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The 16th Century

[ 42 ] March 14, 2015 |

Welp, this exists. From 1555.

XCUJ

I’m not sure, but I’m guessing this is a Protestant attack upon nuns. Time period certainly fits. As much as I hesitate to ever link to Reddit, there are people here who do seem to know what they are talking about that at least suggest it’s a commentary on how much nuns want sex.

The “We” in U.S. History

[ 45 ] March 14, 2015 |

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Elizabeth Yale has an interesting essay arguing that the real conservative outrage over the AP U.S. History standards is that AP is avoiding the “we” in history, not taking a stand that our past celebrates a glorious narrative of heroism and progress that defines “us” today. Of course, such narratives of “we” and “us” are automatically exclusionary and thus should be avoided since they inevitably imply a “you” and “them” that are not part of this grand historical narrative.

Yet, perhaps these questions don’t belong in a U.S. history classroom—or, at the very least, in that space, their answers should not be assumed. The AP framework seems to take this stance; this may be one of the reasons it so frustrates its critics. In its discussion of the early history of settlement, warfare, and colonial expansion in the territory that became the United States, the new framework resists saying “we.” On the religious roots of the American Revolution, it reads, “Protestant evangelical religious fervor strengthened many British colonists’ understandings of themselves as a chosen people blessed with liberty, while Enlightenment philosophers and ideas inspired many American political thinkers to emphasize individual talent over hereditary privilege.”

This is hardly neglect: evangelical fervor is right there, strengthening British colonists’ resolve when confronted with challenges to their liberties. But in speaking of “British colonists’ understandings of themselves,” the language also sets up a distance between us and them. They understood themselves as a chosen people blessed with liberty; we can adopt that view if we wish, but we don’t have to take it on uncritically. The framework creates this measure of historical distance not only between us and early American Protestants, but between us and each of the many different kinds of colonial Americans it discusses—enslaved Africans, Indians, and colonists, traders, missionaries, and adventurers from France, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands. It presents colonial history as a diverse space inhabited by many different kinds of people, with many different kinds of aims. Students of a range of backgrounds might see themselves here—though the framework certainly doesn’t force them to.

How do we acknowledge and move forward from the sins of the past? The historical “we” in place, the distance between past and present falsely collapsed, we can only understand them as our own. Here is where the historical distance created by the AP U.S. framework, with its careful locutions, pays off. For, of course, in seeing that U.S. history has been shaped by racism, one may be lead to reflect upon our inheritance of that history, and how it plays out in daily life, in ways big and small, across the United States. Our history, properly told, should push students towards these kinds of reflections (though it won’t dictate their outcomes). But such thoughts may be particularly painful—too painful to confront—for those who look back on the “Founding Fathers,” and say, “Them. Those are my people. Those are our people.”

That so many of the conservative critics of AP U.S. History standards are also deeply invested in exclusionary politics of other types–including repealing the meaningful sections of the Voting Rights Act–suggests that “we” is just as contested when talking about 2015 as it is about 1775.

The White Supremacist Origin of Right to Work Laws

[ 14 ] March 14, 2015 |

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Vance Muse is the founding father of the right to work movement. Not surprisingly, he was also a virulent racist, saying, among other things about unions:

“From now on, white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”

Meanwhile, right to work gets rejected for this legislative session in West Virginia, but it probably won’t be much longer given the types of politicians West Virginians now vote into office. I feel terrible about the declining work freedoms in West Virginia, but at the same time, given how hard right and racist the state has gone, in a sense voters are going to get what they asked for, even if not in 2015.

Ecooptimism

[ 120 ] March 14, 2015 |

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Should I be ecooptimistic?

Yet expressions of optimism have been popping up in various green quarters. In June Al Gore published an article in Rolling Stone titled “The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate,” hailing “surprising—even shocking—good news” about a shift toward a solar-powered future. “[I]t is now clear that we will ultimately prevail,” he declared. September’s climate march in New York exceeded expectations, attracting some 400,000 people and spurring pronouncements that a mass movement had finally arrived. Longtime New York Times environmental reporter (now blogger) Andy Revkin has also attracted attention for his relatively upbeat outlook. “We are going to do OK,” he told an audience of environmental science researchers last summer.

