Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Erik Loomis

rss feed

Visit Erik Loomis's Website

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?

The Impaler

[ 41 ] September 14, 2013 |

Jonah Keri on the wondrous career of the great Vladimir Guerrero, a player no one could reasonably not love to watch.

The Liberal Conspiracy

[ 115 ] September 14, 2013 |

Evidently, mentioning that football leads to massive brain trauma is a liberal conspiracy against real America.

In other news, I think we all are cheering for Oregon to crush Tennessee today in the kind of north over south victory that hasn’t been witnessed since the days of one W.T. Sherman.

Film Side Blog

[ 46 ] September 13, 2013 |

So I am a terrible writer about art. Cliche, cliche, and then I throw in some more cliche. It’s really hard. But writing about film helps me remember what I actually watch since I am also getting old and forget things. So I started a little film blog on the side to write short reviews of what I watch. Since the point of such things is show how much better one is than others through the writer’s self-determined superior taste, there’s also that. Anyway, I’ll throw a link to it occasionally. Here’s the first posts:

Solaris, Soderbergh, 2002
Django Unchained, Tarantino, 2012
The Artist, Hazanavicius, 2011
A Cat in Paris, Gagnol and Felicioli, 2011
At the Edge of the World, Stone and Gambuti, 2008
Life Without Principle, To, 2011
Outrage, Kitano, 2010
Vengeance, To, 2009
The River’s Edge, Dwan, 1957
Silent Souls, Fedorchenko, 2010
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, Herzog via Vasyukov, 2010
9500 Liberty, Byler and Park, 2009
Cedar Rapids, Arteta, 2011

I included the director names for maximum pretension.

Feel free to argue with me over there about whatnot.

…Special extra cranky bonus review for Keyhole, Maddin, 2011.

Colombian Protests

[ 4 ] September 13, 2013 |

Americas South and North is always valuable for what’s going on in Latin America. Evidently there are major farmers’ protests taking place in Colombia, of which I was completely unaware. John Marks has a good post about it.

….Link fixed

Anarchism: Doing Intellectual Work for Conservatism

[ 225 ] September 13, 2013 |

There’s a new organization in Washington:

R Street is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit organization. It believes that freedom and free markets work better than the alternatives. R Street can fairly be described as “free market” or “libertarian.” Insofar as R Street looks to thinkers like John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and James C. Scott as guides to good public policy, it might fairly be described as part of the political right. At the same time, R Street is concerned—passionately—with making sure government does its work in an efficient, effective manner. Above all, R Street is much more interested in solving problems and working with others than in winning political fights.

Ah, a libertarian think tank citing James Scott as an inspiration.

James Scott is a great writer and scholar. But I’m not surprised that he would also inspire conservatives. Anarchism does tremendous intellectual work for conservatism, especially at its libertarian end. Anarchism is ultimately a troubled ideology with no possibility of ever achieving meaningful change in society. The reason for that is that while everyday humans can create behavioral changes, it takes the state to codify and enforce those changes and always has. We might all think gays are the equal of heterosexuals in 2013. But it’s only in 13 or so states that our beliefs on that front have any legal meaning at all. I guess in an anarchist paradise we will all come to accept other people as they are. In the real world, hate and intolerance reign supreme and must be controlled through legal means.

The state is central to any functioning society and undercutting the state, whether by Scott or anyone else, ultimately serves a conservative project more effectively than any anarchist project because one has access to power and the other never will. So conservatives can point to Seeing Like a State and talk about state failures with all sorts of concrete examples. They can use that to reject state intervention anywhere they want. It’s high modernism! It’s state oppression! Look at the people killed in Soviet collectivization! Brasilia! Tanzanian villagization!

The book is brilliant and demonstrates the perils of the outer limits of state control over the citizenry. The downside of Seeing Like a State is that it’s highly incomplete as a critique of the state. Scott picks out the worst possible actions of centralized states and ignores the many necessary and wonderful things that states accomplish by serving as a way for citizens to change the structure of their society and have that backed up with the force of law. In other words, no state, no anti-lynching laws. This doesn’t mean the state is perfect. Obviously. But it does mean it is absolutely necessary to positive and concrete change that transforms society.

