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Gawker, RIP

[ 135 ] August 22, 2016 |

Peter Thiel, pictured above, finally got his wish and eliminated Gawker from the intertubes. Of course, nothing’s stopping a recreation of such a site with little difference, but still, it’s chilling. I know a lot of people hate Gakwer. And there’s no question that some of their coverage, including the Hulk Hogan incident, was terrible and in the Hogan case, nailed their own coffin. However, I thought this was an appropriate discussion of what is lost without the site.

Now those days are over. We live in a world where we are lied to every day. The only rational response is outrage, but outrage is an emotion whose energy is impossible to sustain. Even the strongest among us eventually submit, and most of us are not strong. We have allowed people who don’t want to hear the truth — people who don’t want the truth to be told even when they know that it is rarely an impediment to their success — to silence those annoying, inconvenient voices that say “No, what you are telling us is not true.” Fewer questions will be asked, more falsehoods will pass unchecked, and we will wake up each morning to a new set of lies with a diminished capacity for remembering that we don’t have to accept them unconditionally or make peace with living in a world where they are the norm. Will the circumstances ever arise again where a site such as Gawker can come forward to challenge the dominant discourse of mendacity? Only a fool would venture to predict it. But we are each a little worse off without someone else to keep track of all the dishonesty and remind us that we are not crazy in those moments where we look around and rub our eyes and stare in shock at all the lies. Whether we know it or not, we are each a little worse off without Gawker in the world.


Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 45

[ 28 ] August 21, 2016 |

This is the grave of Eli Whitney.

2016-05-07 11.40.35

Born in 1765 in Westborough, Massachusetts, Eli Whitney became one of the most important inventors in American history. He graduated from Yale in 1792, going late because his stepmother opposed it and he had to earn the money first, working as a teacher. He hoped to study law but continued to lack money so he went to Georgia to work as a private tutor. On the ship down to Georgia, he met the wife of the recently deceased Rhode Island Revolutionary War hero turned slaver Nathanael Greene. They became friends and invited him to her plantation. While there, Whitney invented the cotton gin, solving the long-term problem of cotton production, which was getting the seeds detached from the fibers, a labor-intensive operation making large-scale production unfeasible. He received the patent for his cotton gin in 1794. This led to an almost immediate rapid intensification of American slavery as cotton fever spread over the South and gave the slaveholding class a new profitable crop to crop after years of low-profit tobacco grown on depleted soils. Emancipation rhetoric ceased in places like Virginia and Americans rapidly sought to exterminate the Indians of the American South to clear their land for cotton, something nearly completed within 50 years.

The cotton gin did not make Whitney rich, which was often the case with successful inventions in early America because patent infringement was so common. But it did make Whitney famous. He received federal contracts to create arms with interchangeable parts as early as 1798. He did not invent this idea, but he significantly advanced it. The contract was not for the arms to be used in the United States, but rather to push the Americans’ rather obstinate definition of neutral rights, which in their minds meant selling whatever they wanted to whoever would buy it, including guns to both nations at war with each other. As he became rich on these contracts, he became ever more tightly connected with the Connecticut elite around Yale. He died of prostate cancer in New Haven in 1825.

Eli Whitney is buried in Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut.

This Day in Labor History: August 21, 1791

[ 35 ] August 21, 2016 |


On August 21, 1791, the Haitian Revolution began. The largest and by far the most successful slave rebellion in world history, the Haitian Revolution transformed world history, foiling French imperial aims, leading to the expansion of the United States, placing fear into the hearts of slaveholders across the Western Hemisphere, and exposing the limits of the republican rhetoric of the Enlightenment. It’s also a story of the incredible bravery of the slaves themselves.

Immediately upon arrival in Hispaniola in 1492, Christopher Columbus instituted a forced labor system. This is the model Europeans sought from the very beginning. That island quickly became a center of colonial slavery, with populations brought over from Africa after indigenous peoples who the Spanish preferred to enslave died from disease. Between 1492 and 1494, one-third of the indigenous population died. Slaves always fought back, an important point not made often enough. As early as 1519, a slave rebellion took place there with both African and indigenous people rising up in revolt. Thousands of slaves started maroon communities during the colonial period, hidden from Spanish or French forces by the isolation of their camps deep within forests, mountains, and swamps.

