Weekend Reading

First, The Arizona Republic‘s longform series on the migrant trail through Central America:

“I was four months from graduating from high school, and I had to leave the school because they threatened me,” he said. “I couldn’t go out of the house, I couldn’t meet with friends. It was too dangerous.”

It took more than a year before Briseño felt safe enough to go out into the community again.

He lives in a single, ill-lit room with his father, off a narrow courtyard they share with three other families, along with a common bathroom and large sink. Anyone arriving or leaving carefully locks the outer door, made of thick iron bars. Briseño and his friend, Omar Barrera, 19, both spoke matter-of-factly about why it may be a death sentence for those who try to leave but are caught and sent back.

One friend fled a year and a half ago after he was threatened and gang members murdered his father, a policeman. Their friend was trying to reach his mother in Maryland, but he was stopped in Mexico and returned to San Salvador.

“He was murdered the week after he got back,” Barrera said, shaking his head.

Several staff members at Roger Williams told me, privately, that they felt uncomfortable talking about what their animals felt, especially in front of supervisors, though they were convinced that their animals experienced thoughts and emotions. At its worst, anthropomorphism, the fallacy of attributing human characteristics to nonhumans, leads us to imbue animals with our perceptions and motives, reducing the worldview of another species to a bush-league version of our own.

Yet avoiding anthropomorphism at all costs may be the main cause of the schism between scientists and the public in the debate about animal sentience. “Most reasonable people will be on the side of animals being sentient creatures despite the absence of conclusive evidence,” Jaak Panksepp told me.

In 1954, I was in the first grade at David W. Harlan Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware. I could buy a hot lunch prepared by cafeteria workers who were employed by the Wilmington Public Schools. I took music lessons for free, using a violin the city schools lent me. We had a school library, chorus, and band. We had art classes three times a week.

Yet schools on Wilmington’s east side got the leftover musical instruments and much less money for books, supplies, and maintaining school facilities like the playground. Harlan was all white, intentionally segregated. Real estate developers and brokers in its attendance zone had homeowners sign racial covenants that prohibited the sale of homes to blacks.

When decrying today’s corporate reform, too many gloss over the second experience and universalize my own, appealing to a past that was always deeply unequal.

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