textbooks or in books on the history of economic thought. In another article, Sowell challenged anyone to name an economist who advocated trickle-down; nobody was able to find one. “Trickle down” is a straw-man perpetuated by critics of economic freedom.

      [Foldvary then states]

      Substantial reductions in the highest tax rates have resulted in both greater tax revenue and greater employment and income for all people. Government revenue rises because there is greater production and also because lower tax rates shift financial assets from tax shelters such as municipal bonds to taxable income such as stocks, in order to obtain higher returns."

      ---------------

      So, he first states that Sowell couldn't find any economists advocating trickle down, then describes trickle down himself and advocates it, and he is an economist himself.

      Seems to me either Foldvary or Sowell (and by extension David in Cal) or both of them are playing games with the definition of trickle down.

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    14. I see our resident troll, Comrade DinC is playing games and being scrupulously careful with the word "only".

      Let's put it this way Comrade. Whether or not he claims it is the "only" way to raise revenues, it most definitely is the "only" tax policy proposal he ever advances.

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    15. They might have called it "Supply Side" economics. In the 70's many economists claimed stagflation proved Keynesianism was wrong, and by default, that "proved" supply-side was the correct theory. Now, not so much.

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  2. BTW, what does it mean when a full Professor in the Program in American Culture, Center for Afro-American and African Studies, Department of History, and Native American Studies Program can't write coherently? She is teaching students. Students may be reading her papers and textbooks. Are these students being taught to write incoherently, and perhaps, to think incoherently? As someone whose grandchildren will be entering college in a few years, I find this frightening. I hope my grandchildren don't receive this sort of bogus education.

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  3. David, don't send your grandchildren to college. Tell them to enlist in the armed forces.

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    Replies
    1. Maybe if Bob Somerby spent more time reading Ta-Nehisi Coates retreads he would be in deep enough to understand what Professor Miles was saying.

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    2. No. Coates is coherent. Reading him isn't good practice for reading Miles.

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  4. What does pseudo-progressive mean? Does Somerby think she has forfeited her sincerity because she didn't express herself clearly?

    Somerby assumes that if he doesn't understand her essay, it must be because she is incoherent. It cannot be that someone in a different subculture may have different points of reference, different concepts than he has encountered, that would make her article clear to a younger, better educated, more "with it" audience than himself. No, it must be the professor's fault, just as it is the physicist's fault if something about relativity sounds fuzzy to him.

    If someone pointed out that streets and especially buildings are usually named after rich people, thus economic privilege is so embedded in our environment that we absorb it unconsciously and we take that social structure for granted, would that sound incoherent? It has been said.

    Somerby is troubled by learning that occurs without conscious awareness because he doesn't read psychology. Another of his huge gaps of ignorance. But it is others who are stupid when he doesn't understand something.

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  5. There's nothing odd about dual appointments when someone is doing interdisciplinary research. If a scholar were studying the economics of slavery, he might be paid half by the economics dept and half by the black studies program, with an appointment in both. It is not uncommon fir professors if irganizational psych to have an appt in both the business dept and psychology dept, or for someone who studies jury decision-making to work and teach in the law school and in psychology, or a neuropsychologist to have a second appt in the med school. But Somerby thinks she is a joke so her affiliations must be too.

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  6. Pretty good work from Bob, calling Liberal goobilty gook out as it should be, even if he's stopped doing it on the right.

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  7. A quick bit of internet research tells me that Macomb county was named after Alexander Macomb, who served in the War of 1812 with distinction. William Macomb was his uncle, who died in 1792 and the county was formed in 1818.

    William, the HUGE slave holder had a whole 26 slaves. And, of course, slavery was outlawed in the Northwest territories in 1787.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Great catch Dr. T. Thanks for the heads-up on this, I do see that, just as you wrote, Macomb County was named after the American Alexander Macomb in honor of his service as a general during the War of 1812, the county was not named after his slave owning paternal uncle, William.

      As a side note, according to Wikipedia, William Macomb died at Detroit in April, 1796 while still the owner of slaves. Though the United States had claimed the lands south of the modern U.S.-Canadian border based on the 1783 Treaty of Paris accords, the British continued to garrison eight forts on the U.S. side of that border, thereafter, and control the regions around them. Two of those forts were on Lake Champlain and the other six were along the Great Lakes, including the one at Detroit.

