Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count

From the Guardian on Wednesday:

“An airstrike by the US-led coalition against Islamic State on a school west of the Syrian city of Raqqa has killed at least 33 people, many of whom had fled nearby fighting, sparking further concerns that new rules of engagements may be causing an increase in civilian casualties.

“The attack follows a separate US strike on a mosque complex in the north-west of the country last Saturday that killed at least 52 people. The incident triggered fears that a White House-ordered review of rules governing the use of drones had already given military planners more flexibility on ordering strikes.”

A thank you to the Guardian for covering this extraordinary story.

But the reaction by most of the Western media, including the New York Times?

Meh.

The reaction to the London attack Wednesday in which, not counting the attacker, left three people dead?

Banner headlines and constant updates.

The death of civilians is a crime which should never be tolerated.

But apparently more for some than others.

I’ve spent 30 years in journalism, so I know the closer a story gets  — and “closer” includes the same type of people as opposed to foreigners in a supposedly distant land — the greater and longer the treatment.

And some may say that because the London attack happened outside Parliament, it merits even more outrage.

But why is Parliament more sacred than a haven for refugees or a mosque?

And where are all the world leaders offering condolences to the dead Syrian children and other civilians killed by their very own governments?

Sadly, as we all know, this is really nothing new.

But this disproportionate coverage of Europeans versus Arabs — pretty much inversely proportional to the actual death counts — hides a crucial lesson that we just can’t seem to learn.

These attacks are not unrelated.

I have no idea — and I suspect the Western experts don’t either yet — if the London attack was a direct response to the recent civilian slaughters by the West in its battle against the Islamic State.

But regardless of the direct motivation, the mass murders of innocents in the Middle East by the West go at least as far back as the first “Gulf War.”

(They go much further back, but let’s start with the battle against an Iraqi dictator we helped put in and then keep in power.)

Would there have been this most recent attack in London — or even an Islamic State for that matter — without all the endless Western war crimes against Muslims for almost three decades?

Until we — and that includes the media we in the West rely upon — mourn the deaths of the innocents our governments kill as much as the deaths of innocents killed by our enemies, the bloodshed will never end.

And all too likely only get worse.

Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland

For decades, there had been mumblings about a mass grave bursting with the bones of children on the site of a religious run mother and baby home in the west of Ireland. Recently those age old mumblings were translated into fact.

Over the course of several decades, hundreds of deceased children had been discarded by nuns from the Bons Secours religious order in Tuam Co. Galway and only for the incessant and fearless work of local historian Catherine Corless who uncovered the truth, it would have remained buried.

These children who died from a variety of causes were the offspring of ‘fallen women’, a term which is alien to most people in today’s society. In the Ireland of the past, a woman who had a child ‘out of of wedlock’ was considered a wicked being, someone who brought shame on their family and parish. The catholic church which weilded an iron fist over Irish society would suggest the best place for these women was a mother and baby home where they could give birth to their ‘bastard’ child. Once the child was born it was tagged for adoption and more often than not it was given up for adoption to the highest bidder, usually in America. While many survived, many more did not, as is the case with the horror story which unfolded  in Tuam.

An inquiry will now be set up to dig deeper into the rotten core of these religious run homes which were scattered across the country. Now that the church has lost its powerful position in Irish society, we are free to question the dark deeds carried out by religious orders  in places such as the Tuam mother and baby home. We may think that people cowered under the cruel society the church lorded over but there are a few who did challenge the church and it’s harsh regime against ordinary Irish people.

The Irish Workers Voice was the newspaper of the Communist Party of Ireland in the 1930s and in its May 4th issue of 1935 it carried a report with the headline ‘We demand an open inquiry into the scandal of Artane tragedy.’ It detailed the killing of a teenager by a so called holy man in the Dublin Industrial school of Artane.

The church run mother and baby homes were set up to cage Irish women who stepped out of line while the purpose of the religious run industrial schools was to keep ‘wayward’ youngsters and ‘unwanted’ orphans out of Irish society.

The report was based on an interview the father of the dead youngster gave to the left wing publication. 55 year old Dubliner Patrick Byrne described how he saw the body of his 15 year old son laid out in the hospital mortuary: ” I saw my boy on Holy Thursday when he was lying dead at the Mater hospital. I lifted the shroud and his ribs and whole side were black and blue and his jaw was discloured.”

15 year old John Byrne had been playing football in the yard of the Artane industrial school when the ball accidentally hit the master, Brother Cornelius Lynch, who then turned on young Byrne and gave him an unmerciful beating. The boy lingered for days after his beating at the hands of the school master before succumbing to death.

A hasty inquest was carried out by the school medical officer Dr Murphy who concluded that the youths death could not be determined. Other boys in the school yard had  witnessed the master beat the life out of their friend and John Byrnes father was convinced his son had indeed died due to the harsh treatment he recieved at Artane but, nothing was ever done about it.

In the same report in the Irish Workers Voice newspaper, the father of the dead boy stated that the body of his son was taken away by the church authorities and buried. The grieving  father never saw his son in his coffin and remarked to the newspaper: ” there is something terrible and strange about it all, I’m not even sure if I buried my own son.”

The same report states that the death of 15 year old John Byrne was not the first death in the religious run school that occured under suspicious circumstances. The report ended with the call for an inquiry: ” no whitewashing but a free and full inquiry to reveal the facts.”

Those who challenged the church in such ways like this report in a left wing publication were considered enemies of the state, they were seen as a threat to the power held by the church in a society crippled by conservative hands.

Now we look back and consider that these ‘subversives’ were not the enemy, they were the brave few who did speak out against the authoritarian role of the church in Ireland. In today’s Irish society we should take inspiration from them because the Catholic church chained the soul of this country, now it’s up to this generation to break the last few links of those rusty chains.

The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion

As the relationship between growing migrant Muslim populations and the western nations that host them grows increasingly complex, the controversy over the dress code for Muslim women has taken on an alarmingly central role.  The recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision, which has ruled that bans on headscarves (and other religious symbols) in the workplace can be legal, is only one in a series of judgements on this controversial matter.

While the ECJ has leaned towards religious neutrality and against the display of religious symbols in the workplace (including, for instance, the Christian cross), the United States Supreme Court, recently ruled to the contrary.  In the case of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v Abercrombie & Fitch (2015), the US Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favour of the hijab-clad employee, despite the employer’s claims that her headscarf clashed with the company’s dress policy.  Only the dissenting judge, Justice Thomas reasoned as the ECJ has, that the dress code was a neutral policy and could not be the basis for a discrimination lawsuit.  Even in the United States, however, the outcome of such cases is not always clear.  In 2012, for example, a hijab-wearing employee who had sued Disneyland, did not succeed against her employer.

