Penguin Classic’s Back Cover Blurb for Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 Novel It Can’t Happen Here

Cameraperson Steve Yedlin surfaced this on Twitter: "Penguin Classic’s back-cover blurb for Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here." I'll let this picture, speak for itself...

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Teaching Tolerance to Activists: A Free Course Syllabus & Anthology

The waters of academia have grown choppy of late, and many veteran sailors have found themselves ill-equipped to navigate the brave new world student activists are forging at a breakneck pace.

Trigger warnings. Safe spaces. Curricula restructured with an eye toward identity. Swift judgments for those who fail to comply.

Admissions brochures and campus tours make frequent mention of their institution’s commitment to social justice. They have to—many high schoolers share the undergrads' beliefs.

Those of us whose college years are but a distant memory shouldn't depend on our school’s alumni mag to paint an accurate picture of the battles that may be raging within. Sustainability, preferred pronouns, and inclusive bathroom facilities may get a mention, but the official organ's unlikely to peek into the abyss where tolerance goes to die.

Cultural scholar Frances Lee, a queer trans person of color recovering from a forced conversion to evangelical Christianity, took a hard look at the problem of intolerance within activist circles as a second year Masters student in Cultural Studies at the University of Washington.

Published exactly one year ago, their essay, Kin Aesthetics: Excommunicate Me from the Church of Social Justice, was plainspoken about the negative side effects of social progress in activist circles, and by extension, on campus:

Telling people what to do and how to live out their lives is endemic to religious and to dogmatic activism. It’s not that my comrades are the bosses of me, but that dogmatic activism creates an environment that encourages people to tell other people what to do. This is especially prominent on Facebook. Scrolling through my news feed sometimes feels Iike sliding into a pew to be blasted by a fragmented, frenzied sermon. I know that much of the media posted there means to discipline me to be a better activist and community member. But when dictates aren’t followed, a common procedure of punishment ensues. Punishments for saying/doing/believing the wrong thing include shaming, scolding, calling out, isolating, or eviscerating someone’s social standing. Discipline and punishment have been used for all of history to control and destroy people. Why is it being used in movements meant to liberate all of us? We all have made serious mistakes and hurt other people, intentionally or not. We get a chance to learn from them when those around us respond with kindness and patience. Where is our humility when examining the mistakes of others? Why do we position ourselves as morally superior to the lowly un-woke?

The essay’s viral success gives extra oomph to "Woker Than Thou: Leftist Activist Identity Formations," a community course Lee designed and taught earlier this year.

Intended for community leaders, political activists, and organizers, Lee welcomed anyone with any interest in the subject, provided they were willing “to stay open to dissenting or unpopular ideas for the sake of discussion, instead of foreclosing certain topics or ideas by judging them as not worthy of attention.”

The 10-week syllabus delved into such relevant topics as Call-out Culture, the False Promises of Empathy, and of course “wokeness,” a term Lee takes care to attribute to Black culture.

While not all of the required readings can be found online, Lee provides a wealth of links to those that can.

Titles include University of San Francisco Professor Rhonda Magee’s "Addressing Social Injustice with Compassion," author Andrea Smith’s "The Problem with Privilege," Trauma Stewardship Institute founder Laura van Dernoot Lipsky’s TEDx Talk on systematic oppression and liberation theory.

There’s even a Sufjan Stevens song that evolved from cheap shots at skater Tonya Harding’s expense to something that considered the “wholeness of the person… with dignity and grace.”

Following Lee’s course materials seems a much more rational way to confront the current social climate than binging on confessional essays by liberal arts professors who feel hamstrung by not-unfounded fears that their students could cost them their jobs … and the good reputation required to secure another.

For further reading, Lee offers free downloads of Toward An Ethics of Activism: A Community Investigation of Humility, Grace and Compassion in Movements for Justice, an anthology that “seeks to disrupt dogmatic, exclusionary activist culture with kindness and connection.”

Find Frances Lee’s "Woker Than Thou" syllabus here.

Download a PDF of the anthology Toward An Ethics of Activism here. (A screen reader accessible version is also available.)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Barack Obama Shares a List of Enlightening Books Worth Reading

Photo by Pete Souza via obamawhitehouse.archive.gov

Whatever historians have to say about his political legacy, Barack Obama will be remembered as charming, diplomatic, thoughtful, and very well-read. He honed these personal qualities not only as a politician but as a scholar, writer, and teacher, roles that require intellectual curiosity and openness to other points of view. The former president was something of a dream come true for teachers and librarians, who could point to him as a shining example of a world leader who loves to read, talk about books, and share books with others. All kinds of books: from novels and poetry to biography, philosophy, sociology, and political and scientific nonfiction; books for children and books for young adults.

