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Children of Eve

[ 10 ] January 24, 2015 |

Like most of you, I spend my Saturday nights watching silent films. Title cards like this one from Children of Eve are one reason.

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It’s almost as if directors from 100 years ago are speaking to me from the grave.

…This title card is followed by a reenactment of the Triangle Fire and subsequent heartbreak.

…If we are strictly comparing the awesomeness of title cards however, this one from The Inside of the White Slave Traffic, from 1913, is hard to beat.

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Sweatshop Reality Show

[ 32 ] January 24, 2015 |

I’m a little torn on this:

In an attempt to keep a dialogue going surrounding the sweatshop conditions in which so many mass-produced articles of clothing are made, Norwegian publication Aftenposten has released a harrowing web documentary series that sends three fashion bloggers into the heart of a Cambodian sweatshop. The series puts the conditions that its employees face on a day-to-day basis in an unfiltered and heartbreaking way.

The series has already sparked debate over not just the obviously horrific conditions in the sweatshops that Norwegian bloggers Frida, Ludvig and Anniken visit, but over the ethics of the series itself, which could be seen as bordering on third-world exploitation. It’s easy for Westerners to turn a blind eye, however, and if bringing the Western gaze onto the situation takes putting actual Westerners in the situation, then the work the documentary is doing is important.

In an interview with Pulse, the series’ director Joakim Kleven spoke a little bit about the conditions that he witnessed: “It was extremely difficult to come at all in any factory inside. The only factory that has let in us, was one of the best in Cambodia, but that was not okay. It was very hot in there, there was no toilet paper in the toilets and the chairs on which the seamstresses had to sit were extremely uncomfortable. Some workers have told us that soldiers stood during her shift already behind them and they would have beaten for sewing, so much so that some of them were unconscious.”

This probably is exploitation–after all, it’s a series that allows white people to parachute in on the lives of Cambodians and features the voices of those white people as the sympathetic storytellers. However, in this case, it is probably worth it. As I argue in Out of Sight, the fact that so much industrial production is done overseas means that when Bangladesh has its version of the Triangle Fire, there will be no Frances Perkins there to witness it and then mobilize consumers and politicians to mandate changes to the apparel industry. This separation of production and consumption is intentional and happens in part to protect companies from having to improve conditions. So a show that actually gives westerners the opportunity to see the conditions in which their clothes are made has real potential to put that production back in sight. And that’s incredibly important for creating change.

Could Christmas Be Coming Early This Year?

[ 78 ] January 24, 2015 |

Oh please oh please oh please oh please let this be true:

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s warning to “stay tuned” for more corruption arrests after he bagged Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has sent a big chill through the state Capitol.

“I think everyone is waiting for the next shoe to drop,” said one legislative official.

Added former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat: “When a prosecutor says stay tuned, I think he means it.”

The big fish reportedly being looked at is Gov. Cuomo.

Bharara has been probing whether the governor and his top aides improperly interfered with the Moreland anti-corruption commission Cuomo established.

He is also probing the circumstances behind Cuomo’s decision to abruptly end the commission after the Legislature agreed to some ethics reforms.

Other than perhaps Rahm Emanuel, this couldn’t happen to a more deserving well-known elected Democrat in this nation.

Fracking Bans

[ 24 ] January 24, 2015 |

Mora County, New Mexico, right in the middle of the land grant thefts that led to the rise of Reies Lopez Tijerina and the long-term animosity to outside corporate control over the land, passed a county-wide ban against fracking in 2013. Of course, the courts overturned it.

A county’s ban on hydraulic fracturing and drilling conflicts with both state and U.S. law, a federal court in New Mexico found this week.

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico on Monday struck down a ban on fracking and drilling in Mora County, a rural area about 100 miles northeast of Santa Fe. County voters passed the ban in 2013, and Royal Dutch Shell PLC subsidiary SWEPI LP filed suit last year.

The decision is a win for industry and a major setback for environmentalists, who have had mixed results in championing a “local control” approach to oil and gas regulation around the country.

In Monday’s decision, Judge James Browning found that Mora County’s ordinance violated the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause by attempting to discard corporate rights protected by federal case law. The county’s measure explicitly noted that oil and gas companies “shall not have the rights of ‘persons’ afforded by the United States and New Mexico Constitutions,” including First Amendment rights and due process.