Legal decisions aside, the issue of the hijab seems to have become a bone of contention between those in the West who see the increasing number of headscarves around them as a cultural invasion and those among the often young Muslim population who see it as a symbol of resistance.  Instead of an essential religious dictate, however, the hijab is more of a desperate attempt to forge an identity that has largely been displaced as a result of migration.

Women in Muslim-majority countries who veil or cover their hair often do so because of familial, or in the case of Saudi Arabia and Iran, state pressure.  Ironically, women who wear the hijab in the West often choose to do so.  While women in the Middle East may be wrapping themselves in additional garments to ward off the prying eyes of men dominating the bazaars and workplaces, some Muslim women in the West have told me that they find the hijab liberating and empowering.

As someone who grew up partially in Saudi Arabia and witnessed firsthand the oppression of women that comes through forcing the veil upon them, that is indeed a strange concept for me to digest.  The constant conflation of Muslim women and the headscarf in the western media is therefore something that I find quite disturbing.  There are countless observant and pious Muslim women who do not cover their hair.  On the other hand, there are also those who wear the hijab but aren’t particularly interested in following some of the more fundamental dictates of Islam.

For generations we have learned that in order to be true to the Muslim faith one must affirm that there is one God and that Muhammad is his messenger.  The Quran repeatedly stresses the importance of being steadfast in prayer and of giving alms to the poor, to feed the needy and to take care of orphans.  Not once does the Quran mention the hijab, or headscarf, explicitly as an Islamic necessity.

There are a few verses in the Quran that advise a modest dress code but to borrow a line from the renowned Pakistani film, Khuda ke liye(For God’s sake), “How can a religion that is meant for all time and all peoples insist on  one particular uniform?”

Certain Islamic scholars from countries as diverse as Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco have affirmed the view that what is modest is subject to interpretation and discretion and does not necessarily include a head-covering.

Paradoxically, at a time when significant numbers in the West are growing resentful of headscarves and most unfortunately some of this intolerance has manifested itself in the form of hostile Islamophobic attacks on hijab-clad women, the fashion industry is rushing to embrace the hijab.  Realising the monetary potential of marketing to brand-conscious hijabi millennials, Nike Pro Hijab, priced at $80, is the latest addition to jump on the “modest fashion” bandwagon.  Dolce and Gabbana have gone several steps further, with their ostentatious daisy print hijab and abaya collection, aimed undoubtedly at the residents of the oil-rich Gulf Arab states, they accessorise with statement handbags and sunglasses that could set you back thousands of dollars.  Modesty anyone?

Keeping the controversy alive, a few months ago, Playboy magazine featured its first hijab-wearing Muslim woman.  For her supporters, this was a “bold case for modesty” and perhaps another milestone in breaking barriers for those wearing headscarves.  But to me, this was akin to turning the entire concept of hijab on its head.  Though the Quran does not dictate a precise form of dress for men or women, it does ask both to be discreet and modest and not to draw unnecessary attention to oneself.  An often-quoted verse asks both men and women “to lower their gaze and guard their private parts”.  Playboy of course has historically been associated with the exact opposite of this philosophy.

The concept of Islamic modesty therefore is not meant to test boundaries or provoke identity clashes with a wider society but simply to maintain decorum, respect and harmony between men and women.  As Muslims in the West, we would be better off focusing on the more basic and uncontested tenets of our religion and finding common ground with other Abrahamic faiths based on shared principles, such as providing for the needy and helping the downtrodden.

Music is Love, Music is Politics

Odafe Antogon’s recently published novel Taduno’s Song is one of those stories that can only truthfully be classified as pure magic. Entrancingly and exquisitely composed, it is the story of a man—Taduno—who began making music with songs of love, then songs of protest, and ultimately a song of freedom. The story takes place in the present time in a Nigeria that is politically and culturally similar to that present. However, it could also take place in many other nations both past and present.

Taduno is a guitarist and singer whose songs became rallying cries for a people’s movement. Arrested, beaten and tortured he is ultimately forced into exile to save his life. It is there where the story begins; he receives a letter from his true love in Nigeria asking him to return to fight the dictator once again. She writes from a hellish prison, where she has been placed after being kidnapped by secret police. The similarities with the story of Orpheus, who spent much of his life trying to retrieve the love of his life Eurydice from Hades are intentional and meant to remind the reader of the power music holds on the human soul.

When he returns, Taduno discovers that he is forgotten by the multitudes he sang for: the poor, the workers and the people who dared to speak out against the dictator. Nobody recalls his face or his songs. His voice is broken because of beatings he received from the sticks and fists of the dictator’s police. A friend helps him get a guitar—not because his friend remembers him, but because he has faith in whom he knows him as in the present. His ability to play guitar returns but his voice does not. Still, once Taduno’s music begins to shake things up on the streets the dictator arrests him. He then tells Taduno he must sing songs praising the dictator if he ever wishes to have his true love back. Taduno accepts the deal because he loves her so much. He spends the rest of the tale wrestling with that decision.5154KYe5FcL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_

Dave Randall is a rock guitarist who has toured with the band Faithless and Sin’ead O’Connor, among others. He has also been involved in a number of endeavors combining music and politics. It is these experiences that compelled him to examine the relationship between music and political change. This is the subject of his book titled Sound System: The Political Power of Music. The text is an insider’s look at the actual reality fictionalized in Antogon’s Taduno’s Song. It is simultaneously a history of music in movements for social justice and revolution, with a mention of its role propping up the powerful and elitist—from the Catholic Church to numerous regimes around the world.

As anyone who listens to popular music knows, there are certain periods when protest songs have made their way high up the charts. The period known as the Sixties is probably the best example of such a time. Most songs recorded then, whether they were intentionally pop-sounding like Barry McGuire’s 1965 hit single “Eve of Destruction,” or the unusual blend of rock and violin found in Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane,” were clearly meant to be understood as protest songs. It is Randall’s contention that a fair amount of today’s music is also subject to such an interpretation. As an example, he discusses Beyoncé’s 2106 Super Bowl performance of her tune “Formation.” If one recalls this performance, it included references to African-American radical groups and individuals like the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis. The struggle against police murders of Black men was also highlighted. Of course, right wing and pro-police organizations attacked the performance and police forces threatened to refuse to protect Beyoncé when she performed in their towns. Randall mentions that there were folks on the Left who also opposed the performance, criticizing it as an attempt to make money off of genuine political movements for social change. As he points out, Beyoncé ends the tune by essentially telling her audience that the way to beat the system is by getting rich; a concept that obviously worked for Beyoncé, but is ultimately not a real solution. Randall then brings up the story of the hip-hop artist Killer Mike, who as a fighter for social justice decided to endorse the social democrat Bernie Sanders in his campaign for president in 2016. Even if Killer Mike’s approach was more genuine, Randall points out that the reaction to Beyoncé’s performance moved the discussion about police brutality and racism further into the mainstream, thereby providing all sides in the debate (including that of the radical Left) a considerably larger forum.

