Weekend

Required Reading

This week, Gov. Cuomo’s sad COVID poster, deepfaking activists, the fear of being canceled, the ‘Inconvenient Women’ in Hip-Hop, and more.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s latest COVID-19 poster is special. Based on 19th-century political poster design, like his previous poster back in January, people have been noticing how he doesn’t hint at the actual death toll under his watch and others called it “tone deaf.” (via governor.ny.gov)

Conceived mostly from an architecture-as-art point of view, Zumthor’s design is so self-absorbed in its pristine aesthetic isolation and self-contained in its monofunctional use that it takes itself out of the city, hovering like a helicopter. The empty plazas are tellingly landscaped with drought-resistant grasses and succulents, like a desert.

This jewel-box architecture barks up the wrong paradigm — and just at the wrong time. No one in command at LACMA ever thought of the design’s potential and even responsibility to serve as an urban catalyst for the city around it. But over the last month we learned that public space can stoke and empower a community in all its diversity, that a city can and should be seen through a lens of equity and inclusiveness. If buildings define their institutions, they also shape the city. LACMA’s Michael Govan, a director focused on supposedly new ways of displaying art, and Zumthor, an architect from a remote village in the Swiss Alps, completely ignored the socially constructive, city-building potential of a project in the heart of mid-Wilshire at its intersection with Fairfax, just as the Metro’s Purple Line is arriving at its doorstep.

Instead of immersing the museum in the public life of an active townscape, the design occupies a socially hostile vacuum of its own creation. The words “urban design” and “city planning” never appeared in the avalanche of PR propagated by the museum. Glossy shots revealed an aloof, hermetically closed building ignoring the context over which it sails. The placeless design fails to leverage the museum’s presence to shape the city around it, simply hiking up its skirts as it wades across Wilshire in order to avoid getting soaked in the urban toxins.

Online profiles describe him as a coffee lover and politics junkie who was raised in a traditional Jewish home. His half dozen freelance editorials and blog posts reveal an active interest in anti-Semitism and Jewish affairs, with bylines in the Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel.

The catch? Oliver Taylor seems to be an elaborate fiction.

His university says it has no record of him. He has no obvious online footprint beyond an account on the question-and-answer site Quora, where he was active for two days in March. Two newspapers that published his work say they have tried and failed to confirm his identity. And experts in deceptive imagery used state-of-the-art forensic analysis programs to determine that Taylor’s profile photo is a hyper-realistic forgery – a “deepfake.”

Who is behind Taylor isn’t known to Reuters. Calls to the U.K. phone number he supplied to editors drew an automated error message and he didn’t respond to messages left at the Gmail address he used for correspondence.

As a result, the researchers expect the number of people on the planet to peak at 9.7 billion around 2064, before falling down to 8.8 billion by the end of the century.

… Japan’s population is projected to fall from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century.

Italy is expected to see an equally dramatic population crash from 61 million to 28 million over the same timeframe.

They are two of 23 countries – which also include Spain, Portugal, Thailand and South Korea – expected to see their population more than halve.

“That is jaw-dropping,” Prof Christopher Murray told me.

China, currently the most populous nation in the world, is expected to peak at 1.4 billion in four years’ time before nearly halving to 732 million by 2100. India will take its place.

The UK is predicted to peak at 75 million in 2063, and fall to 71 million by 2100.

First, there is the ongoing conflation of “wokeness” — roughly defined as the idea that white supremacy and patriarchy permeate our society — with illiberalism. As my friend Ezekiel Kweku, an editor at New York Magazine, has observed, neither springs from nor necessitates the other. There are plenty of public intellectuals who champion “wokeness” while using the language of so-called civil debate, with all the rigmarole of “I concur,” “with all due respect,” and “to play devil’s advocate for a moment.”

Then there’s the motte-and-bailey fallacy around what “canceling” even means. Is someone canceled because they have been vigorously criticized? Or is someone canceled because they received death threats? Or is someone only canceled because they lost their job? Presumably, politicians should lose their jobs if they stoke sufficient outrage. Does this rule also apply to prominent figures who have been either formally or informally designated as representatives of public opinion? Where should one draw the line between the truly outrage-inducing and the undeserving victims of an internet mob?

But this general incoherence about the problem of “cancel culture” isn’t entirely the fault of the anti-woke commentariat. They are working with old tools that are crumbling in their hands and in an old workspace that is disappearing into thin air.

