Well, not graffiti in the traditional sense, but awesome nonetheless:
More political graffiti here.
Many among us will experience short spans of poverty at some stages in our lives. I lose my job or my unemployment benefits, I have a catastrophic but transitory health problem, an extreme weather event destroys my crop, or an economic crisis forces me to declare bankruptcy. As a result, I have to live off my savings or my parents and friends will have to lend me money. Still, in time I find another job; my health improves as I benefit from cheap healthcare (perhaps provided or subsidized by the government); the weather returns to normal and I can resume my profitable farming activity; or I can start a new business under the protection of bankruptcy laws that don’t burden me with debt.
However, I may also be what’s called a “structurally” poor person, meaning that I’m poor for most if not the whole of my life. Perhaps I was even born into poverty. The reason may be that I find myself in a “poverty trap”, a self-reinforcing mechanism which causes poverty to persist. In other words, I’m poor because I’m poor. And because I’m poor I’ll always be poor. I’ll die without ever having had an “adequate” standard of living, all the while passing on my poverty to my descendants.
Here are some examples of poverty traps:
So, there you have it. I think a lot of these stories are very real, and the problems that poor people face are often self-reinforcing. Of course, I don’t want to deny human agency. There are people who, even in the face of the worst possible circumstances, can fight their way out of poverty traps. So “trap” may be too strong a word. Individual responsibility still plays a role. Yet, let’s not forget that a poverty trap is sometimes intergenerational, as I’ve said before. Some children are born into a trap, and you can’t insist on responsibility and agency when we’re talking about children. A child growing up in a poor family may suffer in its early development. Undernourishment for instance can have a lasting impact on learning ability and earnings as an adult. Children of the poor are perhaps even more affected than the parents because the latter need a minimum calorie intake to work. They have to eat first. If they choose not to eat first, they will only make the poverty of the household worse.
Just to be clear: I’m not talking about an entire economy or country being stuck in a poverty trap. If you were expecting a post about that, I’m sorry I’ve wasted your time. I’m not wading into the treacherous debate about the necessity of large foreign aid injections to break the cycle of poor nations that can’t save enough to finance investment necessary to growth.
This post seems to be going on forever, so I’ll limit myself to a description of the problem. The solution – how to get out of poverty traps – is a topic for another day.
At the risk of stating the obvious, let’s count the many ways in which this is wrong. Rachel Johnson, sister of a wealthy goof who thinks poor people are innately stupid, starts off well enough with a desire to learn about the lives of poor people. However, rather than just going out and meet some of them, she decides to participate in a reality TV show. You’re probably not wrong to conclude that it’s all about her instead. The poors whom she encounters – from a safe distance – are then subjected to a kindergarten version of sociological analysis: they are “human waste”, fat “battery hens” living “like animals”. But enough about them. What’s important is that SHE has learned the value of money and that HER friends are envious of HER because SHE went on a “poverty safari” looking at those curious creatures which are normally hidden away from proper society.
More in the annals of heartlessness.
For Freddie Lee Hall, a difference of one IQ point could be the difference between life and death.
Hall, 68, has been on the US state of Florida’s death row for 35 years for his involvement in the 1978 murder and sexual assault of a pregnant woman and the related murder of a deputy sheriff. Despite finding that Hall had been “mentally retarded” his entire life, a state trial court sentenced him to death by lethal injection.
Today, the US Supreme Court will hold oral arguments in Hall v. Florida to resolve whether Hall’s death sentence violates the constitutional ban on executing people with intellectual disabilities (the preferred term today).
In 2002, in Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court held that executing people with intellectual disabilities constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” prohibited under the US Constitution. The justices provided general guidance for defining intellectual disability but ultimately left implementation to the states, an omission that now lies at the heart of today’s arguments.
In the aftermath of the Atkins decision, Hall appealed his death sentence, but Florida’s supreme court denied his appeal. The state’s requirements for intellectual disability set a “bright line” cutoff IQ score of 70 or below. Hall, having presented IQ scores between 71 and 80, missed the cutoff by a single point.
The Supreme Court will need to decide whether this bright line cutoff violates Atkins. (source)
I wonder: is it that difficult to fake an IQ test – or several tests – and make yourself appear less intelligent than you are? Just fail to answer a few questions. Of course, even if you can’t fake an IQ test the Atkins system remains absurd. As a general rule, it’s OK to account for diminished criminal responsibility of the intellectually disabled, but in the case of the death penalty the difference between diminished and non-diminished is life and death. Criminal justice shouldn’t be about life and death. There’s no good reason for the death penalty, for anyone.
Protests don’t have to be mass protests. Individual actions like this one can be very high profile. Or you can go subtle, like this:
However, I think it’s fair to say that mass protests are usually more effective, not necessarily in the sense of achieving the stated ends but in the sense of achieving something. Hence the recent spate of massively popular urban demonstrations. Maidan, Tahrir, Taksim… The list goes on and on. Someone counted the number of protests during the last couple of years and there’s indeed a steady increase:
37 of the 834 events counted had one million or more protesters!
Analysis of these protests often focuses on the role of social media, but just as interesting and somewhat forgotten is the role of urban planning and architecture. Most mass protests take place in and around central squares of large cities and it’s easy to see why these are favorite protest spots:
A particular urban setting – intentionally designed or grown over the course of history – can promote the occurrence and intensity of mass protests. It’s no surprise therefore that the urban planners of dictators try to design cities in such a way that potential protesters are discouraged. Focal points such as large squares are not designed away – a dictator needs them for the theatre of power – but they are policed and fenced. Small streets that could be used by protesters to escape and barricade are demolished and replaced by wide avenues:
These avenues can then be used to send in the troops if need be. For example, Beijing’s avenues were instrumental in the attack on Tiananmen square.
The model of pro-autocratic urban design is of course the rebuilding of Paris in the 1850s and 1860s. Baron Haussmann turned a medieval city full of narrow streets into a rational, centralized, geometrically ordered system with grand boulevards that would be both harder to barricade and easier for troops to march through. The hope was that this would stop the revolutionary fervor in France. Here’s a before/after image of 19th century Paris:
All dictators ever since have tried to replicate this model, if necessary by way of the construction from scratch of new capital cities in the middle of nowhere. If international embarrassment becomes less painful than a fall from power, the central squares and large avenues can be used to crush dissent. In Tiananmen the crushing took place by way of tanks, but usually the means are less extreme:
So you have your classic double edged sword: large open spaces can facilitate protest, but also the reaction of the state.
Some bonus pictures of the Majdan protests in Kiev:
Reminiscent of this.
A young man being executed in Tehran a few nights ago. Some reports say that the witnesses in the first image were the family of the person executed, others say that it’s the family of his victims. Makes a big difference in interpretation of the image, obviously. Maybe they’re both there.