Of course, it’s not at all surprising that corporations wouldn’t respect this, but it’s also worth remembering that the love corporations and their political lackeys for local control over regulations and resources goes only to the precise point where that local control helps companies. Otherwise, they love big government.

Good Job Maryland

[ 89 ] January 24, 2015 |

Thanks to an unfortunate combination of factors, Maryland has elected a Republican governor. They are already getting what they asked for. Larry Hogan has already withdrawn from regulations of phosphorous releases from the state’s many poultry farms that protected the Chesapeake Bay from massive pollution. He blocked air pollution regulations that would reduce carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants. And he withdrew from regulations that would bar Medicaid providers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Expect another 4 years of this.

Of course, as Maryland is showing both parties are the same and that’s why the only true progressive candidate in 2016 is Rand Paul.

The New Gilded Age

[ 18 ] January 23, 2015 |

The historian Richard White, author of one of the delightfully angriest books of history in recent years, demonstrates some of the ways we have created a New Gilded Age, in particular around the issue of political corruption:

Gilded Age politics was always corrupt. Before the 1890s, however, it was retail corruption. Corporations solicited “friends” among those already in office — the preferred means were favors and the sharing of financial information. When necessary — and it often was — they offered bribes.

Influencing elections was far more difficult. Before the direct election of senators, the politics of friendship and bribery worked only in persuading legislatures to choose U.S. senators who would serve corporate interests. Senator John Mitchell of Oregon, for example, proclaimed of Ben Holladay, the railroad tycoon, “Ben Holladay’s politics are my politics and what Ben Holladay wants I want.”
Most corporate friends tried to be more circumspect. But when — through the pairing of vanity and bad judgment – plutocrats like Leland Stanford of the Southern Pacific Railroad and William A. Clark, a notorious “copper king” of Montana, bought their own election as senators, the confusion of interests was harder to disguise.

The move to “educational” campaigns and the growing strength of national parties, which were far more than coalitions of state and local organizations, created new demands for money.

The money was chump change by today’s standards, but it was enough to require large donors. It represented a new form of corruption — quid pro quo. But it substituted favors to a political party for favors to a specific politician.

Henry Adams, the grandson and great-grandson of presidents and author of the early 20th-century’s best-selling and most erudite memoir, was cynical and disengaged about politics – though well informed. He recognized the new relationship of the Gilded Age rich and politicians.

After the 1892 defeat of the Republican Benjamin Harrison by Grover Cleveland, Adams wondered why GOP money hadn’t been able to win out. He asked his friend John Hay, a well-connected Republican who had served as Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary and would later be Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary of state, what had happened to “McKinley money” — the money that Republican manufacturers reaped from the McKinley Tariff.

“Is it possible,” Adams wrote, “…that our Republican manufacturers, after pocketing the swag, refused to disgorge? If so, they’ll catch it.”

The spoils that Adams referred to were not to supply simple bribes. Instead, he was saying, the plutocrats should have used their wealth to fund Harrison’s presidential campaign. It would, in the language of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote for the majority in Citizens United, be laundered into speech.

Canonizing the Colonizers

[ 72 ] January 23, 2015 |

Pope Francis has decided to make Junipero Serra a saint. Serra was a Franciscan in California who founded many of the California missions in the 18th century, effectively making him an agent of colonization as well as a converter of Native Americans to Catholicism. Building these missions meant forced labor from Native Americans while the conversion process obviously demonstrated a lack of respect for indigenous cultures as well as the compulsion of these conversions. Physical abuse of Native Americans was common, with many recorded beatings and whippings. A lot of indigenous people in California are very upset about the choice to canonize Serra.

Serra is far from the only Catholic saint involved in the colonization process. In Colombia earlier this month, I visited the church dedicated to Pedro Claver, a priest who converted slaves. Being Latin America, his remains are proudly displayed on the church altar.

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The patron saint of slaves supposedly baptized 300,000 African slaves. Of course in doing so, he was part of a system that was capturing Africans, bringing them to the Americans, and working them to death on sugar plantations.