Of course, different optimisms have different sources and different implications. Gore’s is relatively narrow: it’s based on diffusion of a particular technology, and the triumph he predicts (while somewhat ambiguous) is presumably that human civilization will survive. A more expansive vision, coming from the left wing of the climate movement, is found in Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything. Her professed optimism derives, in a sense, from horror at the status quo, which she feels is becoming so intolerable for so many that we might actually do something about it. Klein proposes that the devastation of climate change can serve as a catalyst for a broader social justice movement that will deliver us to a world better than the one we now inhabit—less exploitative of the vulnerable of all species, human and otherwise.

But perhaps most provocative are the worldviews that ground their optimism in a reconsideration of our relationship to the natural world. A couple of emerging sub-movements share certain familiar green principles but challenge others. They highlight the value and the pitfalls of optimism for social movements generally, but also the unique challenges for environmentalism. And they raise questions about what it means to be an environmentalist when the environment is rapidly changing.

I have trouble buying into this. I do support redefining environmentalism into the world around us and not just the wilderness way out there. That’s an important transition in environmentalism that needs to take place. For as much as I respect Bill McKibben, I don’t accept his definition of the environment as “its separation from human society” since a) our own permeable bodies are all too interactive with the environment and thus get sick and die from our actions and b) we live in a materialistic society that brings processed, or second, nature into our homes through what we buy. However, a new environmentalism centering these issues is also different from simply redefining human behavior and impact on the environment to create a narrative that we are acting OK and we can go on more or less business as usual.

Of course, people always say that apocalyptic narratives of environmentalism don’t lead to people changing their behavior. Perhaps true. But pollyanna narratives of environmentalism also don’t lead to people changing their behavior. Reality is that nothing is going to change human behavior and we are going to go right to sending half the world’s species into extinction.

We are also now trying to date the anthropocene. Is the date when we start seeing meaningful human-caused and permanent environmental change 1610? 1775? 1945? 1964? None of these dates make sense to me. A far more meaningful date is 1492, for the European exploitation of the Americas will launch modern capitalism and the global free-for-all that defines modern society.

….Couple of points from comments.

1. There is a seeming misunderstanding of the pessimism of environmentalism. That pessimism, including on climate change, is not “there’s nothing that can be done.” It’s “we can do something, but it will have to be radical and right now we are doing nothing and there’s no reason to think that will change.” Those are very different things. There are tons of possible solutions. They may include the end of auto and plane travel. Even with the most classic case of environmental pessimism, that of Paul Ehrlich and The Population Bomb, the argument was not that we were necessarily destined to outgrow the planet’s carrying capacity but that we likely would since we wouldn’t make the necessary changes.

2. The whole idea of “environmental pessimism causes people to not do anything” is such conventional wisdom, yet I haven’t seen a single bit of scholarly or even really anecdotal evidence that it is true. I’d like to be enlightened if such evidence exists.

St. Louis Strikes Again

[ 78 ] March 13, 2015 |

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Among the many, many, many culinary achievements of St. Louis, we can now add what may be the nation’s first ranch dressing themed restaurant.

Tom Cotton Loves Child Labor

[ 27 ] March 13, 2015 |

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The man who makes Ted Cruz look sane loves him some child labor in agriculture and from the beginning of his political career has advocated repealing child labor law.

Racism and Frat Culture

[ 124 ] March 13, 2015 |

DeVotie

Many (most? all?) white fraternities are white supremacist institutions. It’s not just the frat at the University of Oklahoma. And that white supremacist history goes back to their foundation. Robert Cohen breaks this down at History News Network, specifically connecting it to fraternities during the Civil Rights Movement.

The only difference between the racist chants in 2015 and 1961 that I can discern is that the fraternities today seem more inclined to do their chanting in private. At Oklahoma this semester the chant came in what started out as a private fraternity setting (a bus apparently transporting fraternity members from some fraternity-related event). The privacy was, of course, violated by the leaking of the tape of the chant, but clearly the chant was not designed for public consumption. The Georgia chant, on the other hand, was made in public, at a segregationist rally at the campus historic archway entrance in January 1961 at the height of the university’s integration crisis. Some 150-200 Georgia students had just hung a black faced effigy of Hamilton Holmes, who along with Charlayne Hunter, had in January 1961 become the first African American student to attend the historically segregated University of Georgia. The white students first “serenaded the effigy with choruses of Dixie and then sang “There’ll never be a nigger in the ________ fraternity house,” whose various names they inserted. Clearly, UGA students in 1961, operating in a historically segregated university and a segregated college town (Athens, Georgia) did not feel the pressure their 21st century fraternity counterparts do – at racially integrated campuses – to keep their racist displays to themselves. But if the venue was different the racist sentiment and mode of expression were virtually identical.

