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Archive for August, 2012

RNC delayed by one day. Since when do Republicans pay attention to climate models?

[ 38 ] August 26, 2012 |

Everyone knows that predicting the future is incredibly easy, whereas explaining the past is incredibly difficult. For example, in 1933 everyone in the entire world could foresee that Hitler’s rise to power would lead directly to the Final Solution, whereas today, it’s impossible to prove that the Holocaust even happened. Similarly, today everyone in the Republican Party can look at the meteorological maps and foresee that delaying the convention by a day is a prudent idea, whereas a decade hence, they won’t even be able to prove that a “Hurricane Isaac” delayed their trip to “Tampa Bay” to nominate something called a “Mitt Romney” to represent their “Party” in the “White House.” It’ll be called “Convention Theory” and will, of course, merely be a “theory.”

Just like global warming and the Holocaust.

If ever there were a time to slam conservatives for their selective belief systems, it is now. If they truly don’t believe in that scientists can accurately account for climatological events, we should hold their feet to the fire and demand mandatory attendance for all planned speakers. Doesn’t matter if Jindal wants to stay in Louisiana, because by the standards he otherwise champions there’s no proof that Hurricane Isaac will hit New Orleans. It’s only a “theory.” If Isaac does hit New Orleans, it won’t mean anything other than weather. Pat Robertson won’t go on national television and declare that Isaac’s landing is God’s Punishment. The optics of Republicans partying at their convention while New Orleans drowns again won’t be indicative of the Party’s disregard for Americans who are poor or black, it’ll be a creation of the liberal media intended to make the Republicans look callous. “We’d planned this convention for months and removing Obama from office is paramount to the plight of an already drowned city,” not a single one of them will say. But some conservative bloggers will note — as they did during Katrina — that New Orleans deserves its death because it’s low-lying and within a common hurricane track, and they’ll base their conviction on solid evidence, by which they’ll mean the same geological record and climate modeling that relegates global warming to the status of “theory.”

Just like the Holocaust.


Today in Crazyland

[ 151 ] August 26, 2012 |

Any interesting news in the wingnuttery world today?

First to Maryland:

A homophobic Maryland lawmaker has admitted to being drunk when he accidentally crashed his boat into a boat full of children.

Maryland delegate Don H. Dwyer Jr was drinking with another man on his boat on the Magothy River in Pasadena around 7pm when his boat struck a smaller vessel with five children on board.

Four of the children were injured with one, a five year old girl, taken by helicopter to Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

Dwyer, a Tea Party Republican, has in the past suggested that homosexuals were a threat to children and that same-sex marriage would lead to homosexuality being taught in schools.

Dwyer has previously attempted to ban same-sex marriage in Maryland by attaching an amendment to a bill on marriage license fees and sought the sacking or impeachment of public officials who have made decisions that were supportive of same-sex couples having the right to marry.

I’d laugh at the irony of this if it wasn’t for the tragic side of it.

And then onto New Mexico:

A progressive group called on Republican National Committee leader Pat Rogers to step down on Friday after emails showed him telling New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s staff that meeting with a group of American Indians “dishonored” Gen. George Armstrong Custer, the 19th century commander who killed scores of American Indians.

“The state is going to hell,” Rogers, who is a member of the GOP executive committee and is currently in Tampa for the RNC convention, wrote in a June 8 email released by Progress Now New Mexico. Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Col. Allen Weh “would not have dishonored Col Custer in this manner,” he wrote.

Martinez is required by law to attend the annual state-tribal leaders summit, according to Progress Now New Mexico, which called for him to step down.

When discussing racism in this country, it’s easy to forget the level of vitriolic racism against Native Americans in some parts of the American West (I’m looking at you South Dakota). It is very real and shows up in the ugliest imaginable ways.

Also, how can one actually dishonor George Armstrong Custer? Didn’t he dishonor himself by his very existence?

Does anyone else remember when Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on God punishing America for its gays?

Or when John Hagee said Hurricane Katrina God was punishing New Orleans for tolerating homosexuality?

So obviously it God was punishing the nation somehow for Hurricane Isaac threatening the Republican National Convention this week in Tampa, right?

