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Arkansas’ Anti-Tattoo Legislation

[ 159 ] August 26, 2013 |

I’ll preface this by saying that I’m a member of the 1%: the one percent of Americans under the age of 40 who remains without a tattoo. So while I have no personal stake in the issue, the Arkansas bill banning “untraditional” tattoos or body modifications, whatever that means, is completely ridiculous. It’s unenforceable, unconstitutional, and outrageous. It also makes Arkansas look like a bunch of reactionaries fighting against the hippies, stereotypes that the Natural State does not want to reinforce through grotesque legislation. While I’m real curious as to the future of this tattooing fad, in many ways it’s not too different from the fight against long hair on men that led to violations of civil liberties in the 60s and 70s.

Maybe I’ll go get a hammer and sickle tattooed on my face and then drive to Arkansas.

The Eleventh Commandment of Graduate School: Be Nice to People!

[ 121 ] August 26, 2013 |

Claire Potter has her Ten Commandments of Graduate School, all of which I recommend highly.

Thou shalt not rack up unnecessary credit card debt. You may need to take out student loans to pay for things like shelter, food, medical care and a decent laptop computer. But don’t take out loans to pay for things you bought just to make yourself feel better. Try to make a budget for yourself that includes fun and going out to dinner with friends, but not all kinds of stuff you will end up throwing away when you have to move. And just because it’s a book doesn’t mean you need to own it. One of the great weaknesses of academics is buying books they never get around to reading.

Thou shalt not neglect thy dental or health care. Every tooth of mine that gets worked on in middle age became a problem in graduate school. I am totally serious about this.

Thou shalt find an excellent thrift store. You will gradually build yourself a wardrobe of professional clothes (ok, if you are like me, you will build a wardrobe of black tee shirts) and you needn’t buy anything new. Go to the swanky neighborhoods near your university and buy the really nice things other people discarded. If you don’t know how to shop, get someone to teach you.

Thou shalt not assume that merit systems are determinative. If there is anything I hate seeing on the Interwebz, it is people claiming that the person who got the job/fellowship/prize isn’t as smart or deserving or credentialed as they are. It’s the, “Gee I wrote four articles and have a book contract, and *that* person only wrote one article and a review essay” syndrome. I always wonder, Hmmm….maybe you didn’t get the job because the other person was nicer. #Everthinkathat? Academic success is not about racking up points and head to head competition. It’s about other people making choices that you have no control over. Do your best work, and then let it go.

Thou shalt have an excellent professional back-up plan. Tape this to your mirror. Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to learn things that will give you options if that dream job — or any tenure stream job — does not materialize. Things digital, things foundation oriented, things administrative. Yes, the Ph.D. program is designed to educate you, but this is the moment to educate yourself.

Thou shalt become an excellent colleague. Be generous with the others in your cohort. Look for people’s good sides and try to ignore their annoying qualities. And if you must, be honest with someone, whether it’s a hygiene issue or something that is just getting on your nerves. Beginning any comment with, “Hey, it’s probably just me, but…..”

Thou shalt join thy professional organization. It is a false economy to be out of touch with what is going on in the larger world of your field (particularly if it’s not a terribly large world, like Scandinavian Studies or something.) While you are at it, keep educating yourself about academia in general by reading Inside Higher Ed, this publication (some of the best blogs are free, but a two year subscription is cheaper than a month of your cable bill), and academic blogs (particularly those in your field that will alert you to books long before the reviews appear in a journal.) There are many voices: listen to all of them, decide what you think and what you care about. Professionalize yourself. Even if you end up leaving academia, you will know why — and how to use your experience to do something that suits you better.

Thou shalt not suck up to thy mentors nor have sexual congress with them, nor shalt thou, when a TA, cross the line thyself. Need I elaborate? An excellent way to shred your career right at the beginning is to be part of a sexual harassment suit. Or a co-respondent in someone’s divorce. Here’s another hint: undergraduates and graduate TA’s are not “students” in the same way. Even if you are only a year or two older.

Thou shalt not gossip and spread hurtful calumny, nor write vituperative email, nor bcc when chastising others. Many of the ways you may have behaved on email as an undergraduate will erode your reputation as a graduate student. For example: telling tales out of school on the faculty or on other graduate students; expressing resentment and anger to an audience; or writing long, enraged emails that you copy to other people. Particularly in the latter case, that email may be out there forever. Don’t assume your university email is private either: make sure you have another account that only the NSA can get into.

Thou shalt use the word discourse sparingly; likewise neoliberalism, and other theoretical catchphrases designed to obscure that thou hast not fully thought through thine ideas. The best part of the first year in graduate school is immersing yourself in the theoretical tools of your discipline or interdisciplinary field. You will feel like a big, wonderful sponge. But, as the wise Carroll Smith-Rosenberg once said to me, “Wear your theory lightly, my dear.” Don’t sound smart: be smart. Intellectuals don’t want to have Michel Foucault, or Michael Warner, or Gayatri Spivak, or Anthony Appiah read back to them: they want to know what you think. Make sure you know, and learn to speak and write it in the most inviting way you can.