As I noted above, the protagonist in Taduno’s Song wrestles mightily with his decision to sell out his political principles to save the love of his life. In what can only be described as the callousness of the dictator and his police, money is also offered to Taduno. Naturally, he rejects the money. I was reminded of this while reading Randall’s discussion of the repercussions of his support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel’s establishment of an apartheid regime in regards to the Palestinians. This is because some of his fellow musicians who originally supported BDS backed away when they were threatened with the loss of income. To be fair, losing one’s income is not the same as losing the love of one’s life, but the point is that both circumstances reveal that the powerful understand the power of music. When they have nothing to counteract that power to defend their injustice, their only solutions involve threats, censorship and death.

Sound System is a brief look at the potential role music can play in a movement for social change. In his brief telling, author Dave Randall notes the tragic story of Chilean revolutionary singer Victor Jara and the Nigerian guitarist and composer Fela Kuti; he mentions Beethoven and Schoenberg, Rage Against the Machine and Marvin Gaye. He discusses the nature of electronica and its roots in the early underground acid house scene of 1980s Britain; the roots of hip-hop and the corporatization of music festivals. He also looks at the atonal work of Schoenberg and the nature of the corporate star machine. Odafe Antogon’s novel Taduno’s Song tells a similar story via a poetically and delightful narrative about one musician and his struggle to be true to his people, his love and ultimately himself. The single message from both texts is that music can change the world when that is the intention of those who make it.

Prisoners as Captive Customers

Who knew they could be profit centers. Thanks to action emanating from the white House of Horrors or, as it was formerly more simply known, the White House, there’s good news for phone companies and private prisons.  This week the phone companies.

October 22, 2015, was the date on which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), proved itself to be the prisoners’ friend. It announced that it was taking a big step to reduce what it called “excessive rates and egregious fees” of up to $14 a minute that were being charged by phone companies providing phone service to inmates in state and federal prisons. In announcing the change, the commission observed that “high inmate call rates have made [phone] contact unaffordable for many families, who often live in poverty.” As Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC, said in a statement accompanying the rule revision,

“[F]ew issues have a more direct and meaningful impact on the lives of millions of Americans than inmate calling reform.  With today’s action we will provide material relief to nearly two million families with loved ones behind bars. . . . Inmate calling reform is not only the right thing to do, it is also good policy.  . . .By adopting tiered rate caps that apply to all interstate and intrastate Integrated Communication Services (ICS) calls, and limiting and capping runaway ancillary service charges, this item addresses unaffordable ICS rates . . . . Today’s actions . . . address a prime example of a market failure.  Where, as here, market forces have not been able to discipline costs to consumers, we must shoulder the responsibility of promoting communications services that do not leave the most vulnerable of our population behind.”

(Whether inmates qualify as “the most vulnerable of our population” others can decide.)  As a result of the FCC’s action, the price for prison calls went down to as low as $.11 a minute.

Phone companies providing prison service were, of course, upset with the ruling since prisoners were, at up to $14 a minute for in state calls, a profit center that the companies hated to lose.  Depriving phone companies of the opportunity to charge exorbitant rates to prisoners was just as bad as if some court had suddenly decided to shorten all the prisoners’ sentences, thus depriving phone companies of their highly desirable prison customers.  Not wanting to sit quietly by as this important source of revenue was taken from them, the companies filed suit in the D.C. Court of Appeals claiming that the FCC lacked the authority to put caps on what they were charging the inmates, and, even if it had the authority, it had abused its authority by setting caps that were too low.  (An intriguing argument in favor of higher rates, was put forth by Mithun Mansinghani, a deputy solicitor general from Oklahoma who got involved in the suit on behalf of Oklahoma.    His argument suggests he must have been one of the top students in his law school class.   He said phone companies should be able to charge higher rates than those that had been set by the FCC, because of the risk they assumed by furnishing phones to prisons.  The prisoners might, he suggested, use the phone to further criminal activity, and should that happen, the phone company might incur liability. The creativity of his theory cannot be overstated.  The possibility that any time a phone is used in furtherance of any criminal activity, whether a ransom demand, or a plan to rob a bank, the bad results flowing from the phone call may be charged to the phone company, is an intriguing one for lawyers and presents the creative lawyer with a whole new arena in which to conduct litigation

In 2017,  a funny thing happened on the way to the phone booth.  Republicans became a majority in, among other places, the FCC.  The Democrats, the authors of the cap when in the majority in the FCC, had left the FCC, and Republicans were then in the majority.  Among their early activities was to roll back the rules that capped the cost of prison phone calls.  The attorneys who had been representing the FCC in upholding the FCC’s 2015 actions, notified the court that they would no longer defend the lower rates that had been set by the democratic majority in 2015.  Since the Court had already set the matter for argument, and declined to postpone the argument, it is not clear as of this writing, where the case is headed.  Where phone rates for prisoners are headed is clear-they are going back up.  The offspring of the white House of Horrors know how to make prisons profit centers.  Phones are one.  Prisons another.  Prisons, however, are a matter for another day.

An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller

To my classmates in the Class of 2007,

I remember Stephen Miller as a classmate, but my memories of him and of Duke differ from the depiction in your open letter, which praises Duke as home to a plurality of differences, indeed, as an institution so committed to diversity that it did not tolerate (to say nothing of how it might have enabled) the racism and sexism Stephen has articulated and authorized in the ten years since his (our) graduation, and especially as Donald Trump’s speechwriter-cum-advisor.

I recall his bi-weekly tantrums in column entries for our undergraduate student newspaper, The Chronicle, and especially the things Stephen wrote therein about Mexicans, about affirmative action, about Palestinian solidarity, and about black students’ response to former Education Secretary William J. Bennett’s statement that a black genocide (i.e., the abortion of “every black baby in this country”) would dramatically reduce national crime rates—to say nothing of the things he wrote about black women, or of his disdain for Durham’s mostly-black local residents.

Stephen’s opinions about black women, whom he condemned as liars, and about local residents, whom he caricatured as parasites—parasitic in his revisionist reading because Durham’s mostly-black locals exploit Duke’s most-white students—are particularly noteworthy; they converge in testimonials he penned (here, here, here, here, here, especially here, and here, and that’s only recounting his column entries) to redeem the white Lacrosse men who sexually assaulted Crystal Mangum, a single black mother from Durham, on March 13, 2006.