The excuses for male violence and abuse of women are so deeply reflexive for so many people that it doesn’t really matter who you’re talking about. Like, if you’re talking about Liza Rios or Rihanna or Emily Bustamante, the argument will be the same. It will be, “She cheated.” A lot of people will say, “I don’t believe in hitting women, but in this situation, if she cheated… if she gave him this disease or she disrespected him…” It’s kind of like central casting—it’s always the same language. And so as a writer, I was trying to circumvent a lot of that stuff to the extent that I could, and that’s why I started the piece with the children. Because I knew what they were going to say about Liza, but I thought that some people might care about the kids.

I personally am an abolitionist, but I could not have written this story without relying on the criminal justice system. Because people who are skeptical of the criminal justice system in any other setting, when it comes to gender-based violence, they require police records, police reports, charges filed, felonies—all of that. That was something that I really wrestled with. I had to file Freedom of Information requests, and I had to get hospital records. A story like this one rests on a system that I fundamentally do not believe in because people do not believe women.

To give one tragic example, linguistic prejudice undermined the credibility of a key witness in the trial of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager, who was unarmed when he was shot by Zimmerman while walking near his relatives’ home in their gated community in Florida.

In the moments before his death, Martin was talking on his cellphone with his friend Rachel Jeantel. Jeantel described at trial how she heard Martin trying to get away from Zimmerman, not assault him. Her testimony should have made her the prosecution’s star witness, casting doubt on Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense. Yet, because she spoke in AAE, jurors reported that she was “hard to understand” and “not credible.” A juror later reported that during 16 hours of jury deliberation no one mentioned Jeantel’s testimony at all. Her voice didn’t matter.

  • Historian Audrey Truschke is no stranger to hate mail, which is sadly common for many scholars today, and she wrote something about it called “Hate Male“:

The vitriol directed at me has been amplified by my pursuit of public-facing intellectual work and my robust social media presence, two things many historians have pursued—and, often, have been encouraged by our mentors to pursue—with vigor over the last decade. My own experiences have resulted in three related sets of experiences as I navigate life as a public intellectual, manage relationships with colleagues, and produce scholarship. First, I am hated by a small but vocal group of Hindu nationalists, primarily based in India but also including a number of Indian Americans. This group attempts to marginalize my voice by subjecting me to a continuous stream of online harassment and threats. Second, as a result of these ad hominem attacks, many of my colleagues associate me with public controversy, and I must now contend with my reputation as a troublemaker. Third, the hate directed at me has changed my scholarship by constricting what I can and cannot say about premodern Indian history and to whom I might speak. In all three arenas, many people treat me poorly because I am a woman, and this gender bias has proved an intractable feature of my scholarly life over the past five years.

  • ProPublica reports that McKinsey, which I think is one of the most awful and corrupt companies in the world, has already made $100 million off the Coronavirus pandemic and has done practically nothing to deserve it:

In a matter of weeks, McKinsey had extracted a total of $40.6 million in no-bid contracts out of its initial agreement with one federal agency. The firm has continued to scoop up COVID-19-related contracts for various governments since then. Altogether, in the four months since the pandemic started, the firm has been awarded work for state, city and federal agencies worth well over $100 million — and counting.

Many of the most prominent government pandemic efforts have been staffed with battalions of McKinsey’s trademark dark-suited young MBAs. The joint coronavirus task force operating out of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Health and Human Services enlisted McKinsey, on a pro bono basis, to help obtain medical supplies. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s team hired McKinsey to draw on existing epidemiological models to project hospital capacity and medical supply needs. The Food and Drug Administration retained the firm to do data analysis.

  •  An op-ed this week suggests that caste discrimination — you read that right — may be a factor in Silicon Valley:

Over the Fourth of July weekend, I participated in a video call with about 30 Dalit Indian immigrants. A Dalit information technology professional on the video call spoke about moving to the United States in 2000 and working at Cisco between 2007 and 2013. “A large percentage of the work force was already Indian,” he told us. “They openly discussed their caste and would ask questions to figure out my caste background.”

Higher caste Indians use the knowledge of a person’s caste to place him or her on the social hierarchy despite professional qualifications. “I usually ignored these conversations,” the Dalit worker added. “If they knew I was Dalit, it could ruin my career.”

Though this is also a good one from a satirical account pretending to be the North Korean propaganda ministry:

Required Reading is published every Saturday, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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