Let’s ask Rush Limbaugh what he thinks:

LIMBAUGH: So we got a hurricane coming. The National Hurricane Center, which is a government agency, is very hopeful that the hurricane gets near Tampa. The National Hurricane Center is Obama. It’s the National Weather Service, part of the commerce department. It’s Obama. The media, it’s all about the hurricane hitting next week, and they’re not talking about Biden, they’re talking about this Hurricane Isaac thing. Well, you know, we who live in south Florida become experts. We don’t need the National Hurricane Center, and we don’t need all these weather dolts analyzing this for us. Well, we need the center, we can look at their charts and graphs, we know what to do, we can read the stuff. I’ve been tracking the charted forecast track of the storm, and they’re moving it sometimes to the east. The latest, 11 o’clock, they moved it to the west as a cat 1 impact in Naples, Fort Myers area.

This morning at five a.m., the impact was Miami. We’re still not talking about ’til next Tuesday, so it’s gonna be all over the ballpark between now and then. We don’t know where this thing is gonna hit. The models are moving it more and more out into the Gulf. I wouldn’t be surprised if this thing hits in Louisiana someplace when it’s all said and done. Just kidding. Nobody knows, but they’re desperately hoping, they’re so desperately hoping for Tampa. The media, you know, I can see Obama sending FEMA in in advance of the hurricane hitting Tampa so that the Republican convention is nothing but a bunch of tents in Tampa, a bunch of RVs and stuff. (laughing) Make it look like a disaster area before the hurricane even hits there.


And while I suppose it helps to have columnists like Tim Egan talk about “The Crackpot Caucus” within the Republican Party when it comes to science, isn’t basically the entire Republican Party a Crackpot Caucus in 2012?

RNC delayed by one day. Only 18,249 more and it’ll “catch up” with its platform.*

[ 41 ] August 25, 2012 |

*Estimate may not subtract to account for leap days because math is hard.

Thomas Meyer’s Beowulf

[ 18 ] August 25, 2012 |

Via Eileen Joy and the outstanding number of medievalists I know on Facebook, I see that Thomas Meyer‘s translation of Beowulf is now available. For free. It possesses a striking cover:


And though I haven’t had a chance to read it yet—this translation, I mean, because I’ve obviously read Beowulf before—the excerpt from the publisher accords neatly with my recent obsession on the relation of form to content in film:

The eyes of Hygelac’s kin watched the wicked raider
execute his quick attack:
without delay,
snatching his first chance,
a sleeping warrior,
he tore him in two,
chomped muscle, sucked veins’
gushing blood,
gulped down his morsel, the dead man,
chunk by chunk,
hands, feet & all. &


never before had
sinherd feared anything so.

As the publisher notes, “the reader is confronted with the words themselves running together, as if in panic, in much the same way that the original passage seems in such a rush to tell the story of the battle that bodies become confused.” This is a readerly experimental mode, in which the formal experimentation is meant to assist the reader in understanding the content of the poem by replicating the experience being described. The fact that that it’s not easy to parse that second stanza is the point. (I’ve read it about twenty times now I still keep seeing the word “dreach,” if only because it sounds like a word that belongs in Beowulf.) Point being, there are far worse ways to spend your Saturday night than reading a poem in which “hot gore pour[s] upon whirlpools.”

Or with supporting an endeavor which, to quote Eileen,

Every book we make, we will give away for free in electronic form, because we believe in the richest possible artistic-intellectual para-university commons in which everyone has access to whatever they need and want, whenever they need and want it, and so that authors can have the widest possible readership. But we also believe in the printed book: as work of art, as a stylish object for one’s cabinet of curiosities, as a material comfort [or bracing cocktail] to hold in one’s hands, as something that takes up weight and space in the world and adds something of beauty to the thoughts, images, and narratives we hold in common.

If You Believe They Put A Man on the Moon

[ 18 ] August 25, 2012 |

Homer Simpson and the moon-landing from Flow Experience on Vimeo.


All Hail President Christie!

[ 18 ] August 25, 2012 |

New Jersey now has a higher unemployment rate than Michigan.

Maybe there are some more useful infrastructure money he can turn down so he can turn around and give taxpayer money to rich people so they can build more instantly-bankrupt casinos in a city with a shrinking gambling market. That will solve everything!