Stephen’s exaltation of the Lacrosse team’s toxic white masculinity was typical of his posture as a Duke student, as self-appointed champion of white supremacy—a strange allegiance, because his access to white privilege, as an ethnic Jew, was then, as it is now, tenuous—and high prince (err, peddler) of what he, instructed by David Horowitz and befriended by Richard Spencer, appropriated to mean “academic freedom”: the preference, in today’s jingoism, for ‘Alt Right’ perspectives in a liberal arts classroom, specifically, in the political makeup of Duke faculty.

In claim after hysterical claim Stephen made to bolster the reputations of the indicted men, this Stephen, like Trump’s Stephen, lamented the fate of white men who in an ostensibly ‘post-racial’ age feel themselves dislodged from atop their perch as vanguards of the social order. His was an appeal not just to the fragility of their white male egos but also to our (Duke’s) liberal need to uphold their rank and file, lest the entire edifice (liberalism itself) come crashing down.

Recall that in the inauguration speech Stephen scripted for him, Trump pledged to white Americans—white nationalists—”You will never be ignored again.” His was (is) a promise to right the alienation whereby they, the proper subjects of the American polity, no longer feel themselves hailed as the protagonists of its story. Stephen thus puppeteers today, on a world stage, what he rehearsed for us, his peers, in the four years we gave him an audience, at Duke.

Lest we forget (and it seems, you have) we were the first to indulge—to publish (The Chronicle is student-operated), read, and share, if only as a piece of salacious gossip—Stephen’s panicked rants about white vulnerability. Consequently, in the ten years since graduation and especially as our reunion looms, I have wondered not how Stephen “became such a horrible person” but about where your (our) outrage was at the moment he opened his mouth to speak, for the first (or the second, or the tenth) time, out loud, the hate by now definitive of his political brand.

I have wondered, too, if Duke’s administrators, who were complacent at the hour of Stephen’s becoming (as an undergraduate) and Richard Spencer’s, too (as a Ph.D. student in the Department of History), have paused in the last year to consider how it came to pass that Duke engendered the ideologues of Trump’s hate; that is, about how the animosity Stephen and Richard fomented as Duke students and which by now exasperates our national culture governs, as a matter of fact and not an inconvenience of circumstance, Duke’s campus culture.

Regrettably, it appears that the administration has not paused to reflect on how it might intentionally curate a different kind of campus culture: one committed to generating the ideas that can induce an/Other world. Instead, it continues to produce students who (at best) are politically apathetic, steeped in a privilege that goads them to entertain even the most vile and violent of ideologies under the liberal democratic guise of a free and open debate of ideas.

We might compare, for example, student reactions to eugenicist Charles Murray’s visit to Duke’s campus on March 21st with the reaction of Middlebury College students on March 2nd. While Middlebury students refused the ruse of a liberal exchange in which Murray’s ideas would, supposedly, be made available to scrutiny—an alibi that assents to the validity of scientific racism precisely because it accommodates a free exchange of ideas on the topic—to make their campus inhospitable to Murray, only four Duke students protested Murray’s appearance on their campus, if they can be said to be Duke students at all; according to some eye-witness testimonials, the protestors were in fact local Durham community members.

As Assistant Professor of History at SUNY Buffalo State and Duke alum Christienna D. Fryar points out, the premise of a “marketplace of ideas,” as that model that prompts us to accommodate Murray’s and Stephen’s biases, does not account for how “exclusionary ideas are seductive beyond their ‘objective’ (if there is such a thing) merits or faults.” Exclusionary ideas like theirs “provide something that is not easily debunked by appeal to reason and argument” because they appeal, instead (also), to our libidinal and affective registers, that is, to the protocols of our visceral, gut, and instinctive reactions—like disgust, which is sutured by the discursive knowledge that persons of color, especially black Others, are accumulable and fungible object-things and not human persons—and by the need for a rationale or logic (an argument) that justifies our unreasonable, stubborn reactions to persons-cum-things of color.

Fryar continues, “choosing not to give someone” like the Stephen Millers and Charles Murrays of the world “a platform,” more to the point, choosing to disrupt and/or make impossible the free exchange of their ideas, does not amount to “squashing their ability to share their ideas.” One “can find [their ideas] in countless forums. [Their] ideas are out there,” poisoning our minds and especially our hearts without the addition of a university’s or college’s endorsement.

 

If Duke is analogous to the nation that voted for Trump, then Stephen’s hate is our (Duke’s) shame. Perhaps, too, his ascent is the shame of liberal ideology, which as an egalitarian social theory engenders multiculturalism, including its neoliberal variant: colorblind ideology.

The condemnation in your open letter hinges on a disbelief that Stephen might share a campus with marginalized peoples, including “migrants and refugees…who sought American shores for the promise of safety and opportunity,” “young women [who] were the leading lights of seminars and discussions,” “members of the LGBTQ community, some of whom were proudly public [and] others of whom remained in the closet due to fear and stigma,” and “students of color […] from all manner of socioeconomic backgrounds and locales”—specifically, black students who grew up in what today’s Stephen caricatures as “crime-infested, drug-ridden neighborhoods”—and still find himself unmoved to empathize with difference.

By this logic, Stephen’s hate defies his socialization at Duke, more to the point, the language in your open letter suggests that the institution of Duke did not birth Stephen as a “horrible person” because it birthed you as a good liberal citizen-subject of the multiculturalist state. This gesture seems to me insufficient, not least of all because Stephen’s political commitments today are animated, as they were yesterday, in his own words, by a steadfast faith in “the cultural value of individualism and liberty.” His is not, to invoke Ta-Nehisi Coates’ formulation, a “uniquely villainous and morally deformed…ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs,” but the banality of our liberal evil, which accommodated his racism and sexism without the slightest trepidation, to say nothing of we (as a cohort, as a campus, and as a nation) expressly celebrated Stephen’s reprehensible comments about Crystal Mangum, a rape victim.

If multiculturalist liberalism is all Stephen has ever known—born in Santa Monica, California, he is a child of multiculturalist Los Angeles—then it is not exposure to a plurality of peoples that a young Stephen needed to learn how to emphasize with difference, but a kind of miseducation that explained to him how and why it has come to pass that peoples are not equally made. Such a miseducation would clarify that peoples are endowed with varying degrees and kinds of social capital (and that some, like Mangum, proscribed from access to even human recognition, are ineligible for social capital) because they are assigned to incongruous rungs on the social hierarchy Stephen has since high school vigilantly defended as the dominion of white men.

