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[ 106 ] September 19, 2013 |

This new pope is surprising to say the least. If he’s making the nutcase Bishop of Providence (who is a real piece of work) mad because he’s not frothing at the mouth about abortion and suppressing gays, this is a real improvement.

The Best Song of 2013

[ 29 ] September 18, 2013 |

Others may have their own choice for the year’s best song, but I don’t know that I’ve heard a song as powerful as Jason Isbell’s “Elephant.” Note: this is not a song that will make you feel happy. It is about cancer. Be warned.

Quit Telling the Poor What They Need

[ 99 ] September 18, 2013 |

The world’s poor indeed want to have fun and perhaps they want to have fun more than they want indoor plumbing, especially if the latter is hard to imagine. In any case, I agree with the op-ed that the spread of the internet to the developing world leading to more fun is in itself a great thing and that people need to stop telling the poor what they should want with their lives.

Unnecessary Presidential Biopics

[ 189 ] September 18, 2013 |

Warner Brothers is trying to sign Leonardo DiCaprio up for a biopic on Woodrow Wilson. Why do we need a biopic on Woodrow Wilson? I have no idea. Maybe it will center on Wilson holding a screening of Birth of a Nation in the White House. More likely it will center Wilson and the Versailles Treaty and neoconservatives will be excited. The AV Club brings the proper snark:

It’s likely the film will also cover some aspect of Wilson’s post-presidency, as he spent the rest of his life pushing the victorious Allies to form a League of Nations, only to see the U.S. Senate reject membership. It’s probably less likely that the film will spend a lot of time on Wilson’s history as a white supremacist who re-segregated most federal institutions for the first time since Reconstruction, and either demoted or fired as many African-American government employees as he could.

Ketchup Revisited

[ 240 ] September 17, 2013 |

Building on this, here is some information on ketchup. Glad to see I’m not the only one exploring this key question to 21st century life:

Surely the big question is: when did it get here? To which the big answer is: some time in the early 1700s. It first shows up in an English cookbook in 1727, in Elizabeth Smith’s The Compleat Housewife. One of her recipes calls for “a little ketchup, pepper, salt, and nutmeg, the brains a little boiled and chopped, with half a spoonful of flour”.

Brains? In 1727 it was normal to eat brains.

Ah. I see. But not tomatoes? Not in ketchup, no, because it wasn’t originally made with tomatoes. Back in 1876, when Henry Heinz first marketed his now ubiquitous creation, “tomato ketchup” was just one of many ketchups on the market.

So what’s ketchup doing now? Feeling the squeeze. Sales of Heinz tomato ketchup have fallen 7% over the past year.

Why? Possibly because, after 137 years, we’re getting bored of it. According to the Grocer, the fall in ketchup sales was accompanied by a rise in sales of chilli sauce, mayonnaise, dressings and “other ethnic sauces”.

I’ll say this for our ancestors: their version of ketchup made with brains was no doubt a superior condiment than the sugary-sweet ketchup that pollutes food today.

But you do have to give credit to Americans for increasingly rejecting ketchup in favor of salsa, hot sauce, and other condiments. If we are lucky, you will all continue to shun your neighbors who use ketchup, convince them of their poor taste, and reform them into people who use tasty condiments. We will know we have advanced as a nation when we follow the example of our Belgian comrades and prefer mayo on our fries.

1876 is also not only the year with an election that led to the end of Reconstruction. It’s also the year modern ketchup came on the market. Now that’s a bad year.

…..Also, here’s an interesting history of ketchup, including its non-tomato varieties. Pretty much like most popular histories it talks of Heinz as the one good employer who treated his workers fairly, blah, blah. I don’t know anything about the details of Heinz labor relations, but I do know that if every public historical discussion of how the rich treated their employees were true, we’d never need a union in this country.

Harry Potter and Working Conditions

[ 17 ] September 17, 2013 |

This is an interesting story about how a sizable group of Harry Potter fans have organized to push Warner Brothers to make sure that Harry Potter-themed products are produced in fair and just conditions. The Harry Potter Alliance believes chocolate associated with the series is produced using child labor in Africa. It is pressuring Warner Brothers to ensure it is produced without child labor. WB claims it looked into it and is fine, but of course there is no transparency here.

This is a case when there is absolutely no reason not to source products with fair employers. Like with Apple products, the buyers are willing to pay high prices already because of the commitment to the brand. Raising those prices by a tiny amount to cover chocolate produced by adults, clothing made in safe factories, and (in Apple’s case) computers not produced in plants that require suicide nets to keep workers from jumping out windows, is an obvious call. Even outside of the morality of the issue and the fact that no products should be produced this way, it’s a clear upside for the corporations who can claim they care about these issues. But producing goods as cheaply as possible is more than just a business decision. It’s an ideology and the hippies who oppose it hate capitalism or something.