Dance of the Vampires

[ 3 ] August 25, 2012 |

This is a fun little account of the origins of one of my favorite Tom Clancy sequences; the attack on the USS Nimitz in Red Storm Rising:

The level of granularity required to produce a credible account of modern naval warfare is daunting. The fighting usually occurs at great distances, the combatants beyond visual range of one another. In Harpoon, the interplay between sensors, targets, and the actual launching of weapons is intricate and multi-layered, and, as Bond’s referee notes reveal, taxing to track even with the aid of a computer. The referee must know, for example, which ships and planes are “radiating” electronic emissions (i.e., actively utilizing their sensor capabilities), since these emissions are subject in turn to detection by hostile forces who may or may not be radiating emissions of their own. Each set of sensors has unique capabilities and characteristics, and attempting to develop a narrative account of their performance absent an explicit background model is all but impossible. Thus the course tracks and calculations required by the game became invaluable scaffolding for the prose depictions in the novel, many of which are given over to the elaborate task of plotting the location of the American task force: “The raid commander compared this datum with that from the reconnaissance satellite. Now he had two pieces of information. The Americans’ position three hours ago was sixty miles south of the estimated plot for the Hawkeye [aircraft]. The Americans probably had two of them up, northeast and northwest of the formation … So the carrier group was right about … here” (223).

Red Storm Rising gives us an explicit linkage between plot in the narrative sense and a “plot” as a means of navigation, with both of those meanings facilitated by the Harpoon game system. The novel is thus not only a landmark of a certain type of genre fiction, but an artifact of procedural approaches to fiction writing.

We did something similar in my (as yet unpublished) book on the Air Force, gaming out how procurement and warfighting would look different given alternative organizational assumptions and so forth. The nice thing about this kind of approach from a fictional standpoint is that while each game ends with a particular outcome, the contingent points of the exercise are clear and can be put to use in service of whatever the larger narrative demands.

This Day in Labor History: August 25, 1925

[ 18 ] August 25, 2012 |

On this date in 1925, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was founded. Led by A. Philip Randolph, this labor union became the most important civil rights organization in mid-20th century America, arguably as important as the NAACP.

Racism shut most jobs to black people in the early 20th century, but the Pullman Company was willing to hire them as waiters and porters on their train sleeping cars. Acquiring such a job basically put one squarely into the black middle class. Yet Pullman’s definition of these service job as black work meant replicating the servant/master relationship that defined so much African-American labor through American history. Within the African-American community, the job provided a great deal of dignity, but that dignity had to be abnegated in interactions with whites on the train.

Being a porter may have been a relatively good job, but that doesn’t mean it was actually a good job. Porters were dependent on tips for most of their income, making subservience a central point to their existence. The conditions of work were poor. Salaries were low and porters had to provide their own uniforms, food, and lodging. They spent up to half of their income just maintaining themselves in the job.

A. Philip Randolph was the son of a minister and seamstress. His family was well-established in the black middle of class of turn of the century Jacksonville. But that was a pretty awful time for African-Americans. The institutionalization of Jim Crow, violent repression of black political organizing, and rampant lynching defined the period. His parents were deeply involved in the community, going so far as to arm themselves to protect a prisoner from lynching when Randolph was a child. At the age of 21, in 1910, he joined the Socialist Party, founded a newspaper dedicated to issues of race and class, and organized a union of elevator operators in 1917 before turning to organizing the sleeping car porters.

Randolph’s new union provoked fierce opposition from a number of quarters. Pullman executives called Randolph a communist. The company hired a lot of spies to infiltrate the union and report back on whatever its workers said. Company thugs beat organizers. That was to be expected, but the company also had allies in the black elite of Chicago, who saw Randolph as a troublemaker and the best jobs for their people threatened by the Brotherhood. Randolph undertook a decade-long campaign to influence elite black opinion-makers to the necessity of this organization. Yet the union continued to struggle for survival. Pullman refused to negotiate, partially because of its opposition to organized labor, partially because these workers were black.

One reason the black community was suspicious of the union is that white organized labor had treated them like the enemy for a century. They felt, with good reason, that employers had their interests much more in mind than white workers. Randolph had to overcome these real concerns, which he did in part by eschewing reliance upon whites for any part of union activities. In fact, the Brotherhood was not the first attempt by black sleeping car porters organize. As early as 1900, porters engaged in repeated organizing attempts, which the company soon crushed. Randolph had a complicated history with the AFL. He worked to organize a union of African-American shipyard workers in Virginia in 1921 but the AFL forced it to disband. By the 20s, the AFL came under greater pressure to open organized labor to non-whites and it did give charters to some Brotherhood locals, but still denied a charter to the international until 1935.