If black women like Mangum occupy, as Hortense Spillers elaborates in her essay “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” (1987) and as the Combahee River Collective before her argued in their Black Feminist Statement (1977), the lowest, most derelict rung of this social hierarchy, that is, if antiblack sexism is the paradigm on which racism and sexism as the structuring grammars of this world and its making wrest—stated another way, if the intersection of antiblack racism and sexism sutures the social-cum-pecking order of this world, including our libidinal energies, or our visceral, guts, and instinctive reactions to persons and things (and persons as things)—then perhaps it was precisely because Stephen’s most vile comments came at the expense of black women, specifically, at the expense of a black single mother, that we, the Class of 2007, were unmoved to stand in his way at Duke, empowering him to articulate the hate that has since given rise to the nation that voted for Trump.

Rather than applaud all the ways in which we are not Stephen Miller, we might interrogate now, especially because we owe our black peers this debt, why of all the ways we are able to empathize with difference, as evidenced by the parade of social groups you identify in the open letter, we still, as a cohort, hold steadfast to the belief that Mangum was not raped by the Lacrosse men who, we seem so conveniently to forget, penetrated (violated) her not with their body parts but with a broomstick—a fact obscured when we recount, in our defense of the indicted men (really, of Duke’s good name, in other words, of our own reputations), that no DNA was found in Mangum’s rape kit. We might additionally recall and repent for the fact that we stood idly by as the Lacrosse men further demanded Mangum be “skinned” and “killed”.

Perhaps the reason why so many of us where silent at the dawn of Stephen’s rise is because we, as good liberal citizen-subjects of the Duke-cum-American polity, like Stephen and his bedfellows in the Alt Right, felt our libidinal energies cathected by the objectification of Mangum’s vulnerable body, doubly sexualized precisely because she is black. We were happy to make the Lacrosse men our heroes if doing so would further marginalize black women (to say nothing of how it criminalized the black locals from whom we distinguished ourselves), in other words, because the violation of her person and psyche functioned to authorize our visceral, gut, and instinctive reactions (of disgust) vis-à-vis black persons and especially black women.

I could not sign your letter, which responds too late and without any self-reflection about your own response to Stephen’s nascent claims as a Duke student (as your peer) about the precarity of whiteness and the dereliction of blackness. I could not bring myself to trade Stephen’s fascist violence with your liberal violence, and I suspect that I am not the only one. We might instead take some accountability as a cohort and Duke might as an institution for providing Stephen with his first podium. Against the liberal democratic doctrine of free speech to which we uncritically subscribe, which as a theater or marketplace of ideas prompts use to entertain a breadth of valuations—a band, it seems, that only ever manages to stretch in one direction (the right’s), more to the point, which has not (cannot) accommodate(d) the radical call for a world that might be Otherwise—another reaction is possible: one approximating the reaction at Middlebury College, in which not every worldview (certainly, not those that embolden indignant white men to assault persons of color, like Stephen’s and Murray’s) is abided.

I am haunted by the knowledge that we could have shut Stephen down at the moment of his becoming, had we been more interested in the psychic and material health of the marginalized peoples with whom we shared our campus than in the doctrine of liberalism; that is, if we had momentarily stepped outside of our own privilege to hold space for those others. This and not the empty gesture in your open letter is what it means to be an ally, specifically, to commit oneself to the response-able use of one’s social capital for the making of an/Other world.

M. Shadee Malaklou is Assistant Professor of Critical Identity Studies at Beloit College.

The Mosque That Disappeared

We committed a quiet little war crime the other day. Forty-plus people are dead, taken out with Hellfire missiles while they were praying.

Or maybe not. Maybe they were just insurgents. The women and children, if there were any, were . . . come on, you know the lingo, collateral damage. The Pentagon is going to “look into” allegations that what happened last March 16 in the village of al-Jinah in northern Syria was something more serious than a terrorist takeout operation, which, if you read the official commentary, seems like the geopolitical equivalent of rodent control.

The target was “assessed to be a meeting place for al-Qaeda, and we took the strike,” a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command explained. The strike involved two Reaper (as in Grim Reaper) drones and their payload of Hellfire missiles, plus a 500-pound bomb.

The target, at least according to human rights organizations and civilians on the ground, was a mosque during prayer hour.

“U.S. officials said the strikes . . . had killed ‘dozens’ of militants at a meeting of the terrorist group,” according to the Washington Post. “But local activists and a monitoring group reported that at least 46 people died, and more were trapped under rubble, when the attack struck a mosque during a religious gathering. . . . Photos from the area showed rescue workers pulling mangled bodies from a mound of rubble.”

One local resident told AgenceFrance-Presse: “I saw 15 bodies and lots of body parts in the debris when I arrived. We couldn’t even recognize some of the bodies.”

During the 30 seconds of attention the story garnered, the controversy was whether it was a mosque that was hit or a building across the street from a mosque. The Pentagon even declassified a photo of the bombing aftermath, showing that a small building near the ghastly bomb crater was still standing. However, according to The Intercept: “Activists and first responders say the building that was targeted was a part of the mosque complex — and that the charred rubble shown in the photo was where 300 people were praying when the bombs began to hit.”

Anyway, the news cycle moved on. My initial thought, as I read about the bombing, which was not described as a massacre or slaughter in the mainstream headlines, but remained an “incident,” is that the media have a default agreement on morality: Killing’s OK as long as it’s emotionless, coldly rational and strategic (even if mistakenly so). This is the American way. Coldly strategic murder can be reported in such a way that it fits into the global infrastructure of safety and the control of evil.

But killing is bad if there’s passion involved. Passion is easily linked to “extremism” and wrongthink. The man killed this month by police at Paris’ Orly Airport, for instance, had cried, “I am here to die for Allah — there will be deaths.”

This fits neatly into the moral certainty of the Western world. Compare this to military PR talk, also reported in The Intercept: “The area,” according to a U.S. Navy spokesperson, “was extensively surveilled prior to the strike in order to minimize civilian casualties.”

In both cases, the perpetrators foresaw dead bodies left in the wake of their action. Nevertheless, the American military machine carefully avoided the public’s, or the media’s, moral disapproval. And geopolitics remains a game of good vs. evil: as morally complex as 10-year-old boys playing cowboys and Indians.

What I had not foreseen was how quickly the story would disappear from the news cycle. It simply couldn’t compete with the Trump cacophony of tweets and lies and whatever else passes for the news that America consumes. This adds a whole new dimension of media indifference to the actual cost of war, but I guess no nation could wage endless war if its official media made a big deal out of every mosque or hospital it (mistakenly) bombed, or put human faces on all its collateral damage.

I write this with sarcasm and irony, but what I feel is a troubled despair too deep to fathom. Global humanity, led by the United States of America, the planet’s primo superpower, is devolving into a state of perpetual war. It has caged itself into unending self-hatred.

