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School Daze

School Daze

The principal looked at me like I was crazy. Maybe I was.

Once I began to see the schools, of course, I could not unsee them. I realized how much of life—and by life in this case I mean real estate—was organized around them. Wealthy homeowners had the resources and the motivation to put time and money into their neighborhood schools; good neighborhood schools in turn attracted other wealthy homeowners. In the 1990s, a Federal Reserve economist named Sandra Black did a study on how much extra parents in Massachusetts were willing to pay for homes in superior school districts. (She studied the home prices in neighborhoods that were directly adjacent to district lines, so otherwise basically the same.) Black found that a 5 percent increase in test scores added 2.5 percent to the price of a home. In New York, where adjacent school zones might have radically different test scores, those 2.5 percent increases could add up quickly.

Something Imaginary

Something Imaginary

I’m not yet assimilated

I’m falling asleep, dreaming, I can’t remember about what. When I wake, my nose is bleeding. No surprise, since I am a defective and sickly child. Alongside my asthma and vertigo, I have inherited weak blood vessels in my nose. My mother had hers cauterized, a red-hot rod prodded deep into her nostrils so the delicate, veiny frills would flatten and cease to bleed. I was a replicative mistake, the blood gushing out of my nostrils. I’m kicking and screaming.

Tanks for Nothing

Tanks for Nothing

A part of America occupying the White House. A part of America populating the Mall.

The sense I got was of a takeover—rather than people secure and calm in the exercise of their rights to assemble. Like the left occupying Zuccotti Park, the Trump supporters were exactly where they weren’t supposed to be; but, unlike Occupy, they brought a message of exclusion to one of the most visibly public spaces in America.

There Are Some Fires That Get Put Out, and Some That Don't

There Are Some Fires That Get Put Out, and Some That Don't

Grenfell, two years on

As well as sadness, the air of the vigil contained a throb of rage: two years on from the fire, the government’s failure to make any meaningful steps towards accountability continues to spark fury. When it was his turn to take the stage, British-Iraqi rapper Lowkey, who witnessed the fire and wrote a piece that has become something of an anthem for the tragedy, used the opportunity to denounce neoliberalism in verse. Just a few months prior, models and activists wearing 72 Dead and Still No Arrests? How Come? t-shirts had occupied the runway at a London Fashion Week event, a demonstration organized by the advocacy group Justice4Grenfell. Strictly speaking, the shirts’ claim is no longer true—Reis Morris, a community member who lost family in the fire, is currently serving a two-month prison sentence after allegedly threatening a fire chief during a conversation about the fact that the tower’s plastic cover was coming off. A few blocks away from the tower, someone has strung a banner with the words I am Reis Morris along the side of an overpass. There are some fires that get put out and some fires that don’t.

One Part Retribution, One Part Redemption

One Part Retribution, One Part Redemption

On Binyavanga Wainaina, 1971–2019

Wainaina was in fine form the day we met, a mind on fire, and a cultural worker at the height of his powers. So the news this past week that we had lost him so early at age 48, of a stroke, hit my world hard. I had seen him in Berlin a couple years back, at one of the gatherings at Savvy Contemporary art gallery. He had suffered a racist attack while in Berlin, but was unbowed and determined to continue his sojourning. For many of us in diaspora, losing Binyavanga Wainaina felt like we were left with one less heartbeat in our chest. We have to spread his message to the world; we have the technology.

Game of Groans

Game of Groans

Green Hitlers, narrative prostheses, and the final episode of the world-pummeling HBO blockbuster

As the fanboys and reply guys will leap to point out, Game of Thrones is set in a fantasy world and thus is not offering us a historically accurate version of the European medieval past. But it is, at another level, just as obviously set in a version of that past, albeit one with giants and dragons and the living dead. And insofar as that temporal orientation is the case, in its final maneuvers the show cheats its viewers of the capacity to respect the very pastness of that past by overlaying a presentist moral logic of political development onto it. In this narcissistic political schema, characters who are untroubled by monarchy are evil, while characters who support electoral systems are good. The effect of this rigged historical framework is to generate a smug sense of quasi-recognition, coating the sedimented layers of a past-that-never-was with a zesty little spritz of incipience.

Eating the Frog

Eating the Frog

David Wallace-Wells’s new book is one of the few honest accounts of the costs, both tangible and metaphorical, of global warming.

David Wallace-Wells’s new book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, reads at once as an innovative look at manmade climate change and also as old news. As Wallace-Wells himself states at points, not much in his book is new. Even the scariest near-term predictions and assessments, like the possibility that “should the planet warm 3.7 degrees . . . climate change damages could total $551 trillion—nearly twice as much wealth as exists in the world today,” or that, at the upper-end of temperature predictions for the end of this century, “humans at the equator and in the tropics would not be able to move around without dying” have been accessible to the general public online or in academic articles and assessments. What is new is the candor of the narrative and relative impassivity with which Wallace-Wells, a career journalist, elucidates the distressing implications of the facts that he reports.