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Robert White, RIP

[ 67 ] January 17, 2015 |

Getting my Ph.D. at the University of New Mexico, I became deeply exposed to the Latin American left and its American supporters. Mostly this was good, but one of the arguments I was never comfortable with was that any person or any program remotely involved with the U.S. government was automatically corrupted with the legacy of American imperialism. While that legacy is certainly strong enough and continues to cause incredible damage throughout the region, this critique made suspicious not only Peace Corps but those who volunteered to do it, Fulbright scholarships, and it goes without saying, anyone associated with the U.S. Foreign Service. But this critique left no room for those who really were trying to do positive things, even if they might not have supported the revolutionary politics of those on the left.

I thought of this last night when I read this obituary of career Foreign Service officer Robert White, drummed out of government service by Al Haig after he blamed the rape and murder of 3 American nuns and a Catholic laywoman in El Salvador on the U.S. supported military government of that nation. Of course, White was correct.

Serving every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower as a career diplomat rather than a political appointee, Mr. White was distinguished by his dispassionate, boots-on-the-ground analysis and his blunt conclusions.

He once branded Roberto D’Aubuisson, the Salvadoran rightist, a “pathological killer.” And in a face-off that Mr. White had with Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, Mr. Kissinger blinked, revoking a reprimand he had ordered after Mr. White, at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Chile, delivered an unalloyed critique of the host government’s human-rights infractions.

“I was fired by the Nixon White House for opposing politicization of the Peace Corps, reprimanded by Henry Kissinger for speaking out on human rights, and finally, definitely dismissed by Alexander Haig for opposing a military solution in El Salvador,” Mr. White recalled.

Inspired to serve in Latin America by what he called President John F. Kennedy’s “creative response to the revolutionary fervor” sweeping that region, Mr. White lamented that once Kennedy was assassinated, Washington adopted a single-minded goal to thwart Communism, whether in Vietnam or in its half-century embargo of Cuba.

Maybe White was an anti-revolutionary. Still, quite a record of service there.

Hot

[ 42 ] January 16, 2015 |

2014, the hottest year in world history. I’m sure the conservatives will find some way to say 1998 was still the hottest and thus global climate change is a hoax. Meanwhile, oil prices are collapsing so I am sure we will deal with these problems very very soon.

Islam at Duke

[ 62 ] January 16, 2015 |

While I appreciate Duke University’s initial agreement to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer once a week, its quickly succumbing to the racist blatherings of Franklin Graham and the anti-Islam fanatics that dominate the American right show both that the acceptance of Islam anywhere in American society is tenuous at best and that college and university administrations will always cave in the face of the first conservative protest over anything that goes on at their campus.

Everything in the Oceans Is Dying

[ 13 ] January 16, 2015 |

Today’s installment of this continuing series:

A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.

“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.

Yes, it’s climate change and changing those behaviors, well, that ain’t going to happen. But it’s also the industrialization of the oceans:

Fragile ecosystems like mangroves are being replaced by fish farms, which are projected to provide most of the fish we consume within 20 years. Bottom trawlers scraping large nets across the sea floor have already affected 20 million square miles of ocean, turning parts of the continental shelf to rubble. Whales may no longer be widely hunted, the analysis noted, but they are now colliding more often as the number of container ships rises.

Mining operations, too, are poised to transform the ocean. Contracts for seabed mining now cover 460,000 square miles underwater, the researchers found, up from zero in 2000. Seabed mining has the potential to tear up unique ecosystems and introduce pollution into the deep sea.

The oceans are so vast that their ecosystems may seem impervious to change. But Dr. McClenachan warned that the fossil record shows that global disasters have wrecked the seas before. “Marine species are not immune to extinction on a large scale,” she said.

The oceans are the ultimate in out of sight industrial production because the only people who can get down to see them are those with special equipment. Even those who live on the shore can’t see more than a few inches below the surface. But the companies know what’s down there and they will extract it all, leaving the oceans a giant jellyfish desert.

Louisiana

[ 62 ] January 15, 2015 |

Louisiana is a really well-run state:

Public college and university campuses in Louisiana could close if the state ends up cutting $300 million or more out of its higher education budget during the next fiscal cycle.

