1. Opinion

The Reading File: Excerpts from interesting articles

Athenians walks next a broken window of a building in central Athens on Thursday, June 30, 2011. Greek lawmakers are set to pass a bill Thursday to fast-track fresh austerity measures demanded by creditors following two days of rioting in Athens that left some 200 people injured.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris) ORG XMIT: XPG103
Athenians walks next a broken window of a building in central Athens on Thursday, June 30, 2011. Greek lawmakers are set to pass a bill Thursday to fast-track fresh austerity measures demanded by creditors following two days of rioting in Athens that left some 200 people injured.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris) ORG XMIT: XPG103
Published Feb. 9, 2018

The fall of urban violence had many contributors

In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik wants to draw "the right lessons from the fall in urban violence." Read "The Great Crime Decline" in full at Here's an excerpt.

The curious truth is that the decline in crime happened across the entire Western world, in East London just as it did in the South Bronx. At the same time, the relative decline in New York was significantly bigger than elsewhere. (NYU sociologist and author Patrick) Sharkey's guess that the crime decline can be attributed to the uncomfortable but potent intersection of community action and coercive policing seems about as good as any. Here, he echoes (Berkeley criminologist Franklin) Zimring's earlier conclusion that many small walls are a better barrier to crime than any single big one. Still, the magnitude of the shift remains mystifying. A good comparison might be the contemporaneous war on drunk driving: there, too, the decline in deaths has been impressive, and there, too, there was no one solution but a host of them, ranging from the Mothers Against Drunk Driving campaign to raised ages for legal drinking.

With the crime wave, it would seem, small measures that pushed the numbers down by some noticeable amount engendered a virtuous circle that brought the numbers further and further down. You didn't have to change the incidence of crime a lot to make people worry less about it. What ended violent crime, in this scenario, was not an edict but a feedback system — created when less crime brought more eyes onto the streets and subways, which in turn reduced crime, leading to people feeling safer, which in turn brought more eyes out. The self-organized response of society to crime was, in effect, to outnumber the muggers on the street before they mugged someone. One has only to get on the New York City subway at 3 a.m., and recall what 3 a.m. on the New York City subway was like 30 years ago, to sense the presence of this circle.

Not politics, but morals

In the Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes, who "have both spent (their) professional careers strenuously avoiding partisanship in (their) writing and thinking," explain why it's time to "Boycott The Republican Party." Read their essay in full at Here's an excerpt.

This is the article we thought we would never write: a frank statement that a certain form of partisanship is now a moral necessity. The Republican Party, as an institution, has become a danger to the rule of law and the integrity of our democracy. The problem is not just Donald Trump; it's the larger political apparatus that made a conscious decision to enable him. In a two-party system, non-partisanship works only if both parties are consistent democratic actors. If one of them is not predictably so, the space for non-partisans evaporates. We're thus driven to believe that the best hope of defending the country from Trump's Republican enablers, and of saving the Republican Party from itself, is to do as (one voter we mention) did: vote mindlessly and mechanically against Republicans at every opportunity, until the party either rights itself or implodes (very preferably the former).

Love, pain, dread, desire

In Aeon, Irina Dumitrescu writes that "medieval people knew that love and pain and dread and desire made the experience of education possible, and could also sow ruin." Read "Teachers And Students" in full at Here's an excerpt.

Education fascinated writers of the Middle Ages: what ought to be learned, how learning works, and the difficult emotions that accompany the process. They thought that desire, suffering and fear were a fundamental part of the teacher-student relationship, and not simply because medieval people were barbaric or uncaring toward their young. They understood that corporal punishment could make pupils rebellious, and that teachers could take advantage of their authority to exploit their students' affection. Still, medieval stories reveal a complex approach to pedagogy, one that censured extremes and abuses of emotion, but — importantly — not the feelings themselves. Dread, love and pain could destroy teaching; in moderate doses, and restricted to the imagination, they could also make it work.

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Moving up means letting go

In the Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi says that "America is built on rags-to-riches tales. But how does 'class-passing' actually work — and how to navigate your new life and your old?" Read "?'Class-Passing': How Do You Learn The Rules Of Being Rich?" in full at Here's one excerpt about Muhammad Faridi, whose father is a cabbie and he himself is now a partner at a major law firm.

In law school, Faridi clerked for a judge. One night, he helped the judge load some heavy documents into a taxi; the driver was his father. Faridi froze, not sure what to do. "I was embarrassed to go over and shake (my father's) hand, so I waited until the judge had already gotten in the cab. I didn't want the judge to see me, and I didn't want my father to think that I was embarrassed to see him."

It wasn't until he made partner in 2016 that Faridi lost his sense of embarrassment. After the big announcement, he remembers, he took the elevator down to the bottom of the building, where his dad was waiting in his taxi. "And he came out of the cab and we hugged each other for a good couple of minutes."

But there's still a gulf between his new life and his old. His best friends from high school work as cab drivers and busboys or in Pathmark, a major supermarket chain, and he doesn't get invited to poker nights at their houses. "None of them came to my wedding," Faridi says sadly. While he's proud of everything he's achieved, there is part of him that mourns the person he used to be.


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