Of course conservatives are misreading Scott and taking from it what they want. But who cares? They don’t. Conservatives has intentionally misread Adam Smith and James Madison for 200 years. Why would they not intentionally misread James Scott?

One of the greatest fears I have about the modern age is the distrust of the state on both the right and the left. This vastly helps the right because it undermines the one effective institution that has created the most concrete positive change for progressives, racial minorities, women, and working-class people in history. Take that way and what do we have left? Farmers’ markets and bicycle repair collectives?

The Decline of DeNiro

[ 124 ] September 13, 2013 |

It seems to me that one of the tragedies of film in the last twenty years was Robert DeNiro deciding he still wanted to work a lot but he had no desire to try or push himself in his work. One could argue it’s the same for Pacino, but not only does DeNiro have a deeper catalog of great films than Pacino but I feel he’s just a better actor (although obviously Pacino’s top 5 films stack up with anyone’s in film history so you may disagree).

…..One piece of evidence here to DeNiro really not trying. Scorsese wanted to cast him as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York but DeNiro didn’t want to have to travel to Italy where the film was shot. While I guess I understand that, it’s pretty clear that he has no problem passing up roles for easy paychecks.

American Exceptionalism

[ 154 ] September 13, 2013 |

Another reason to have faith in America’s young people:

Just 32% of Millennials believe the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. That number progressively increases among the Gen X (48%), Boomer (50%) and Silent generations (64%). Millennials were also the most likely generation to say America is not the greatest country in the world (11%).

Millennials also are less likely than their elders to express patriotism. A majority of Millennials (70%) agreed with the statement “I am very patriotic.” But even larger percentages of Gen Xers (86%), Boomers (91%) and Silents (90%) said the same. This generational gap is consistent and has been identified in surveys dating back to 2003.

Putin’s all-time classic trolling of the United States in his Times op-ed did at least have the true statement that American exceptionalism is ridiculous.

You know what is exceptional about the United States?

Our belief in American exceptionalism.

And that’s about it.

The Story of Susie

[ 18 ] September 12, 2013 |

Country music will warn you about many things. Among them is to watch out for strangers with drugs.

Every drug known to man, she now knew them all.


[ 62 ] September 12, 2013 |

Time to make an announcement that’s been in the works for awhile.

Today, I signed a contract with The New Press. The book is tentatively titled “Out of Sight: A Century of Corporations Outsourcing Catastrophe” and is a history of American corporate mobility that builds connections between current labor conditions in the developing world and corporations avoiding labor and environmental regulations by moving their sites of production around the planet. Bridging the 102 years between the Triangle Fire of 1911 and the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the book examines how corporations responded to effective regulations that made American workplaces safer and American air and water cleaner not by becoming good corporate citizens, but instead by moving production to recreate the dangerous work and unregulated pollution of the Gilded Age.

Hiding industrial production from American consumers has proven an incredibly effective corporate strategy. Citizens are no longer galvanized by the Triangle Fire to create reforms and corporations work with government officials to suppress the unions in overseas plants that could publicize the conditions of work. Clothes appear on hangers and meat in nicely wrapped packages without most Americans giving a second thought to how those products arrived at their fingertips. Chapters examine the history of exploiting female labor in the textile industry, strategies to hide meat production from consumers, the outsourcing of pollution to the world’s poor, and the effects of outsourcing on the long-term stability of the American working class. Finally it suggests ways American consumers and activists can work to ensure products are produced in environmentally sustainable and dignified conditions, using examples ranging from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to the LaFollette Seaman’s Act, which set minimum standards for working conditions aboard ships bringing goods to the United States, effectively creating a race to the top in that industry, to suggest workable paths to a better future for the planet and the global working class. Ultimately, we need internationally enforceable labor and environmental standards that allow workers to sue corporations in the corporate nation or origin or in international courts. Without making labor and environmental regulations as mobile as capital investment, we cannot stop the scourge of capital mobility’s exploitation of labor and nature.

I always said my hatred of capitalism should make me some money. And amazingly, it now has.