Legislators and higher education officials said its college systems would have to shut the doors of multiple institutions and campuses if the schools have to absorb a funding reduction of that size. Around 15 locations — including three in the University of Louisiana system and six in the community and technical college cohort — could be directly affected.

“The magnitude of cuts being discussed for higher education could mean between 40 to 60 percent reductions of base funding for institutions in a single year. I do feel that all of our universities are critically needed for their regional economies and, especially, to meet the demands for workforce,” said Sandra Woodley, president of the University of Louisiana system, when asked about the possibility of campuses shutting down.

Higher education is also not the only thing keeping legislators up at night about the coming state budget reductions. Legislators said Jindal is supposedly looking to take some $250 million out of state health services in the next fiscal year.

Since the state uses some of that $250 million in health care money to get matching federal funding now, the total net loss to Louisiana’s health care budget would actually be much higher, somewhere around $1 billion, according to Senate President John Alario.

“That would be devastating to state health care,” he said.

Well surely Jindal will provide the necessary leadership to stop this, right?

Even if the state Senate got behind a plan to generate revenue, it would still have to be approved by the Louisiana House and Jindal. Jindal, who will likely be running for president later this year, has already told several people that he won’t consider hiking anything resembling a tax, which will make it difficult to raise revenue.

Of course. The 2016 Republican Primary is going to be such a joy.

Film Course Suggestions

[ 59 ] January 15, 2015 |

This spring, I am teaching Recent American History in Film. I have taught this before as a summer course, but those courses are unusual beasts without a lot of relevance for a traditional 15 week course. I don’t need suggestions on films, though I will put them up for you when I finish the syllabus. I do need some structural advice. This is a course that meets once a week for 2 1/2 hours. There are 30 students. Because I will be showing a film on a particular era or theme each week in class, I am going to require an unusual amount of out of class work from them (they are taking this because they think it will be easy. It will not.) Fine. But I also want them to watch another film outside of class each week, which they would have to write about before class starts on our course software website, and which would inform the week’s session. The problem is figuring out the access. We have an OK film collection in our library, but will students go in there to watch the films? And if they do, it’s all going to be the night before, so that won’t work. So then you have forcing them to subscribe to a streaming service. That’s fine, certainly. But which one? Neflix, Fandor, and the Warner archive all have their strong points, but none have the kind of library one would rely on for class. I can’t require Netflix discs I don’t think because it would overwhelm the system when I had 30 copies of Sullivan’s Travels coming all at once. I can’t realistically assign more than 1 service. I’m actually leaning toward Warner given the overwhelming number of older and American films, but that would still leave real weaknesses.

So what would you do in this situation? Surely some of you have taught film courses of various kinds, others have ideas too no doubt.

Traveling back to the U.S. today, so I won’t be able to respond much but I look forward to hearing your advice.

Reminder

[ 12 ] January 15, 2015 |

A quick reminder that unless you like international trade deals that vastly strengthen corporate property rights while undermining labor rights, environmental protections, and the American middle class, fighting the Trans-Pacific Partnership needs to be, along with fighting Keystone, at the top of your political priorities in 2015.

El Vomito

[ 49 ] January 14, 2015 |

El Vomito, which means exactly what you think it means, is a popular food chain in Santa Marta, Colombia. Its logo, as you see below, is a burger that looks like it is vomiting up ketchup. If I was a burger, I’d do the same if someone put ketchup on me.

IMG_1874

Call the Waaaaahhhbulance!

[ 43 ] January 14, 2015 |

Jamie Dimon is very, very upset that he has to deal with regulators. This is very sad.

Oh, Elite Architects

[ 57 ] January 14, 2015 |

Leave to it a Pritzker Prize winner to buy Ray Bradbury’s house in order to tear it down and build god knows what kind of thing.

Robert Stone, RIP

[ 29 ] January 11, 2015 |

Robert Stone, author of Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, and many other novels, has died. Of course, he’s most famous because I once rented an apartment that he had lived in not long before.

Richard Sherman: A Traitor to Conservatives

[ 20 ] January 11, 2015 |

It’s entirely unclear to me why The Free Beacon would name Richard Sherman its Man of the Year in 2014. But it has rescinded the “honor” because Sherman has recorded an ad, or “a government propaganda video” according to the site, to get people to sign up for Obamacare. Which of course means you should all be rooting for the Seahawks to win another Super Bowl.

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