      Finding themselves again at war with France in the 1790s, the British sought to guarantee U.S. neutrality by signing the Jay Treaty which stipulated a British withdrawal from the eight forts in 1796. Fort Detroit, itself, was surrendered on July 11, 1796.

      William Macomb had served from 1792 both as a member of the 1st Parliament of Upper Canada -a body set up by the UK Parliament to represent the English speakers living in a separate part of Quebec from the French speakers there- and as a judge in Upper Canada. Thus it would seem the slave owning Macomb had remained loyal to the Crown until the end of his life and was never an American.

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  8. “Barely coherent” is the best you can expect under a plutocracy. We learn this in the first day of class in Journalism 101: The main purpose of all billionaire owned media is to spew, useless, distracting, and harmful propaganda into the minds of the people it is trying to keep enslaved (everyone but the rich). The mental ecology of the populous must be reduced until it resembles that of a zombie.

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    2. In your post below, the concept of erecting what would amount to answer statues, next to already existing ones dedicated to slavery tainted people, is a very clever one.

      And on your post just above, while I'm not disputing your larger claim about what is taught in what you call "Journalism 101," I would sincerely like to know where such a disillusioned approach to journalism is taught, since I know that it's pretty far, for instance, from being the approach taken on any of the small number of college campuses that I am familiar with. I am honest when I say that I would be very interested to know where "Journalism 101" of the kind you mention above is "alive and kicking," since I wouldn't mind learning more about it myself, so if you see this, please just let me know.

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  9. The lack of imagination in this country is the sign that zombification is nearly complete. We shouldn't take down the statues of the slavers, instead we should put next to them statues of slaves being whipped. That would make the point much more honestly.

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    1. That's the best idea I've heard. And add a new inscription to the effect that "X was a traitor to our country in the cause of slavery, killing Americans to advance his right to own and torture black human beings. Residents of our community erected this statue of him in 19__ to celebrate his memory and his cause. In 20__, we added this memorial to his victims, to show our contempt for him, his cause and his apologists."

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  10. Here are some specifics about how Trump's budget proposal affects education (from NEA Advocate):

    1. Federal outlays for education cut 13.5%
    2. Increase in funding for abstinence education.
    3. Undereducated immigrants cited as financial burden.
    4. Calls for elimination of Public Service Loan Forgiveness program which erases loans for teachers, police officers, public defenders etc. after 10 years of service.
    5. Seeks sunset of Perkins loans.
    6. Reduces work-study programs and eliminates Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS), a program that helps low-income student pay for child care so they can attend class.
    7. Proposes an increase in Pell Grants without providing the necessary increase in Pell funding.

    Just FYI

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    Replies
    1. This summary was provided by Alec Thomson who is a professor of political science and president of his state's Michigan Association of Higher Education. I guess that makes him a public intellectual, perhaps of the sort Somerby might approve?

      NEA is also publicizing the plight of Claudia Rueda, a dreamer who was brought to the US at the age of 4 and currently attending Cal State LA. She was arrested on the street and detained by ICE for two weeks. They speculate it was retaliation for protesting her mother's deportation and her activism on immigration issues. "Rueda is eligible for DACA...[but] she couldn't afford the application, her attorney told The Los Angeles Times. Her mother's job at a local bakery barely covers her tuition. 'To see her education interrupted in this way is just tragic,' Cal State LA Professor Aljandra Marchevsky, who taught Rueda last semester, told the Times."

      There are students all over the Cal State system in this situation. I have written DACA recommendation letters and advised students in this situation myself. Are we "public intellectuals" or Somerby's kind of professors? I think we are just doing our jobs.

      Does Somerby recognize what is going on among today's professors? If he did, he wouldn't write this hyper-critical piffle attacking liberal professors. It is majorly offensive!

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  13. South Africa really dodged the bullet that has lain festering in the USA's body politic for -- well, a long long time. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth_and_Reconciliation_Commission_(South_Africa)

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