In 1697, the French won the western half of Hispaniola from the Spanish. Soon it would become among the richest colonies in the world thanks to the sugar grown by slaves. It also became a huge coffee producer, producing 60% of the world’s coffee in 1789. But conditions for those slaves were utterly brutal. The enormous amounts of money in the sugar trade made it worse, because the labor costs to buy new slaves, while high for a Virginia tobacco farmer, was almost nothing for these sugar barons. They brought slaves from Africa and just worked them to death. These plantations were effectively death camps. Half of African slaves died within three years. Probably 1 million slaves died in Haiti during the period of French rule. If a slave ate some sugar cane, the slave would have to wear a tin muzzle while working.

There was a lot of discontent toward the French government in what was then known as Saint Dominigue by the 1780s. It was a tremendously wealthy colony. But the white population of about 40,000, influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment and the American Revolution, were chafing at the centralization projects of Paris, including heavy import taxes. There were about 30,000 free blacks in Haiti, of which about one-half were mulattoes. Finally and most importantly, there were the 500,000 slaves whose labor created the wealth in the colony. In May 1791, the free blacks started a revolt when the island’s whites refused to acknowledge the French revolutionary decision to grant citizenship to free people of color, but it was the August slave revolt that targeted white slave owners that really brought Haiti to independence.

The slave revolt began with a signal from voudou priest Dutty Boukman on August 14, giving slaves a week to prepare. Within a few weeks 100,000 slaves had revolted. Quickly though, the revolution’s leader became Toussaint L’Overture, an ex-slave who was likely the son of a tribal king from modern Benin who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery. L’Overture was freed in 1776 after his master allowed him to acquire an education. He became fairly wealthy himself. When the rebellion started in the north of the island, he was not involved, but he soon helped cement an alliance between the rebels and the Spanish in Santo Domingo. By 1792, L’Overture and his ex-slave troops controlled 1/3 of the nation. The French Revolution of course was happening at the same time. In 1794, the French abolished slavery throughout its colonies, but even earlier than this, L’Overture had invaded Santo Domingo in order to end slavery there. But by the time the rebellion ended, 100,000 of the island’s 500,000 slaves were dead, as well as 24,000 of the 40,000 whites. In 1801, he led troops to conquer Santo Domingo and ended slavery there when he succeeded.

The slave force had no hope to defeat the French in a decisive battle. But they did have a secret weapon: mosquitoes. When the French had first colonized the Caribbean, yellow fever did not exist there. But it soon migrated over from Africa. Europeans simply could not resist the diseases from these mosquitoes. In fact, effective European colonization of American tropics largely ended because of the migration of yellow fever. Malaria and especially yellow fever overwhelmed the French forces. The Haitians could just wait them out. Napoleon sent 43,000 troops to Haiti to retake the island and institute slavery. Those troops did capture L’Overture. He was sent back to France as a prisoner, where he died in 1803. But disease quickly ravaged those troops. Jean-Jacques Dessalines took over as the leader of the rebellion and defeated remnant French forces at Battle of Vertieres on November 18, 1803. This led Napoleon to come to terms and give up his dream of an American empire. He then sold his North American lands to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. Meanwhile, Dessalines declared the nation of Haiti on January 1, 1804. France was the first nation to recognize its independence, although France also ensured long-term Haitian poverty by demanding incredibly high reparations beginning in 1825, when French warships showed in Haiti and forced the government to agree, effectively dooming it to long-term poverty.

The United States found Haiti an anathema. It believed in republicanism–so long as it only applied to white people. A slave rebellion? Well, this became an object lesson for southern planters, for whom this was their worst nightmare. This was literally their greatest fear and they spent the next 74 years talking about how to prevent it. When the British helped slaves escape during the War of 1812, when Denmark Vesey got angry that his church was being repressed, when Nat Turner revolted, when slaves played drums in the forests at night, slavers dreamed of the slaves rising up to massacre them in their beds. Given southern domination of the American politics through most of its history but especially before the Civil War due to the 3/5 Compromise, they made sure Haiti remained a highly isolated and impoverished nation. The U.S. forced it into international isolation and refused to recognize Haiti until 1862.