“The way in which U.S. militarism is taken for granted,” Maya Schenwar writes at Truthout, “mirrors the ways in which other forms of mass violence are deemed inevitable — policing, deportation, the genocide and erasure of Indigenous peoples, the exploitative market-driven health care system, the vastly inequitable education system and disastrous environmental policies. The generally accepted logic tells us that these things will remain with us: The best we can hope for, according to this narrative, is modest reform amid monstrous violence.

“We have to choose,” she says, “life-giving priorities over violent ones. We have to stop granting legitimacy to all forms of state violence.”

Yes, yes, but how? The necessity of war has not been challenged at official levels of power in this country in more than four decades. The corporate media grants legitimacy to state violence more by what it doesn’t say than by what it does. Bombed mosques simply disappear from the news and, voila, they never happened. Liars had a global forum to promote the invasion of Iraq, while those who questioned it had to loose their outrage from street corners. “Collateral damage” is a linguistic blur, a magician’s cape, hiding mass murder.

And Donald Trump is under the control of the militarized far right as well as his own clueless immaturity. Of course his new budget, released, as Schenwar points out, on the anniversary of the My Lai Massacre, ups the military allotment by $54 billion and gouges social spending. As we protest and write letters to Congress and express our shock and awe at what is happening, let us keep in mind that Trump merely puts a face on America’s out-of-control militarism. He didn’t create it.

For the protests against his budget cuts to be effective, for the roiling turmoil to matter, a new country must be in formation.

Update from Madaya

The United Nations has recently reported that nearly one million Syrians now live under siege, a figure that is up from 393,000 Syrians at the same time last year. “Horror is now usual,” UN Emergency Relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien said in a November statement before the UN Security Council in New York. “It is a level of violence and destruction that the world appears to consider normal for Syria and normal for the Syrian people.”

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Four year old Manal and three year old Mohamand-Kamal shown above in better days. Since July 2015 with an airtight encirclement reinforced by thousands of landmines. The result continues to be widespread starvation, with residents surviving on foliage and scraps. Like literally hundreds among the thousands of children still trapped in Madaya, the children are fading and weakening from malnutrition and related illnesses without much to eat for many months. More about Manal and Kamal at: Will proxy politics bring death for Madaya siblings Manal and Mohammed-Kamal? (Above photo of Manal and Kamal courtesy of Sahar, mother of the babies. She has not seen them for nearly one year)

A total of 56 Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) trucks, in coordination with the United Nations (UN) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) finally entered nearly two years long besieged Madaya last week.

After five months with very little to eat, almost no medicines or medical care, the 40,000 residents of Madaya, a former holiday destination for many in Syria, Lebanon and the Gulf, located 26km northwest of Damascus received some international aid. On 3/15.2017 7,800 food packages that included canned beans and hummus, lunch meat, peas, cooking oil, olive oil, thyme, beans, sugar, rice lentils, bulgur and flour arrived. No fuel or cooking gas was included in the aid delivery, although Madaya residents regularly request these much needed items. Some basic medicines were allowed in and children’s medicines, mineral salts, vitamins, anti-inflammation medication and limited surgical supplies.

Unfortunately, for the dozens of Madaya residents in active kidney failure due to malnutrition, dialysis supplies, which have long been urgently requested of the UN to treat scores of Madaya residents like Manal and Kamal shown above, did not arrive.

According to ICRC spokeswoman Ingy Sedky, last week: “The people of Madaya have been suffering for years and there must be a regularity to bring them aid that can save their lives,” “Waiting four or five months is not a solution.” The ICRC is “keeping a dialogue” open with the Syrian regime in order to regulate access Sedky said adding that “an aid delivery every now and then will never solve the problem.”

Madaya Local Council Representative Firas al-Hussein, among others has reported that Shia militia fighters from a few countries still surrounding Madaya are shooting residents who approach food distribution points set up recently by the UN, ICRC and SARCS. Mr. al-Hussein advised this observer a few days ago that “sectarian snipers from four countries shoot at anyone who tries to reach the distribution centers.”

As a result, the local council has been forced to stop distributing food parcels to nearly half of the 40,000 residents in the besieged town, which received its first UN-sponsored aid delivery in nearly six months on March 14, 2017. Of the six residents who were shot trying to approach and collect a family box of aid, two are dead, and one is comatose, claims Mr. al-Hussein.

He added that “The snipers, who ring the town along with thousands of landmines, shoot at anyone who attempts to flee from their blockade.”

Even since fighters surrounded the former resort town in July 2015, more than 20 Madaya residents have been killed by snipers and landmines, according to a July 2016 report by Physicians for Human Rights.

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The above warehouse in north Madaya, was reportedly hit by artillery shells on March 15. An increasingly common “surrender of starve” vaporization of food and medicines. Photo courtesy of Firas al-Hussein.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which helped deliver the aid on 3/14/2017, has not commented on the shootings. They claim that if they do they may be expelled from Syria, so reports al-Hussein.

If the sniping continues, local council members plan to begin distributing the remaining food packages in the middle of the night. So far, as noted above, six residents have been shot by snipers. Two have died and one is lying in the hospital, comatose. One man, from neighboring Baqin, was shot when the UN convoy entered. The next day, while the aid trucks were unloading the supplies, several young men were shot.

Local media has reported that residents are being targeted not just by snipers but also by artillery fire. When asked by this observer how has this affected the local council’s ability to distribute aid packages to residents, one resident replied: “We have not distributed any food packages to the northern section of the town because snipers are shooting at anyone who tries to reach the distribution centers. Residents are targeted by artillery fire, too.”

The local council did distribute aid to the southern part of the city since that area cannot be seen by the snipers.

A major problem getting “safe aid” into Madaya is the much criticized violation of international humanity law tip for tat arrangement known as the “Four Towns Agreement.”
During September 2015, residents of Madaya and Zabadani, two regime-encircled towns in Outer Damascus, and al-Fuaa and Kafariya, two rebel-encircled towns in Idlib province, signed on to the

“Four Towns Agreement,” which stipulates that all aid deliveries and medical evacuations occur simultaneously across the four towns. Medical evacuations, whether due to injuries from sniper fire or life-threatening illness, would not take place unless a similar evacuation occurred on the other side. Because the towns are linked, any attacks on al-Fuaa and Kafariya by rebels can lead to increased shelling and sniper fire in Madaya, and vice versa. This is currently the norm.

Local Madaya council employees are planning to deliver the food packages in the middle of the night under cover of darkness but it’s a risky plan, and they may lose their lives since snipers are posted in the surrounding hills many with night telescopic sights and with a range of 1,500+ yards.

But as of 3/24/2017 this is the only way to distribute aid to Madaya residents, who have run out of most food months ago.