Claver was canonized in 1888 so perhaps we can chalk this up to a Catholic church in a different era. But canonizing Serra today, doesn’t that provide tacit approval of a colonization project that led to the repression and genocide against native peoples throughout the Americas? Of course, the Pope is from Argentina, which has far from apologized for its own genocidal project.

Ultimately for the church, it still thinks of the forced conversions of the colonization project as a great thing, something for which one deserves sainthood.

Civility: The New Arbitrary Academic Standard

[ 45 ] January 23, 2015 |

This should depress any academic:

A new survey of chief academic officers is out from Inside Higher Education. Among the findings: Provosts really care about civility and think it should be part of the framework for hiring and tenure.

I see this as potentially troubling. When the Steven Salaita controversy broke, I wrote a piece for the Chronicle called “Don’t Speak Out,” in which I read the Salaita affair through the lens of my interest in public engagement for academics. I said that the lesson for academics was that if you ever wanted a job, or might want to move from one job to another, don’t have strong opinions about things.

We need more public writing, not less. We need to open pathways for more academics to speak out in public, not punish Salaita for doing so in ways that have provoked such strong feelings. But we can’t ask scholars to embrace the risks of engagement in a system in which partisan bloggers and local papers can push timid administrators to fire, or in this case unhire, academics who leap into public debates.

In theory, Provosts agree with this and support public scholarship. At the same time, from IHE:

Generally, provosts expressed concern (with little difference by sector) about civility. Asked if they were worried about “declining civility among higher education faculty,” 27 percent said that they were very concerned and 44 percent were somewhat concerned. Only 5 percent were not concerned at all.

But in more detailed questions, provosts had varying perspectives on where faculty civility is lacking.

Generally, they feel more confident of faculty civility with regard to students than to fellow professors or (in particular) administrators. And provosts typically believe that their institutions display more civility than higher education as a whole. (A pattern in Inside Higher Ed surveys of administrators is that they think their institutions are doing better in many respects than the rest of higher education.)

In short, provosts act like the CEOs they imagine themselves. Any faculty that speaks against the mission or says anything that could be considered “uncivil,” which in provost speak means “anything that could make me look bad,” does not deserve any protections and in fact should be subject to firing. Increasingly, for provosts all this matters more than scholarship, teaching, or service. “Does the faculty member reflect well on my leadership?” That’s the question. And that should put a chill in any academic who either questions the administration or has a public persona.

Environmental Policy History Reading List

[ 28 ] January 22, 2015 |

I received a request for a list of environmental policy/history books. I make no claims to being an authoritative source here and others will have different books, but here are 10 books on the history of environmental policy I find useful. I am thinking of these terms broadly as well. In no order:

1. Samuel Hays, A History of Environmental Politics since 1945.
Pretty self-explanatory, good overview of the issue from the dean of environmental policy history.

2. James Morton Turner, The Promise of Wilderness: American Environmental Politics since 1964
An excellent recent overview of wilderness politics after the Wilderness Act.

3. Christopher Wells, Car Country: An Environmental History
How did we become a car-centric society and what are its environmental implications?

4. Andrew Hurley, Environmental Inequalities: Class, Race, and Industrial Pollution in Gary, Indiana, 1945-80.
Who has access to clean nature and who does not? Guess what–it’s about race.

5. Karl Jacoby, Crimes against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation
What were the politics and actions behind the creation of hunting law and national parks?

6. Nancy Langston, Toxic Bodies: Hormone Disruptors and the Legacy of DES
A key book about the science and policy behind synthetic chemicals and women’s bodies

7. Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West
Water policy, which we must understand to talk about the West.

8. Richard White, The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River
How policymakers and industry completely reshaped a river and its ecosystem.

9. Joseph Taylor, Making Salmon: An Environmental History of the Northwest Fisheries Crisis
Fisheries policy and its many mistakes is hugely important for environmental policy

10. Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On: People, Politics, and the AIDS Epidemic.
A great piece of journalism rather than a history but it holds up as an indictment of the abject failure of the Reagan Administration during the greatest public health crisis of the second half of the 20th century.