It’s also important to avoid the narrative so common in both labor and African-American history (and maybe all of history) to identify a movement or an event with a single individual. While we can’t overstate Randolph’s importance, he was hardly the only person running the organization. Men like Milton Price Webster, more or less forgotten about today, played absolutely central roles in the union. A long-time organizer and former porter fired by Pullman for his unionization attempts, he provided invaluable experience and connections for Randolph, despite skepticism for the latter’s socialist beliefs.

The union, like so much of organized labor during the 1920s, was not particularly successful in forcing the company to the bargaining table. Although it soon signed up about half the porters, company resistance was overwhelming. The company made connections with law enforcement in cities with a lot of porters to bust up union meetings for instance. The union decided to strike in 1928 in order to get the National Mediation Board to force Pullman to the bargaining table, but the company convinced the NMB that the Brotherhood did not represent enough workers to get involved and Randolph had to call off the strike at the last minute. Still, the union struggled along, in no small part because it was such a valuable member of the growing civil rights movement in the 1930s. Southern states banned the Chicago Defender, the nation’s most important African-American newspaper, from the mails, but the Brotherhood brought it with them on trips to the South and spread it into the communities that way.

It wasn’t until the Wagner Act passed that the Brotherhood was guaranteed survival and the Pullman Company finally agreed to contract in 1937. The contract achieved improved pay, overtime pay, and a shorter workweek. But even by 1937, the job of the railroad porter had begun to disappear as Americans moved to private vehicles for transportation. The union survived until 1978, when it merged with the Brotherhood of Railway, Airline, Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express, and Station Employees. But it’s membership had been small for decades before that merger. It actually had a brief change of resurgence with the creation of Amtrak in 1971, but in 1974, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) won that contract and its days were numbered.

Randolph remained at the center of African-American organizing until the day he died, most famously calling for a March on Washington in 1941 to protest discrimination and segregation in industries receiving defense contracts, a threat that led President Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802, establishing the Fair Employment Practices Committee and forcing open employers receiving defense contracts to black workers.

The legacy of the Sleeping Car Porters remained powerful in the early years of the Civil Rights Movement. Not only did Randolph receive a major supporting role in Martin Luther King’s March on Washington but he also played a key role in convincing John Lewis to tone down his harsh speech representing SNCC’s increasingly uncompromising position at the event. Randolph also played a huge role in pressuring Harry Truman to end segregation in the armed forces, which he did in 1948. Among the union members to help shape the movement on the local level was E.D. Nixon, probably the single most important person in laying the groundwork for the Montgomery movement that sparked the modern era of the movement in 1955.

This is the 40th post in this series. The entire series is archived here.

Fear of a Black President

[ 49 ] August 25, 2012 |

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s essay, “Fear of a Black President,” is probably the best essay on this country I’ve read in 2012. It’s hard to even know what to excerpt here. Of many excellent passages, I’ll go with this one:

What we are now witnessing is not some new and complicated expression of white racism—rather, it’s the dying embers of the same old racism that once rendered the best pickings of America the exclusive province of unblackness. Confronted by the thoroughly racialized backlash to Obama’s presidency, a stranger to American politics might conclude that Obama provoked the response by relentlessly pushing an agenda of radical racial reform. Hardly. Daniel Gillion, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies race and politics, examined the Public Papers of the Presidents, a compilation of nearly all public presidential utterances—­proclamations, news-conference remarks, executive orders—and found that in his first two years as president, Obama talked less about race than any other Democratic president since 1961. Obama’s racial strategy has been, if anything, the opposite of radical: he declines to use his bully pulpit to address racism, using it instead to engage in the time-honored tradition of black self-hectoring, railing against the perceived failings of black culture.

His approach is not new. It is the approach of Booker T. Washington, who, amid a sea of white terrorists during the era of Jim Crow, endorsed segregation and proclaimed the South to be a land of black opportunity. It is the approach of L. Douglas Wilder, who, in 1986, not long before he became Virginia’s first black governor, kept his distance from Jesse Jackson and told an NAACP audience: “Yes, dear Brutus, the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves … Some blacks don’t particularly care for me to say these things, to speak to values … Somebody’s got to. We’ve been too excusing.” It was even, at times, the approach of Jesse Jackson himself, who railed against “the rising use of drugs, and babies making babies, and violence … cutting away our opportunity.”