The 18,000 Madaya residents who have still not received food packages will suffer because of the delays in distribution. According to the ICRC, about 95 percent of them don’t have bread, sugar, salt, ghee or vegetables. Some might risk their lives in order to feed their children. One imagines that if a child is starving and crying, and food is only a handful of meters away, of course his father will try to go to the warehouse. He’ll risk getting shot by a militia sniper just to get a case of flour to feed his children.

Moreover, the aid that does enter Madaya and gets distributed to families will only last for about one month, two at most according to the UN. Residents will suffer even more once the food runs out, not knowing when another aid delivery while be allowed in or whether snipers will shoot the civilians trying to receive some from the distribution point.

In a statement last week, Dr. Darwish reported: “Living in Madaya, I feel like I’m in a black hole trapped outside time and space. We’re so far removed from the rest of the world. No one can feel what we’ve felt. No one can suffer like we’ve suffered. Maybe those who are outside Madaya don’t believe us when we say that people are regularly dying of hunger here. Every single day, you’ll see people—young and old—sifting through the garbage just to find nylon bags, cardboard or trash that they can burn to stay warm.”

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Syrian hero Dr. Mohammad Darwish, above shown looking across the Qalamoun Mountain town of Madaya is a dental student. He is one of three remaining medical professionals, working by themselves the past nearly three years. The two others are a dental student and a veterinarian.

Yet again, largely staying on the sidelines for political and security reasons, while hundreds of civilians are cowering under life threatening sieges and blockings of food, water and medicines, each of us and the UN and “International Community” have yet again failed the people Syria.

Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon

Governor Jerry Brown and administration officials claim that the California WaterFix, a controversial plan to build two 35-mile long tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, is based on “science.”
“The best scientific thinking says California needs the project,” Governor Brown told Dan Morain, Sacramento Bee editorial page editor in an interview in December of 2016. (www.sacbee.com/…)

However, federal scientists strongly disagree with Brown’s claim that “best scientific thinking” supports the construction of the tunnels. In fact, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has released a draft biological opinion documenting the harm the tunnels would cause to salmon, steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, other fish and wildlife species, and water quality.

An independent peer review panel found the NMFS findings are backed by “comprehensive analyses, new data, and modeling,” according to a statement from the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA). The panel further found NMFS used the “best available science” and produced evidence of “significant adverse impacts” to species and critical habitat, including unacceptable harm to salmon.

The draft biological opinion is available here.

Based on new scientific data documenting that the California WaterFix project would worsen water and habitat conditions for migrating Central Valley salmon, GGSA said it opposes the tunnels plan as “currently envisioned.”

“The NMFS science and the peer review both make clear the current twin tunnels proposal will likely drive the salmon to extinction and will harm other wildlife. GGSA has no option but to oppose this project,” said John McManus, GGSA executive director.

Some of the many problems highlighted in the NMFS report are the following:

• The heavy flow through the fish screens at the giant water intakes in the Sacramento River, located just downstream of Sacramento, could impinge the juvenile salmon to the screens where they will perish.

• Those that survive impingement and are stressed or injured will be subject to heavy predation.

• The Sacramento River below the screens will be reduced to a relative trickle. The tiny salmon need strong flows to push them downstream. Without that, more predation and heavy losses will result.

• Lower flows downstream of the intakes will cause more juvenile salmon lost to the interior Delta through the Delta Cross Channel and Georgiana Slough.

• A major decrease of freshwater downstream of the intakes will also highly degrade water quality, resulting in increased contaminants and decreased food sources.

“The models used to gauge the damage to salmon showed a zero percent chance the tunnels would help winter-run Chinook salmon,” noted McManus. “Instead the modeling showed a slow steady decline towards extinction for these salmon if the tunnels are built and operated as currently envisioned.”

NMFS scientists forecast increases in winter run Chinook redd (nest) dewatering (page 78) and spring run Chinook redd (nest) dewatering (page 86) on the Sacramento River if the tunnels are built.

The NMFS report also highlights two upstream issues of concern to anglers and public trust advocates:

• Salmon egg and alevin mortality on the American River under the tunnels project “clearly” results in adverse effects on fall run salmon, the mainstay of the sport and commercial fishing industries.

• Increased loss of federally protected winter and spring run salmon will occur from dewatering of their incubating eggs in upstream river gravels.

“This project will not only destroy the salmon, but it also threatens the jobs of the thousands of people who depend on healthy salmon runs, including fishermen, tackle shops, boat shops, launch ramp operators, marinas, and many others,” said GGSA director Mike Aughney. “It’s time to admit this version of the tunnel idea won’t work. There’s no doubt the status quo is very bad for salmon, but this giant twin tunnels proposal obviously isn’t the answer.”

GGSA secretary Dick Pool added, “The State Water Board’s update of the water quality control plan, including new flow standards to protect salmon, water quality, and the health of the delta, also needs to be completed before any tunnel project can be properly considered and designed.”

The Governor continues to promote his tunnels as recreational, commercial and Tribal fishermen face reduced ocean and inland salmon seasons this year. Pre-season numbers unveiled by Dr. Michael O’Farrell of the National Marine Fisheries Service at a meeting in Santa Rosa on March 1 estimate only 230,700 Sacramento River fall run Chinook adults and 54,200 Klamath River fall run adults will be in the ocean this year.

Both forecasts are lower than those of recent years, with the forecast for Klamath fall run being among the lowest on record. Ocean regulatory management for salmon fisheries on the ocean from Cape Falcon in Oregon to the Mexico-US Border is heavily based on these runs.

The Delta Tunnels will also have a huge detrimental impact on Delta smelt, a state and federally listed endangered species, including reducing the available habit for smelt, migration, spawning and rearing.

“The PA will result in substantial adverse effects by the constriction/reduction in available habitat to delta smelt that support the migration, spawning, transport, and rearing processes that are necessary for reproduction and therefore survival of the species,” the report states. (page 251)

The document also states, “The delta smelt population will be most affected by the constriction and reduction in the quantity and quality of available suitable habitat to rearing juveniles and adult spawners. Their habitat size will be greatly reduced from restricted access in the north, altered flows in the south Delta, and interior Delta movements of the LSZ. The quality of habitat will be further degraded by small changes in salinity, water temperature, water clarity, food supply, Microcystis, and selenium under the PA.” (Page 260)

Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species continue to remain at the edge of extinction. The Delta smelt has not yet become extinct, but the numbers of fish collected in the fall 2016 midwater trawl survey conducted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) remained alarmingly low.

This is in spite of improved precipitation last winter and spring, followed by a very wet fall that should have resulted in much higher numbers of smelt surviving.