It is refreshing to look back at his tenure as a reliable recommender of quality books during his eight years in office. (See every book he recommended during his two terms here.) Reading gave him the ability to “slow down and get perspective,” he told Michiko Kakutani last year. He hoped to use his office, he said, “to widen the audience for good books. At a time when so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify—as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize—is more important than ever.”




While many people have been hoping he would weigh in on deeply disturbing current events, he “has been relatively quiet on social media of late,” notes Thu-Huong Ha at Quartz. But he has continued to use his platform to recommend good books, suggesting that the perspectives we gain from reading are as critical as ever. “In a Facebook post published on Saturday, Obama recommended some of the nonfiction he’s read recently, focused on government, inequality, and history, with one book that addresses immigration. Together the recommendations are an intellectual antidote to the current US president, who eschews reading,” says Ha.

The list below includes Obama’s brief commentary on each book and article.

Futureface: A Family Mystery, an Epic Quest, and the Secret to Belonging, by Alex Wagner (2018)

Journalist Alex Wagner investigates a potential new twist in her family’s history. “What she came up with,” Obama writes, “is a thoughtful, beautiful meditation on what makes us who we are—the search for harmony between our own individual identities and the values and ideals that bind us together as Americans.”

The New Geography of Jobs, by Enrico Moretti (2012)

Economist Enrico Moretti argues that there are three Americas: brain-hub cities like Austin and Boston; cities once dominated by traditional manufacturing; and the cities in between. “Still a timely and smart discussion of how different cities and regions have made a changing economy work for them,” writes Obama, “and how policymakers can learn from that to lift the circumstances of working Americans everywhere.”

Why Liberalism Failed, by Patrick J. Deneen (2018)

Political scientist Patrick J. Deneen argues that liberalism is not the result of the natural state of politics and lays out the ideology’s inherent contradictions. “In a time of growing inequality, accelerating change, and increasing disillusionment with the liberal democratic order we’ve known for the past few centuries,” says the former president, “I found this book thought-provoking.”

“The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy,” by Matthew Stewart (June 2018)

In The Atlantic, Matthew Stewart, author of The Management Myth, defines a “cognitive elite,” a “9.9%” of Americans who value meritocracy and, he argues, are complicit in the erosion of democracy. “Another thought-provoking analysis, this one about how economic inequality in America isn’t just growing, but self-reinforcing,” says Obama.

In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History, by Mitch Landrieu (2018)

Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana, writes in his memoir of the personal history and reckoning with race that led him to take down four Confederate statues in 2017. “It’s an ultimately optimistic take from someone who believes the South will rise again not by reasserting the past, but by transcending it,” writes Obama.

“Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life,” by Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich, RAND Corporation (2018)

This report for the nonprofit RAND Corporation, available as a free ebook, attempts to study the erosion of fact-based policy making and discourse in the US. “A look at how a selective sorting of facts and evidence isn’t just dishonest, but self-defeating,” says Obama.

While the former president no longer has the power to sway policy, he can still inspire millions of people to read—essential for staying balanced, informed, and reflective in our perilous times.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How to Download James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty as a Free Audio Book

A quick heads up: The former director of the FBI James Comey has now officially released A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. The 304-page memoir gives you an inside look at Comey's long career in law enforcement. But it's mostly gaining attention because of what Comey has to say about his controversial interactions with Donald Trump--interactions which, The New York Times correctly observes, set "in motion a cascade of political and legal consequences that led directly to the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel overseeing the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election."

You can now buy A Higher Loyalty in hardback and Kindle formats. Or if you start a 30 day free trial with Audible.com, you can download two free audio books of your choice. At the end of 30 days, you can decide whether you want to become an Audible subscriber or not. No matter what you decide, you get to keep the two free audiobooks. A Higher Loyalty can be one of them. It runs 9 hours and is narrated by Comey himself. To sign up for Audible's free trial program here, follow the prompts/instructions on this page.

NB: Audible is an Amazon.com subsidiary, and we're a member of their affiliate program. Also, this post is not an endorsement of the book.