I find this list slightly dated, which surprises me since I keep up on the historiography pretty well. It’s also I should note quite different than what I think the best books of environmental history are, although these are all good. Strictly thinking about policy.

I have no doubt there will be many great recommendations in comments as well, including books I probably just forgot.

The Civil War Collection

[ 36 ] January 22, 2015 |

Here’s some interesting newly available books on and about the Civil War from the 19th and early 20th centuries. They include Pain and Anaesthetics: An Essay, from 1862, by Valentine Mott. Of course, the piles off mangled bodies beyond taxed the limited medical facilities of the day and led to perhaps 100,000 or so deaths that would not have happened a few decades later. On what made anesthesia so great:

How often, when operating in some deep, dark wound, along the course of some great vein, with thin walls, alternately distended and flaccid with the vital current – how often have I dreaded that some unfortunate struggle of the patient would deviate the knife a little from its proper course, and that I, who fain would be the deliverer, should involuntarily become the executioner, seeing my patient perish in my hands by the most appalling form of death! Had he been insensible, I should have felt no alarm.

By the use of anesthetics, also, the shrieks and cries of the patient are prevented; so that the surgeon’s powers are not additionally taxed, either to nerve himself to a very unpleasant task, or to control and encourage the attendants.

I’ll bet.

More at the link.

The Female Auteur

[ 31 ] January 21, 2015 |

Bjork speaks of sexism in music:

Pitchfork: When it was originally misreported that Vulnicura was produced by Arca, instead of co-produced by you and Arca, it reminded me of the Joni Mitchell quote from the height of her fame about how whichever man was in the room with her got credit for her genius.

B: Yeah, I didn’t want to talk about that kind of thing for 10 years, but then I thought, “You’re a coward if you don’t stand up. Not for you, but for women. Say something.” So around 2006, I put something on my website where I cleared something up, because it’d been online so many times that it was becoming a fact. It wasn’t just one journalist getting it wrong, everybody was getting it wrong. I’ve done music for, what, 30 years? I’ve been in the studio since I was 11; Alejandro had never done an album when I worked with him. He wanted to putting something on his own Twitter, just to say it’s co-produced. I said, “No, we’re never going to win this battle. Let’s just leave it.” But he insisted. I’ve sometimes thought about releasing a map of all my albums and just making it clear who did what. But it always comes across as so defensive that, like, it’s pathetic. I could obviously talk about this for a long time. [laughs]

Pitchfork: The world has a difficult time with the female auteur.

B: I have nothing against Kanye West. Help me with this—I’m not dissing him—this is about how people talk about him. With the last album he did, he got all the best beatmakers on the planet at the time to make beats for him. A lot of the time, he wasn’t even there. Yet no one would question his authorship for a second. If whatever I’m saying to you now helps women, I’m up for saying it. For example, I did 80% of the beats on Vespertine and it took me three years to work on that album, because it was all microbeats—it was like doing a huge embroidery piece. Matmos came in the last two weeks and added percussion on top of the songs, but they didn’t do any of the main parts, and they are credited everywhere as having done the whole album. [Matmos’] Drew [Daniel] is a close friend of mine, and in every single interview he did, he corrected it. And they don’t even listen to him. It really is strange.

It’s hardly surprising but it’s terrible. And these things aren’t just restricted to music journalists, but I think are pretty ingrained in the popular imagination, albeit the popular imagination of people who care this deeply about albums, which is not all that many people.

Haywood

[ 37 ] January 21, 2015 |

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Who wants a feel bad story about a hero of the American left?

As you may know, Big Bill Haywood jumped bail in 1921 to avoid a return to prison for violation of the Espionage Act. He fled to the Soviet Union, where he died a miserable, lonely drunk in 1928. It’s a sad story.

But sadder still was the cost of Haywood’s decision to leave. Not only did it break any unity the IWW still had after the World War I repression and show that the most famous radical of the era would not do what hundreds of his followers did and go to prison for their beliefs, but it had real effects on the people who had put up the money for his bail. Two people had split the cost. The first was a wealthy man by the name of William Bross Lloyd. The loss of his money didn’t matter all that much. But the second was the radical journalist Mary Marcy. She put up her house for his bail. When he jumped bail, she lost her house. She then killed herself in 1922.

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