Today, due to many factors, but largely to this international isolation and enforced extreme poverty in its early decades, Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world today. The French at the very least owe Haiti reparations today.

This is the 188th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Saturday Night Open Thread

[ 170 ] August 20, 2016 |

I had a red eye last night with the dreaded Chicago layover, meaning that sleep was even more disrupted than normal. I got nothing. Except for this.

It takes a lot to make me viscerally disgusted at this point in my life. But that’ll do.

Talk about whatever you want.

The Senate Will Really Miss Its Modern Cato

[ 92 ] August 20, 2016 |


Ron Johnson has some ideas about history education.

JOHNSON: We’ve got the internet ― you have so much information available. Why do you have to keep paying differently lecturers to teach the same course? You get one solid lecturer and put it up online and have everybody available to that knowledge for a whole lot cheaper? But that doesn’t play very well to tenured professors in the higher education cartel. So again, we need destructive technology for our higher education system.

WISPOLITICS: But online education is missing some facet of a good ―

JOHNSON: Of course, it’s a combination, but prior to my doing this crazy thing [of being in the Senate] … I was really involved on a volunteer basis in an education system in Oshkosh. And one of things we did in the Catholic school system was we had something called the “academic excellence initiative.” How do you teach more, better, easier?

One of the examples I always used ― if you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers that kind of know the subject, or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns Civil War tape and then have those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done? You keep duplicating that over all these different subject areas.

We shouldn’t have art in schools anyway because that’s for queers and communists, but if we do, let’s just show Bob Ross shows.

The Senate is really going to go downhill when Russ Feingold replaces Johnson.

Are Naked Trump Statues Evil?

[ 252 ] August 20, 2016 |


Personally, I was bummed that I was in Seattle yesterday and didn’t hear about the Naked Trump until it was already gone. My whole life, I’ve never been a trendsetter. What a tragedy. But am I a horrible person for thinking that the statues are amusing and serve a purpose? Are there sections of the left that simply have no sense of humor? What does solidarity even mean? I have no good answers to these questions.

The joke itself is in poor taste. It’s a tired and abusive trope that not only fails to push back on Trump’s political power, but also promotes the evilness that is fatphobia, body-­shaming, and transphobia itself.

Progressives in particular “going for the low hanging fruit”—attacking someone whose politics have dangerous implications on personal, oppressive grounds rather than political grounds—felt eerily familiar. It felt like the kind of personal attacks, in fact, that are often lobbed at his base; that they are “dumb,” “uneducated,” and “poor.” It felt like the classist and elitist remarks that are often used to ridicule the far right. It felt like a conversation amongst privileged white folks, where calling out the Right is more about positioning oneself as the “good white folks” than it is about actively resisting the political system that is, for one, killing Black and marginalized folks every day.

If Trump is so awful and progressives are so upstanding, then why would you rely on hurtful and damaging punch­lines to fight back against a man whose behavior terrifies even his own party? What could possibly be more important than sticking to your progressive values around fatness and body positivity and trans-­inclusivity in the face of his genuine offensiveness?

I roll my eyes. But maybe I am a reactionary, setting myself to be shot after the revolution. Really, there’s no way I don’t get shot after the revolution given the personal vendettas that leftist members always engage in, so whatever, I guess I should just laugh at naked Trump.

American Genocide

[ 163 ] August 19, 2016 |


The esteemed historian Richard White reviews Benjamin Hadley’s new book on the organized American genocide against California Indians and reiterates the utter brutality behind American expansion, a history Americans are simply not willing to deal with at a time when they are happy to, fairly, condemn actions overseas that, once again, American helped create (see, ISIS today, the Khmer Rouge 40 years ago).