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175+ College Admissions Offices Promise Not to Penalize High School Students Who Get Suspended for Protesting Peacefully Against Gun Violence

Image by Lorie Shaull, via Flickr Commons

“Will my admission get rescinded if I get suspended for engaging in a school walk-out meant to bring attention to the school shooting issue?” That's a question many high school students have posed to college admissions offices around the country, especially after some high school officials threatened to suspend students taking part in anti-gun demonstrations.

Many leading universities have since issued policy statements and given these students their blessing and support. In a post called "In Support of Student Protests," Hannah Mendlowitz, from Yale's Admissions Office, writes:

[W]e continue to get the question: will Yale look unfavorably upon discipline resulting from peaceful demonstrations?

The answer is simple: Of course not.

To the students who have reached out to us with these concerns, we have made clear that they should feel free to participate in walk-out events to bring attention to this issue without fear of repercussion. Yale will NOT be rescinding anyone’s admission decision for participating in peaceful walkouts for this or other causes, regardless of any high school’s disciplinary policy. I, for one, will be cheering these students on from New Haven.

And on the official Twitter feed for the Brown University, a tweet reads:

Applicants to Brown: Expect a socially conscious, intellectually independent campus where freedom of expression is fundamentally important. You can be assured that peaceful, responsible protests against gun violence will not negatively impact decisions on admission to Brown.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Below, find a list of 175+ universities that have granted similar assurances, along with links to their statements. The list comes from Alex Garcia, who is maintaining a regularly-updated Google Doc. Access it online here.

Again, you can refer to this Google Doc for more updates.

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Robert Reich Makes His UC Berkeley Course on Wealth and Inequality in America Available on Facebook

Robert B. Reich served as Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton and was later named one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the 20th century by TIME Magazine. Nowadays, Reich teaches courses on public policy at UC Berkeley, and uses his popular Facebook page to discuss policy questions with a much broader audience. So here's the next the logical step: This semester, Reich is teaching a Berkeley course on wealth and inequality in America, and he's making the lectures themselves available on Facebook too. Watch the opening lecture above, and then check back in for new installments.

Note: Once you start playing the video, you might need to enable the audio in the lower right hand corner of the video player.

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David Byrne Launches the “Reasons to Be Cheerful” Web Site: A Compendium of News Meant to Remind Us That the World Isn’t Actually Falling Apart

Whatever your ideological persuasion, our time has no doubt given you more than a few reasons to fear for the future of civilization, not least because bad news sells. Musician, artist, and former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has certainly felt the effects: "It seems like the world is going to Hell. I wake up in the morning, look at the paper, and go, 'Oh no!'," he writes. "Often I’m depressed for half the day." But he writes that on the front page of his new project Reasons to Be Cheerful, which began as a quasi-therapeutic collection of pieces of "good news that reminded me, 'Hey, there's actually some positive stuff going on!'" and has grown into an online observatory of world improvement.

What kind of positive stuff has Byrne found? He identifies certain common qualities among the stories that have caught his eye: "Almost all of these initiatives are local, they come from cities or small regions who have taken it upon themselves to try something that might offer a better alternative than what exists." These adjustments to the human condition tend to develop in a "bottom up, community and individually driven" manner, they happen all over the world but could potentially work in any culture, all "have been tried and proven to be successful" and "can be copied and scaled up" without the singular efforts of "one amazing teacher, doctor, musician or activist."




The stories collected so far on Reasons to Be Cheerful fall into several different categories. In Civic Engagement, for example, he's found a variety of effective examples of that practice in his travels back and forth across the United States. In Health, he writes about efforts to end the war on drugs in places like Vancouver, Colorado, and Portugal. As anyone who's followed Byrne's writing and speaking about cycling and the infrastructure that supports it might imagine, this side also includes a section called Urban/Transportation, whose first post deals with the global influence of bike share systems like Paris' Velib and bike-only street-closure days like Bogotá's Ciclovia.

In Culture, Byrne writes about the rise of a form of music called AfroReggae that offers an alternative to a life of crime for the youth of Brazil's favelas, the distinctive libraries established at the end of Bogotá's rapid bus lines and in poor parts of Medellín, and even some of his own work related to the recording and tour design of his own upcoming album American UtopiaAmerican Utopia in the year 2018? That might sound awfully optimistic, but remember that David Byrne is the man who once went on an artistic speaking tour about his love of Powerpoint. If he can see the good in that, he can see the good in anything.

Visit Byrne's Reasons to Be Cheerful site here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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