The Delta smelt index, a relative measure of abundance, survey was 8, the second lowest in history. Seven Delta smelt were collected in November – and none were collected in September, October, or December, according to a memo from James White, environmental scientist for the CDFW’s Bay Delta Region, to Scott Wilson, Regional Manager of the Bay Delta Region.

From 1967 through 2015, populations of striped bass, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, American shad, splittail and threadfin shad declined by 99.7, 98.3, 99.9, 97.7, 98.5 and 93.7 percent, respectively, according to Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA).

While Governor Jerry Brown and other state officials proclaim that the Delta Tunnels project will “restore” the Delta ecosystem, they revealed their real plans when the administration applied for a permit to kill winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt and other endangered species with the project.

On October 7, 2016, California Department of Water Resources (DWR) submitted an “incidental take” application for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) in “compliance” with the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) in order to build the Delta Tunnels.

The NMFS draft biological opinion confirms and expands upon what previous scientific reviews of the Delta Tunnels project, including a scathing 43-page report by the U.S. EPA in August 2014, have already documented – that the project, rather than restore the ecosystem, is likely to harm water quality and further imperil struggling populations of salmon, steelhead and other fish species in Central Valley rivers, the San Francisco Bay-Delta and the ocean.

The EPA diagnosis revealed that operating the proposed conveyance facilities “would contribute to increased and persistent violations of water quality standards in the Delta, set under the Clean Water Act,” and that the tunnels “would not protect beneficial uses for aquatic life, thereby violating the Clean Water Act.”

The Delta Tunnels project is based on the absurd assumption that diverting more water out of a river and estuary will somehow “restore” that river and estuary. In addition to hastening the extinction of Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt and green sturgeon, the California WaterFix also threatens already imperiled salmon and steelhead on the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?

The tall good looking New Yorker, about 25, stands out in the crowd around me. His black curly hair shines, his head raised expectantly, his smile so unlike the people around us peering anxiously into their handheld devices.

I’ll learn before my trip ends that this warm faced lad’s name is Dijon.

Our fleeting association begins there on the platform waiting for the uptown #6 train. Initially his smile attracts me; then my gaze rises beyond his face to a shimmering red and silver flag; it’s actually a balloon waving above us, and I know this belongs to Dijon. Seeing “Happy Anniversary” scrolled clearly on the shimmering surface, I think ‘He’s returning from an office party celebrating his marriage’. That would explain his smile too.

I’m distracted by a growl from the mouth of the tunnel, a welcome noise to commuters at the end of their workday. Here comes the #6 train. The platform, dense with thick-coated bodies, begins to stir, prepared to press into the cars. Forget about a seat; I may not even find standing room. At 4:30 p.m., the rush of workers heading uptown to their homes—one room, maybe two, three at the most, somewhere in the Upper East Side, Spanish Harlem or the Bronx– has begun.

I am unconcerned how Dijon, with his unwieldy balloon and the large carton cradled in his arms, manages to maneuver himself into the train as thirty other commuters lurch through that single door. Then, doors safely closed behind us, I see that same balloon. And, there beside me, our backs similarly pressed against the door, stands its bearer with the same quiet smile.

As this isn’t my regular route, I must check on where I should disembark and, of course, I look up towards the anniversary flag: “Does the #6 stop at 84th street?” His voice is soft and reassuring: “We stop at 86th— good for you. But you know you could have taken the #5 express across the platform; you’d reach in just two strops by the five.”

Never mind; with this friendly opener I proceed with my inevitable interview, probing my travel companion’s agenda and introducing me to another New York lifestyle experience. “Your anniversary?” I inquire. “How many years?” “Oh no”, Dijon quickly rejoins, glancing at the balloon above us: “I’m delivering this: Edible Arrangements. We’re a party service (I’ll Google it later.) Nodding to the package in his arms now, he explains this service for family celebrations; “They get the balloon and our fruit package — chunks of fresh pineapple, melon, apple, stuff like that– arranged on sticks all poking out of a big orange. It’s really pretty, done up like a bouquet.”

And do you sing as you present this gift? “No, no”, and pausing, adds  “But I could sing”.

It occurs to me that Dijon may in fact be a talented vocalist– a singer, an actor, a performer of some kind. He’s probably one of the tens of thousands of gifted young people drawn to the city in search of gigs on stage, hunting for an agent, waiting to be discovered. Yes, that explains his bearing. I miss that cue, and instead ask about his ‘edible’ services; it’s a lifestyle service, the pampering of well-to-dos and trend-obsessed young people who socialize with indulgences, like hand delivered balloons and fruit baskets. “For say $50?”, I guess. “Hmm”, replies Dijon; “$50 and up.”

I think: what could he earn for one delivery (remembering he has to travel by subway)? Maybe $10. I can’t ask him directly, but I manage “And tips? Do your happy anniversaries tip well?” Another “Hmmm” from Dijon. “No tips: not usually.”

(No point inquiring about health insurance or workman’s compensation.)

These delivery gigs today employ battalions of young and energetic do-anything-to-live-in-New Yorkers. Would-be actors, comedians and musicians traditionally wait tables and serve drinks in the city’s many bars. But those jobs are now augmented by these delivery services which employ jobless graduates and anyone else willing to serve those who can pay, however indulging and frivolous the service. What’s offered are sometimes routine and tedious (house-cleaning, dog walking), at other times exotic and terribly fashionable (you can’t imagine).

Subway advertisements abound with invitations to do something special for yourself, or a loved one—all by phone apps, and like Uber– delivered personally by a young man or woman at your door. Handy.com, delivery.com, taskrabbit, upwork.com blueapron.com, redbucket.com, deliveroo.com are just a few examples of what’s available.

It’s the gig economy; on one hand it’s emerging from excessive  joblessness, a serious condition finally receiving attention from workers rights advocates t5= On the other hand it’s created by people with abundant disposable incomes. It’s based on both desperation and trendyness. Servitude is a growth industry in American cities. Ediblearrangements.com and bueapron.com are New York chic.

The fashion crowd—i.e. those with monthly salaries, health insurance, social security savings and a company pension fund— chat in the bar or at office break about these trendy services, similar, one imagines, to how white ladies chatted about their domestic ‘help’.

The Sunday Lifestyle section of your newspaper features the merits of blueapron.com fashion. Meanwhile less noticed reviews expose the inbuilt exploitation and the hardships lived by these young workers.

Doubtless some of the tens of thousands of wishful, handsome jobless graduates, come away from their glimpses inside those wealthy apartments to whom they delivered massages and fruit bouquets, gather after hours to invent their own startup service. Maybe they themselves can launch the next trend.

No one is thinking about workers rights. In fact a new adjunct trend is umbrella recruitment companies. They locate, vet and sign up individuals who they then farm out for hour and day jobs. In the UK this service extends to school teachers—all to save someone else money.   END