I mentioned the whole OU incident on Twitter. Historian Kevin Kruse (whose book on housing and white flight in Atlanta is must reading for all of you) tweeted this back at me:

Who is this Devotie? That is Sigma Alpha Epilson founder Noble Leslie DeVotie. It should be noted that the frat’s homepage proudly states that of its 376 members that fought in the Civil War, 369 fought for the Confederacy. Again, the white supremacist institution goes back a long time. Anyway, DeVotie, pictured above. He actually was the first person to die in the Civil War. From his Wikipedia page:

He drowned on February 12, 1861, while on duty as chaplain of the Alabama troops. He was 23 at the time of his death. As he was about to board a steamer at Fort Morgan, Alabama, he made a misstep and fell into the water. Three days later his body was washed ashore. He was the first man to lose his life in the Civil War. Even though the Civil War did not begin until April 12, 1861, Alabama had seceded from the Union in January, hence the reason for his being the first casualty.

These are the principles and the kind of competent leader this prominent organization was founded upon.

Arizona Defunds Community College

[ 40 ] March 13, 2015 |

I know Arizona is run by a bunch of loons, but even I was surprised by the state completely defunding several community colleges. Although actually the real story is not the defunding from $7 million in 2015 to $0 in 2016, but from $45 million in 2011 to $6 million in 2012. The upshot of this is not the closure of the community colleges but rather their semi-privatization, as they move directly to serving the specific whims of corporations.

Previous budget cuts have been the catalyst behind Maricopa Corporate College, which caters to companies looking to train employees. The companies, which include Amazon, Ford Motors, Marriott International, Nissan and the City of Phoenix, pay the colleges for training and courses.

That’s the sort of “entrepreneurial” thinking that community college leaders must do as states cut their budgets, Bumphus said.

“We definitely saw this [coming] and we’ve been planning on this day,” Maricopa Chancellor Rufus Glasper said.

This probably is the future of many public 4-year institutions as well, as the pretense that universities are anything more than the training ground for capitalist functionaries disappears.

Hard to Argue

[ 47 ] March 13, 2015 |

Pretty much true.

Lindsey Graham: Fascist

[ 110 ] March 12, 2015 |

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It used to be that to call a Republican politician a fascist was rank hyperbole, even if they were right-wingers. But in the 2016 Republican primary, fascism is evidently Lindsey Graham’s strategy:

And here’s the first thing I would do if I were president of the United States. I wouldn’t let Congress leave town until we fix this. I would literally use the military to keep them in if I had to. We’re not leaving town until we restore these defense cuts. We are not leaving town until we restore the intel cuts.

Calling in the military to force Congress to pass a particular program that, not coincidentally, funds the military? That actually is fascism. Good job Lindsey. It’s early in the election cycle as well. Surely this can be topped and some Republican will call for full-fledged military government.

Also, quite the clarification from Graham’s spokesperson:

Graham’s spokesperson has clarified to Bloomberg that when Graham said “I would literally use the military to keep them in if I had to,” that statement was “not to be taken literally.” Glad that’s been cleared up.

Literally.

Why Refinery Workers Are Striking

[ 10 ] March 12, 2015 |

Refinery workers with the United Steelworkers have now been on strike since February 1. The main issue in the strike is workplace safety. Let’s take a refresher on the terrible working conditions of the refinery industry by looking at the daughter of a man killed on the job:

Her father was killed by burns sustained in an accident at the then-British Petroleum Texas City refinery in September 2004. Gonzalez lived in the hospital for weeks after the accident and for a long time, Rodriguez and her two sisters and their mother hoped that Gonzalez would pull through. But eventually his body began to fail and his organs started shutting down. The family was together with him at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston when they turned off all the machines.

After that, Rodriguez couldn’t even stand to talk about what had happened to her father, but she started researching the industry that employed him for most of his adult life. Only then did she begin to understand what it was really like behind the refinery fence. While he never said a word in front of his daughters about the dangers and the near-misses that were a part of life at the Texas City refinery, Gonzalez would tell his wife about the burns and how careful workers had to be at the refinery, her mother later told her. “He kept that from us because he didn’t want us to worry. If we had known we would have worried all the time,” Rodriguez says now.