 The initial American motive for slaughter arose in the first months of the conquest and occupation of California, and it produced a kind of killing that Madley appropriately calls “pedagogic,” which would persist long afterward. Its rationale was a 19th-century version of shock and awe: At the slightest hint of a threat, Americans would inflict indiscriminate violence. Indians did not have to attack; Americans had only to feel threatened. In a mirror image of the way some Germans, Hungarians, and Americans feel threatened by the presence of Muslim asylum seekers in their countries today, Americans felt threatened by Indians. John C. Frémont began the bloodshed in 1846 by killing Wintus in Northern California because Americans feared the Wintus would attack them. The Americans were armed with Hawken rifles that could kill from 200 yards; the Wintus had bows. The result, as Americans described it, was the “slaughter” of 120 to 175 Indians. Frémont intended this as exemplary violence meant to terrify Indians and inoculate whites against attack.

The justification of exemplary violence was (and still is) that it eliminates the need for further violence. In California, the justification was empty: All that Americans really offered Indians were different ways to die. As gold miners wrecked the salmon streams and drove off game, as cattle and swine fed on the grasses and acorn crops that formed the basis of Native subsistence, exemplary violence forced Indians to choose between slaughter and starvation. When desperate Indians killed cattle and swine, they opened themselves up to disproportionate retaliatory violence. Americans held Indians collectively responsible for any injury suffered by whites. And they were relentless: When Indians tried to prevent Americans’ entry into their territory, they were attacked. Indians who took up gold mining and tried to defend their lands were slaughtered. When Indians retaliated against white violence, Oregonians (among the first of the forty-niners) shot them on sight, hunting them like animals and instituting a practice that would last for years.

Americans also deployed violence to secure forced labor. Inside and outside the gold-mining region, miners and ranchers sought to imitate and improve on Mexican labor practices by forcing Indians to work for them. The California constitutional convention denied Indians citizenship and condoned what amounted to permanent indenture. California’s Orwellian Act for the Government and Protection of Indians anticipated the Southern black codes that followed the Civil War. Having stripped them of their legal rights and provided for their arrest as vagrants, officials could auction off Indian “convicts” to pay their fines. Indian children could be taken from their parents and indentured until age 15 for females, 18 for males.

The law also formalized existing practices. Among the more horrible stories told by Madley is the one involving Charles Stone and Andrew Kelsey. They raised large amounts of livestock on lands they had appropriated from the Eastern Pomo and Clear Lake Wappo, whom they’d reduced to servile labor under threat of violence. They confiscated the Indians’ weapons, allowed them only meager rations, prohibited them from hunting, and punished them viciously when they killed cattle. Sexual violence against Indian women became routine; those who resisted were tortured. Against this and more, the Indians rebelled, killing Stone and Kelsey in 1849.

The slayings brought the US Dragoons down upon them. The soldiers killed any Indians they found, regardless of their involvement in the deaths. Vigilantes followed in the soldiers’ wake, driving the Indians off their lands in Napa, Sonoma, and around Santa Rosa. Many of the refugees were soon starving. The killings reached their peak when detachments from the US Dragoons and Artillery attacked Pomos on Bloody Island in Clear Lake. They shot the men and bayoneted and clubbed the women and children. As usual in such massacres, there was no careful counting of the dead; between 200 and 400 people were killed. The army followed this up with an attack on a village on the Russian River. The soldiers killed everyone they could find, from 75 to 100 people. (Two soldiers were wounded.) More killings followed. And so it would go, spreading across a very large state for nearly 25 straight years.

California’s laws, having created a system that encouraged slaving raids and the kidnapping of children, allowed slavers to act with impunity. Indians couldn’t testify against whites, and even when whites were willing to testify, the courts wouldn’t convict. Slaving existed throughout the period, but the practice reached its peak, ironically, when the Republicans—who rose to national power on the basis of their objections to black slavery—won the election in California under Leland Stanford during the Civil War.

The participation of federal troops and state militia in the violence, and the passage of laws that allowed Indian enslavement to flourish, emphasized the active participation of both the state and federal governments in the genocide. There is some truth in the older narrative about federal attempts to protect the Indians, but those efforts were feeble and ineffective. The Senate rejected the original treaties negotiated in California because of opposition from Californians who wanted nothing valuable reserved for Indians. The federal government did establish reservations at Round Valley and elsewhere, but it refused to protect the Indians who were removed there or to provide them with adequate supplies and rations. J. Ross Browne, a federal official sent to Round Valley to investigate conditions, reported that in the winter of 1858–59, whites slaughtered “a hundred and fifty peaceable Indians,” including nursing mothers and small children. Slavers and white squatters invaded the reservations. Indians often fled, preferring the dangers of starvation and attack outside the reservations to the hunger, disease, and assaults they suffered within them. It was no wonder they came to look on Round Valley “rather as a hell than as a home.”

