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AUTOMATING INEQUALITY

HOW HIGH-TECH TOOLS PROFILE, POLICE, AND PUNISH THE POOR

Equal parts advocacy and analysis—a welcome addition to the growing literature around the politics of welfare.

Algorithms, predictive models, regression analyses: all are tools for criminalizing the poor and immiserating the middle class.

In 2015, Eubanks (Political Science/Univ. at Albany, SUNY; Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age, 2011, etc.) writes by way of scene-setting, a series of computer-generated decisions cast doubt on a medical claim she was filing, flagging it as potential fraud. It took significant time and effort to clear her name, and she was a person with the education and standing needed to confront the system. Most Americans are not so well-equipped, and all face the same system, which removes ordinary decisions from human decision-makers and puts them in the purview of machines—as well as algorithms and rules that are largely intended to maximize the profits of the increasingly privatized providers of social services and to deny those in need of precisely those services in the first place. All Americans, from the poor to the wealthy, are implicated in this system. “We have all always lived in the world we built for the poor,” writes Eubanks, and thus should not be surprised when we are cast out when we become sick, disabled, elderly, or otherwise in need of the social safety net that so many politicians, at the national and state levels, are bent on removing. The author’s examination of the technological system underlying this dismantling is sobering. By her account, there seems to be little rhyme or reason to how cities such as Los Angeles determine who receives public housing, but there does seem to be a rationale behind Indiana’s propensity for losing welfare-related paperwork and thus denying “more than a million applications for food stamps, Medicaid, and cash benefits, a 54 percent increase compared to the three years prior to automation.”

Equal parts advocacy and analysis—a welcome addition to the growing literature around the politics of welfare.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-07431-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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