This also shows how motivated consumer groups can still make a difference in workers’ lives, but it’s much harder to do when there is such distance between production and consumption. When New Yorkers saw women jumping out of the Asch Building during the Triangle Fire in 1910, they were motivated to demand change because of their own personal experiences. Outsourcing clothing to Bangladesh or producing chocolate in west Africa (admittedly there are climatic and soil limitations on where the crop can grow) make it extremely difficult to know anything meaningful by the conditions of production. And this is a huge benefit for corporations.


[ 168 ] September 17, 2013 |

Megan McArdle gives some really useful advice to young people who find themselves out of work. Among that advice is take jobs for free, don’t complain about the current economic climate and your lack of a job you whiny privileged brat because you didn’t grow up in the middle of an Angolan civil war so you don’t know how lucky you have it*, realize that your poverty is going to open up life opportunities like starting hobbies, and avoid your friends.

While Adam Weinstein is actually responding to a different post where a rich person complains about young people whining because they are poor, I think his response works pretty well for McArdle:

2) Go f**k yourselves.

You have no idea about student debt, underemployment, life-long renting. “Stop feeling special” is some shitty advice. I don’t feel special or entitled, just poor. The only thing that makes me special is I have more ballooning debt than you. I’ve tempered the hell out of my expectations of work, and I’ve exceeded those expectations crazily to have one interesting, exciting damned career that’s culminated in some leadership roles for national publications. And I’m still poor and in debt and worked beyond the point where it can be managed with my health and my desire to actually see the son I’m helping to raise.

Younger journos see me as a success story and ask my advice, and I feel like a fraud, because I’m doing what I love, and it makes me completely miserable and exhausts me.

Last weekend my baby had a fever, and we contemplated taking him to the ER, and my first thought was – had to be – “Oh God, that could wipe out our bank account! Maybe he can just ride it out?” Our status in this Big Financial Game had sucked my basic humanity towards my child away for a minute. If I wish for something better, is that me simply being entitled and delusional?

*Shorter McArdle in 1935–”Stop complaining about your poverty. The Salvation Army gives you a free meal once a day if you listen to their sermon. You think people who lived in the Black Death had bowls of soup from the Salvation Army? Landon ’36!”

FLSA Extended to Home Care Workers

[ 11 ] September 17, 2013 |

It’s about time the Fair Labor Standards Act was extended to home care workers, meaning that minimum wage and overtime law applies to them. I don’t really know why they were specifically excluded in 1975, but kudos to the Obama Administration for ending this problem. A real victory for working people.


[ 9 ] September 15, 2013 |

$10 an hour is not enough to live on, especially in California. But the Golden State creating the highest minimum wage in the nation is a major step in the right direction. Hopefully a national $10 wage will become an important progressive priority soon.

Say Hello to Our New Oceanic Overlords

[ 47 ] September 15, 2013 |

Jellyfish are taking over the world. And they love the conditions of the ocean created by climate change. Not only are the oceans likely to become jellyfish deserts that also make swimming in many areas increasingly dangerous, but they also wreak tremendous havoc on economic activity along the coasts, not to mention shipping.

Forgot our robot overlords. It’s jellyfish overlords that we actually have to worry about.

The linked article is terrifying.

The 50th Anniversary of the Birmingham Church Bombing

[ 45 ] September 15, 2013 |

This is a guest post by Robert Widell, who is unlucky enough to be my colleague in the history department at the University of Rhode Island, yet still watches Oregon crush Tennessee with me despite his affinity for the Auburn Tigers. His book, Birmingham and the Long Black Freedom Struggle is coming out later this month from Palgrave MacMillan. You can follow him on Twitter at @ProfessorWidell.

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Earlier this week the four girls that were killed in that blast, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair, were each awarded a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony that also included Addie Mae’s sister, Sarah Collins Rudolph, who survived the attack but was herself critically injured. Much of the coverage of the anniversary has noted the role of the tragedy, coming as it did on the heels of the March on Washington that summer and the Birmingham Campaign that spring, in further galvanizing national support for the Civil Rights Movement. Pointing out subsequent milestones like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights of 1965 is a seemingly obligatory part of such stories. Indeed, the popular narrative of the bombing portrays it as a reference point for how much progress the country has made since that day.

Retellings of the efforts by Alabama’s Attorney General, Bill Baxley, to reopen the case in the 1970s and secure the conviction of Robert “Dynamite Bob” Chambliss – as well as the successful convictions of Chambliss’ co-conspirators, Bobby Frank Cherry and Thomas Blanton, in the early 2000s – reinforce such notions. These stories celebrate the fact that Baxley pursued the case despite being a white Alabama native and emphasize that the convictions are remarkable in part because they would have been unlikely in the immediate wake of the bombing.

