Gravity's Rainbow

botany, shoes, books, and justice

April 17, 2018
by sarcozona

There are no edges; the border is everywhere

The practice of centers taking control over their peripheries is as old as states, but it is not innocuous. When the federal government takes control of its periphery, it imposes a kind of alien rule, even on the familiar terrain of the homeland. What we miss, when we focus only on the outward face of the border—the wall we build to defend against the barbarians outside—is the function that state projections of power have internally. What is the point of ostentatious displays of power at the state’s edge—not just the wall, but flags, uniforms, songs and other performances of national identity that have, in the United States, become evermore dramatic after 9/11? Of course they are there to warn off potential transgressors. But they are also there to guarantee the loyalty of the border community itself—to remind the people inside the border who they really are. It is a kind of domestication: a domesticating of what has the potential to become foreign.

In this sense, we might think about the border as a kind of local colonial project. Border policies and ceremonies are as much designed to remind locals of who they are as it is to tell outsiders who they are not. The border fences in as much as it fences out. Peripheral peoples are not trusted and so they are disciplined. They have a double role: they are on the one hand most at risk from outside threats, as well as at risk of becoming a threat. Peripheral peoples are at once the subject of security, and its object.

via The Border Is Not a Wall | Boston Review

April 13, 2018
by sarcozona

Workers are at an extreme wage disadvantage, especially outside of cities.

The basic idea of monopsony is that if employers don’t have to compete with one another for workers, they can pay less, and workers will be stuck without the outside job offers that would enable them to claim higher wages. The monopsony story is consistent with a wide range of observed labor market phenomena: wage stagnation, declining geographic and job-to-job mobility, deterioration of the job ladder, especially for low-wage and young workers, and declines in entrepreneurship and “business dynamism.”

via How Widespread Is Labor Monopsony? Some New Results Suggest It’s Pervasive. – Roosevelt Institute

April 12, 2018
by sarcozona

If you want disabled people to contribute you have to let them. If you want to disabled people to live, you have to support them.

Darwin's home from the side, white with flowering purple vines growing on lattices attached to the walls

Down House, Downe, Kent, England. Author: Glen. CC BY 2.0

Darwin was ill for much of his life, largely restricted to his home. His mysterious illness was managed with rest and strict routine with work but also a beloved walking path and intimate family time. I don’t think I’m the next Darwin, but I reached for his example when managing my own illness. I learned to accept my physical symptoms, to deal with the emotional and physical fallout of severe pain, to order my days and relationships and career around the time and routine required to manage my illness. I even grew to appreciate some of the skills I gradually gained: an ability to enjoy the pleasant while acknowledging the painful, to let go of bad experiences and focus on the present, to use the tech skills I gained while homebound to reach out and pull people together, to value kindness and care more highly than ambition or cleverness, to communicate about difficult topics clearly and patiently.

But Darwin’s example failed me when it came to disability. Darwin was independently wealthy and so could research at the pace he chose and fund his own work. Domestic labour and the careful crafting and maintenance of an environment where he could work despite his illness was done by servants managed by his wife Emma. I hired someone to help me around the house only when I became physically unable to do chores, but on an unpaid medical leave, it was a financial burden I could not bear for long. Now that I am strong enough to change my own bedding, the energy and time required eats into the limited hours I have for my own research.

I face strong structural barriers to becoming a scientist, to working at all.

I have built and sneaked and bludgeoned and lucked my way through some of these difficulties. When my year and a half of medical leave was not only unpaid but triggered additional expenses from the university, I used my savings and worked a few hours a week building a website and relied on the generosity of friends. To stay a part of my lab community when I became unable to travel to campus regularly I set up a group chat that became an important part of our grad student culture as more of us had to begin working remotely. When the unpredictability of my illness kept me from teaching and outreach activities, I doubled down on writing online and even got the rest of my lab involved in a group blog to communicate our lab’s research. When my professional relationships suffered from my inability to attend physically demanding and inflexibly scheduled seminars, conferences, and workshops, I turned to recordings and conversations online.

But there is only so much I can do to adapt, and time and money are always a problem. I struggled to complete my undergraduate degree because I was too sick to go to school full time and too poor not to work throughout. As a PhD student, I fail to meet expectations of long (or at least “normal”) hours and associated productivity because my illness not only leaves me unable to work for approximately half of each month, but also requires a several hours a day to manage. A great deal of labour in the medical system is outsourced to patients, leading to hours every week spent navigating appointments and insurance and paperwork. Medical expenses also eat into my funding. To get accommodations requires hours of paperwork, meetings, and appointments. When those accommodations are approved, I must take the time and gather the resources to implement them and my power to do so is limited. See: my accommodations allow me extra time to complete my PhD, but were considered irrelevant when I tried to apply for time-in-program restricted funding at my university.