The strategy can work. Booker T.’s Tuskegee University still stands. Wilder became the first black governor in America since Reconstruction. Jackson’s campaign moved the Democratic nominating process toward proportional allocation of delegates, a shift that Obama exploited in the 2008 Democratic primaries by staying competitive enough in big states to rack up delegates even where he was losing, and rolling up huge vote margins (and delegate-count victories) in smaller ones.

And yet what are we to make of an integration premised, first, on the entire black community’s emulating the Huxt­ables? An equality that requires blacks to be twice as good is not equality—it’s a double standard. That double standard haunts and constrains the Obama presidency, warning him away from candor about America’s sordid birthmark.

All I can say is that I am extremely excited for Coates’ book on African-Americans and Civil War memory to come out.

And if you haven’t read this essay, put down what you are doing and spend the next 10 minutes on it. It’s amazing.

And All References to Theo Epstein Will be Removed From The Red Sox Media Guide

[ 64 ] August 25, 2012 |

On the pending blockbuster, see Neyer, Jaffe, and Cameron.

For the Red Sox, this trade is obviously pure win. (And should also be a reminder that while Valentine will probably get fired and probably deserves to, the real problem the Red Sox have is that Brian Cashman spent three years cleaning Theo Epstein’s clock.) Dumping the Beckett and especially Crawford contracts is a major coup — the only way it could be better is if Tony Reagins were running the Dodgers and agreed to take Lackey’s contract as well. Even if you assume that Gonzalez is just having an off year rather than entering his decline phase the trade would be a major win for Boston if they got nothing in return — and they got some real pieces back.

This doesn’t mean the trade is as bad for LA as it is good for Boston. Flags fly forever, and the Dodgers are in a position where some upgrades could make the difference between the postseason and the golf course. Even at a 2012 level of performance Gonzalez is obviously a huge upgrade over Loney and he’s probably better than that. Although the decline in K rate is a little alarming Beckett has been a better pitcher than his ERA this year would suggest. It’s really just a question of how much the ghastly Crawford contract will constrain them going forward. If they can sign Kershaw anyway it might be a worthwhile gamble; if they can’t I wouldn’t consider doing it.

Buzz Bissinger is off his meds

[ 21 ] August 25, 2012 |

crazy guy

Assuming this really is his Twitter account (it’s so hard to tell in this topsy-turvy pomo world). Samples of his wit and wisdom:

I put my ass out there in Newsweek. I still believe in Armstrong. Some will like. Some will hate. At least not another pussy sports writer.

Exactly the problem with this pussy-whipped country: somebody says fuck and people pass out. Then buy a gun legally shoot themselves in ass.

. . . and in response to further criticism that his discourse lacks a certain delicacy and circumspection:


I kinda sorta agree with his take on the affair Armstrong, and I’m not averse to the occasional well-placed expletive for emphasis, but referring to the U.S. of A. as “pussy-whipped” seems . . . ah fuck it.

And Trent Lott Just Really Liked Strom Thurmond’s Position on Cotton Subsidies

[ 35 ] August 25, 2012 |

Shorter Ann Althouse: “Romney’s appeal to birthers is simply a claim that Obama is un-American, which therefore cannot be racist.  Romney/Ryan, by opposing social programs that Americans overwhelmingly support and supporting massive upper-class tax cuts Americans overwhelmingly oppose, are the real Americans.   At any rate, the fact that wholly evidence-free claims that the first African-American president was born outside the United States are believed by a plurality of Republicans certainly has nothing to do with race, and Romney’s pandering to this group is clever if not admirable.”

Althouse, as she has in the past, is working at an impressive level where she can encompass both ironic post-birtherism and birther curiosity, although admittedly David Koch got there first.      For further context, it’s worth recalling the strains Althouse is willing to undergo in order to invent farcical claims of racism against Democrats.

…In a great catch from Jesse Taylor, La Althouse in comments: “There’s also the fact that the state Obama was born in is Hawaii… so immensely far from the rest of the country.” A shiny new copy of An Army of Morons Davids to the first reader who can find Althouse making a similar claim about Sarah Palin or of evidence of an anti-Palin birther movement among Republicans. She comes from so far away from the rest of the country! Noon, you must have the goods!

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