It was not just the federal sins of omission that matter here; the funding that the US government provided for California’s militia expeditions made attacking Indians possible and profitable. When the government expended funds to pay for past assaults on Indians, it encouraged new ones. Fighting Indians became a source of profit; men enlisted for the pay, and the government provided it. During the Civil War, the federal government recruited the California Volunteers, who existed largely to fight Indians. The Volunteers continued their carnage over much of California and expanded it into the state’s deserts to the southeast. Congress proved far more generous appropriating money for killing Indians than for feeding them—and even when it knew that Indians on the reservations were starving, Congress cut the funding for their rations.

By the time of the Civil War, the killing had become the backdrop for California politics, and condoning it the price of public office. Nearly 20 years into the slaughter, Stanford rationalized the calling out of troops and a bill to supplement the pay of the California Volunteers as self-defense. He demanded “absolute protection to our citizens from these repeated incursions of hostile Indians.” The result? Still more indiscriminate killing of Indians.

Americans, these are the foundational actions of our nation. Yet even within liberal racial thought and guilt (not to mention conservatives’ open celebration of white nationalist America) such actions are completely unknown or totally forgotten about. We as a nation have done nothing to deal with this legacy. We’ve done less than nothing about the genocide of native peoples, plus they aren’t even considered equal with other racial groups in contemporary American racial problems and dilemmas.

The Goat Schlepper

[ 69 ] August 19, 2016 |


I’m not sure if I should laugh more over the fact that Breitbart brought Mickey Kaus on for a series of “essays” in July or whether it evidently decided he wasn’t worthy of their high, high standards, as it’s now been almost a month since they published something he puked up.

Forest History

[ 22 ] August 19, 2016 |

Full Page (Labor Day Ed.)--Sept. 2, 1942--p.1.1200w

I know that nothing is as sexy in the entire world as forest history. But there has been interest in my book Empire of Timber, now available for the moment at the low, low price of $45. Which is actually pretty cheap given its regular price of $99. But someday it will come out in paperback! Anyway, for those of you who are curious, my article in the Western Historical Quarterly on the International Woodworkers of America’s environmental program of the late 30s and early 40s, adapted from Chapter 3 of the book, won an award from the Forest History Society and thus is now available for free. So any of you can get a little taste of the book and its argument about how timber workers used their unions to press for their own environmental agenda.

Show Down at Aspen

[ 60 ] August 17, 2016 |

Many years ago, a historian friend showed me a copy of the British documentary “Show Down at Aspen,” on Hunter S. Thompson’s 1970 campaign for mayor of Aspen. Finally, I have found it online. This is really fantastic and very much worth your time. It’s NSFW, both because of hippie nudity and drug use. The best part is between about minutes 5 and 10, which begins with a young cop descending on a hippie gathering and smoking some joints with them, followed by some old people talking about the evils of drugs while getting loaded on their drug of choice, booze. Throughout the film, there are surprises, with older people supporting Thompson and younger people who one might even call hippies are voting for the incumbent because they recognize Thompson is unstable and that no one is really getting busted for drugs in Aspen under the current sheriff.

This is a really great document of 1970. Enjoy.


[ 35 ] August 17, 2016 |

Rhode Island’s own:

This is a bit misleading, as McLaughlin was already well on his way to becoming a war supporter when he ran for the Senate in 1970. When John Pastore defeated him, McLaughlin used his good friend Pat Buchanan to get a job in the Nixon administration. He left the Jesuits in 1974.

Been a tough year for Providence’s famous citizens, with first Buddy Cianci and now John McLaughlin dying. A.O. Scott had better watch his back in film screenings.

Chicken Minced Meat

[ 31 ] August 16, 2016 |

I am soon returning to East Coast Exile, reality, and regular blogging. Until then, this.

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