When presented as a story of “justice delayed yet not denied,” though, the bombing is too easily rendered simply a tragic misstep in the country’s inevitable march toward post-racial harmony. In truth, it was a cruel reminder of how much work remained to be done. And while the story of Baxley’s response to the hate mail he received from white supremacist Edward Fields has to be considered one of the finest uses ever of official state letterhead, a focus on one man’s personal commitment to justice obscures the more intractable institutional racism that persists into the present.

At least part of the problem is Americans’ unease with dealing directly with the United States’ violent and brutal past. Americans wish to consign events like the bombing to an unenlightened past that no longer bears any relation to the present. In a similar way, Americans have an understandable desire to transform tragedies like the church bombing into stories of transcendence with ultimately uplifting resolutions. Death, particularly that of young children, is difficult to accept and the search for silver linings, however faint, becomes a coping mechanism. Victims are transformed into heroes and martyrs; their deaths viewed as part of what Martin Luther King, Jr. referenced in his call to “redeem the soul of America.

Although such dynamics are worthy of further exploration, the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing also provides an opportunity to reassess the popular understanding of Birmingham’s local freedom struggle and the impact of the tragedy on the city itself.

Birmingham burst onto the national stage in the spring of 1963 when images of schoolchildren being attacked by fire hoses and police dogs drew national and international media attention. Those attacks were part of the response by police commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor to the campaign led by King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and its local affiliate, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), to push for the desegregation of the city’s downtown stores and businesses. Remembered, as well, for inspiring King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the Birmingham Campaign was a primary factor in convincing President Kennedy to draft what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Yet, as Glenn Eskew demonstrates in But for Birmingham, as much as the Birmingham Campaign generated national momentum for the Civil Rights Movement, it did little to change conditions for African Americans at the local level. Poverty, police brutality, inadequate municipal services, poor housing, and other problems remained persistent concerns for Birmingham’s black community.

In this context, then, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church is less the story of an event that would further galvanize white support for the national movement and more a cruel reminder that, on the local level, Jim Crow was alive and well. In fact, Birmingham’s well-deserved reputation as a particularly violent defender of white supremacy – garnering the city the name “Bombingham” – meant that from a local perspective the bombing was in many ways business as usual.

At the same time, though, Birmingham’s black community had an equally long history of challenging Jim Crow. Indeed, had it been otherwise, violence would not have been so necessary to uphold it. In the more immediate term, there would have been no 1963 Birmingham Campaign without the local foundation laid by the work of Fred Shuttlesworth and the ACMHR. In the longer term, Birmingham had been home to indigenous efforts aimed at challenging Jim Crow since the early twentieth century. This longer history of black activism, especially within the context of the city’s penchant for racial violence, ensured that in the wake of the bombing Birmingham’s black community continued to do what it had always done: it organized and fought back.

In the years between 1963 and the election of Birmingham’s first black mayor, Richard Arrington, in 1979, a new generation of black activists emerged to carry the local black freedom struggle forward into the late-twentieth century. Comprised of Vietnam veterans, welfare recipients, public housing residents, steelworkers, hospital workers, and others, this new generation took to the streets, courthouses, union halls, and churches to stake their claim to not just “civil rights” but a broader freedom agenda that included economic justice, black self-determination, and an end to racial violence.

Unfortunately, the new phase of black activism that emerged in Birmingham during the post-1963 period has been excluded from both the local and national narrative of the movement. It was this new phase, though, that demonstrated the true legacy of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Through their actions, groups like the Committee for Equal Job Opportunity, the Public Employees Organizing Committee, and the Alabama Black Liberation Front made it clear that, even in the face of deadly violence, they would extend the long black freedom struggle into the 1970s and beyond.

On this day, then, I will remember Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. But I will do so in way that views the tragedy as a reminder that the long black freedom struggle that their deaths was intended to stop must continue. In the current historical moment – when African Americans remain confronted by mass incarceration, deepening poverty, and continued racial violence – it is essential to remind ourselves that frustration and despair must give way to activism and engagement.


[ 531 ] September 14, 2013 |

Here’s the thing about ketchup. It’s disgusting and those who love it should reexamine their priorities and the meaning of their lives. So I am righteously outraged that the Detroit Tigers fired this hot dog vendor who expressed his disdain to fans who wanted ketchup on their dogs, proving to the world that they did not deserve the suffrage.

And I’m not saying the mustard is the only acceptable condiment on a hot dog. At the ballpark maybe, but in real life, obviously sauerkraut is also a superior condiment. And in Mexico you can get all kinds of crazy awesome stuff on hot dogs. But ketchup, I mean really, doesn’t its existence make one question Darwin’s theory of evolution?

Note–I am talking about mass produced tomato ketchup here. Ketchup produced with other fruits or homemade stuff that is actually good, that’s different.

One also must wonder about the crossover between people who put ketchup on hot dogs and those who call vodka cocktails “martinis.”

UPDATE: Am I the only one who thinks kimchi on hot dogs could be really good?