Chronic migraine is difficult to experience, but my most painful struggles are with disability. A non-disabled body is one that can work and one that can do so in some standard environment and on a standard time table. I am a good scientist. I can do good and meaningful research. But I cannot do it for 40 hours a week under bright lights after a noisy bus commute. And, terrifyingly, there is a threshold where I am too sick. At some point, the cost of allowing me to contribute is considered too high for other people. At some point, it will be too much even for me, even if I weren’t constantly fighting institutional and personal ableism.

This post inspired in part by Sandy Olsen’s recent excellent article on disability representation in film.

April 11, 2018
by sarcozona

All for one, and one for all

This systemic focus, crucially, does not inflate “racism” to make it explain all racial disparities, but understands that such inequalities are outcomes of many phenomena that interact with racism, yet cannot be reduced to only racism. These include technology, political economy, and cultural patterns. As early as 1964, for example, King presciently warned in Why We Can’t Wait that “if automation is a threat to Negroes, it is equally a menace to organized labor.” Arguing for an alliance between civil rights and labor activists, King foresaw how capital investments in “efficiency” would dislocate middle-class jobs, stagnate wages, and devastate unions’ political power. Granted, discrimination and historical disadvantage would cause these burdens to fall hardest on poor blacks—yet it still opened the possibility of broader political alliances.

via MLK Now | Boston Review

This article is a fantastic summary and critique of King’s philosophy.

April 10, 2018
by sarcozona

Being chronically ill doesn’t make me a better person, but it does help me identify jerks

I assume people think surviving illness changes you because there’s something inherently character-building about pain. But what happened wasn’t a struggle, in the sense that through perseverance I overcame something difficult. For a fairly brief but unexpected period of my life, I lost my capacity to work, to advocate for myself, to navigate life and all its frictions. For much of my illness—intubated, drugged, feverish—I simply wasn’t there. In my absence, there were more than 25 individual doctors and specialists, an army of nurses, the friends who loved me enough to take care of my affairs while I was under, some unknowable number of insurance agents sitting behind desks in another state, silently placing checkmarks next to my claims.

via How to Not Die in America 

Most people would say they care about sick and disabled people, but most people won’t vote for politicians that support the health and social services necessary to keep us alive, let alone allow us to thrive. Stop being a jerk and start campaigning for medicare for all and better support for people with disabilities.

April 9, 2018
by sarcozona

Please visit me at home; everything is too much

The disability associated with severe cases of migraine extends far beyond days spent in bed. Online, people talk about the ways that migraine has rendered them housebound. Driving, for instance, can be difficult; shifting lights trigger migraines and drug side effects cause clumsiness. People with migraine stay home because they fear perfumes or other foreign smells that can make them sick, or because they are simply too tired or hurting to venture outside.

– Joanna Kempner in Not Tonight.

Arriving at work a few weeks ago, I was mildly surprised at how easily the door at the bottom of the stairwell opened, but too absorbed in the book I was listening to to pay it much mind. But I was jolted into full awareness of my surroundings when I couldn’t get the door to my floor open. I took out my headphones and heard a wild whooshing and my heart sank.

One of my most reliable triggers for migraine attacks are rapid changes in barometric pressure. My building’s HVAC was undergoing some unannounced maintenance that day and the work had set up strong pressure gradients throughout the building.

I was optimistic. Maybe I wouldn’t get a migraine – I’d been doing so well lately and how big a pressure difference could the HVAC system realistically cause? Even if I did get a migraine, they often take hours to develop – maybe I’d make it to the meetings I had planned that day anyway.

But 45 minutes later my aura started and I headed home, angry and demoralized.

I often struggle to work 10 hours a week. Getting a migraine on a day that I was well from something I could have avoided is infuriating.

I often work and socialize from home. I simply don’t have the energy to navigate transit and stimulating environments every day. But I also have so much less control over my environment outside of my apartment and that carries very real risk for me.


Who needs city housing regulators when AirBnB can use data-driven methods to effectively regulate room-letting, then house-letting, and eventually urban planning generally? Why not let Amazon have its own jurisdiction or charter city, or establish special judicial procedures for Foxconn? Some vanguardists of functional sovereignty believe online rating systems could replace state occupational licensure—so rather than having government boards credential workers, a platform like LinkedIn could collect star ratings on them.

In this and later posts, I want to explain how this shift from territorial to functional sovereignty is creating a new digital political economy.

via From Territorial to Functional Sovereignty: The Case of Amazon « Law and Political Economy