An accountant by trade, Rodriguez coped with her grief through research. She learned everything there was to know about how refineries worked and who the companies were answerable to if something went wrong. Rodriguez comforted herself with the thought that at least safety would improve at the refinery. Even in the dangerous world of oil refineries, deaths make the national news and trigger investigations led by USW, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Chemical Safety Board. Professionals would look at the accident that killed her father, figure out the cause and make sure it wouldn’t happen again, she told herself.

But less than six months later, on March 23, 2005, there was a bigger explosion at the Texas City refinery. BP lawyers had been pushing back on a settlement agreement with the family and contesting the OSHA fines, but the day of the explosion that killed 15 people and injured more than 100, they stopped fighting and paid.

Preventing these sorts of incidents is central to this strike. Yet unions continue to be broadly painted as only about wages. That’s not true at all. They are about dignity and representation on the job. That is often represented by money but it is often not the primary issue. Sometimes it is about staying alive.

Adjuncts

[ 214 ] March 12, 2015 |

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Let me start by saying that I’ve hesitated to write this post for a few days because I don’t want to come across as that professor who doesn’t get the reality of life for the armies of adjuncts who are teaching college classes. I’m not that professor. I know lots of people who are struggling through adjuncting right now. The job market in History is horrible and it isn’t going to get any better.

Tanya Paperny had a useful editorial in the Washington Post about what life is like for adjuncts. For most academics, this is no surprise–she was teaching at four different schools and not really making ends meet. Paperny eventually quit the academy and found other work. This last point is what I want to talk about. The one thing I don’t understand about long-term adjuncts is why people do it. Why let yourself be exploited like this? I do understand reasons for short-term adjuncting–trying to make a go of it in a particular place that you don’t want to leave, graduate students or newly minted PhDs gaining teaching experience, keeping your foot in the door in case something actually develops at one of these schools, etc. All very good reasons. But long-term adjuncts is a harder phenomena for me to understand. It’s not like this is glamorous or particularly rewarding work. Teaching 4 intro level college surveys is no one’s idea of what they want to do with their lives and while you might occasionally get the student where the light bulb comes on when you teach them, that’s a mighty rare moment at that level. And with all the grading and class prep–not to mention traveling around an entire metro area to make this work, there’s no time for any other part of the job. Forget research, forget keeping up with the literature in the field, forget participating in meaningful service or teaching activities in higher education. You are a grunt and you are treated like a grunt and there’s really no hope for the future to not be treated like a grunt.

I think so much of it is the idea that the person has achieved this degree and now wants to use this degree because they don’t want to see the time they spent as wasted. And I get that from a psychological standpoint. Making $20,000 a year on the other hand is actually wasting your life, or at least the earning potential part of it. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t get PhDs in History or English or the languages. Sure there are no jobs at the end of it, but at least you aren’t going $150,000 into debt to get the degree. You are just delaying your income potential (actually paying to go to graduate school in these fields is just insane and no one should ever do that). But continuing to delay that income earning for years after your degree by holding on by your fingertips to the dream of a tenure-track job is just a bad idea because pretty soon you have a lifetime of doing this and no retirement income. I just participated in a conference at the University of New Mexico that is part of an American Historical Association and Mellon Foundation project on finding alternative careers with the History PhD (UNM has had a tremendous placement rate both inside the academy and in meaningful jobs outside the academy–a rate much higher than schools that are more prestigious and basically equal to many Ivy League schools which is why the AHA chose it for this program). There are good jobs one can get with PhDs that aren’t teaching college freshmen. And they pay much, much better than adjuncting. But they also require reading budgets and working within a government bureaucracy or corporate world and I get why people don’t want to do that.

I’m really glad that SEIU is organizing adjuncts. I know many people within the labor movement hate SEIU, but what other union is going to put real resources into organizing a no-wage sector where returning union dues will be small? Almost no other union. I completely support the National Adjunct Walkout Day and I wish more had participated. Adjuncts should probably go on a general strike to force improvements in their conditions. But to be honest, most adjuncts should also quit their jobs and find something else to do. Working at Starbucks would pay just as well.

Don’t let yourself be exploited if you can help it.

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