Thou shalt remember that this was supposed to be fun. If you aren’t having fun, it is essential to find out why. Seek out appropriate counsel.

Claire gets at my larger point in a few of her commandments, but if there’s one thing I would say to graduate students, it would be to be nice to other people. Be nice to your fellow grad students. Be nice to your professors. Be nice to the students in classes you TA for. Never ever ever do something like sabotage fellow students by running to the library and hiding their books (this may in fact be an urban legend, but for whatever reason graduate students in history at Chapel Hill were always accused of this to me. Who knows.) Don’t undermine fellow people. Don’t talk bad about your peers. Don’t complain that someone got funding and you didn’t. Even if your fellow graduate students aren’t very nice, why engage with this? Stay positive, which means being positive to other people. Your fellow graduate students shouldn’t be seen as competitors with you. Instead, express solidarity with them through your fellow class interests.

Even though, as Claire points out, academia is no meritocracy (I have my job because I am lucky, not because I am so much better than all these other people), at the end, if your work is better, you will have a better shot at jobs. Being a jerk isn’t going to make your work better. It’s going to make you a bitter mean person who no one will want as a colleague. That matters a lot because departments don’t want to hire people they won’t want to see in the halls and exchange pleasantries with. That might not be the case at the very tippy top elite schools, but at the vast majority of institutions, it is. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of three departments, each of which range from being cordial with each other to having a lot of true friendships. And I don’t think anyone in these departments would allow great research and brains to overcome an unpleasant personality.

In short, as with most of life, be nice.

Peak Water

[ 165 ] August 26, 2013 |

If you don’t read Peter Gleick on water and the West, you really need to because he’s the most important journalist focusing on this vital issue. And if he says we have reached peak water, then we’ve probably reached peak water. After a long list of really depressing facts about water in the West (and the country more broadly), Gleick offers some wise advice:

First, we must acknowledge that we’ve reached peak water in the American west. We have promised more water to users than nature provides. Until demand and supply are brought back into balance, groundwater levels will continue to drop and our rivers will continue to run dry, destroying natural ecosystems. Second, we must acknowledge that there are limits to new supply and that we must turn to the demand side of the problem. This means figuring out how to use water more efficiently and productively, and thinking about moving some water-intensive activities and products to more water-abundant regions. Maybe it is time to grow less rice, alfalfa, cotton, and pasture with flood irrigation. It is past time to retire the green lawn as an acceptable landscape option in arid climates. All toilets and washing machines should be water- and energy-efficient. Finally we have to stop assuming that the water available for future use is the same as in the past. Climate change ensures that it won’t be, but until politicians start to heed the warnings of climate scientists and the on-the-ground evidence of the current water situation, our water problems in the west, and elsewhere, will worsen.

Absolutely true. Of course, we’ve barely begun to admit that these are real issues and we have to change our lifestyles in very real ways.

Monopoly and the Single Tax

[ 34 ] August 26, 2013 |

Now this is an interesting history of the boardgame Monopoly:

Hardly cosmetic, the changes introduce a whole new animating ideology to a game created to critique, not celebrate, corporate America. Contrary to popular board game lore, Monopoly was invented not by an unemployed man during the Great Depression but in 1903 by a feminist who lived in the Washington, D.C., area and wanted to teach about the evils of monopolization. Her name was Lizzie Magie.

Seventeen years before women could vote, Ms. Magie, a fiery stenographer, poet, sometime actress and onetime employee of the United States Postal Service’s dead-letter office, ginned up a game that mirrored what she perceived to be the vast economic inequalities of her day. She called it the Landlord’s Game and saw it as an educational tool and gamy rebellion against the era’s corporate titans, John D. Rockefeller Sr., Andrew Carnegie and J. P. Morgan.

Ms. Magie was an ardent follower of Henry George, who advocated a single tax on land. She cleverly designed two sets of rules: one in which the object was to get rich quick, the other as an anti-monopoly game in which all players benefited from wealth created. Historical evidence suggests that the more vice-laden monopolist game resonated with earlier players. “It is a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences,” Ms. Magie told The Single Tax Review in 1902. “It might well have been called the Game of Life, as it contains all the elements of success and failure in the real world, and the object is the same as the human race in general seem to have, i.e., the accumulation of wealth.”

I find it really interesting exploring how Americans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries tried to figure out what the heck to do about the excesses of capitalism. Many hoped for that one big idea that would fix everything–the Single Tax, Bellamyism, silver inflation, Chinese exclusion, the 8-hour day, eventually communism and anarchism. Of course, the answer was that it would take a multiplicity of complex laws merely to tame capitalism in the most basic way. I’m glad to know Monopoly was part of it.

The Sagebrush Rebellion Continues

[ 6 ] August 26, 2013 |

Western states and ideological conservatives continue their multi-decade ban against the federal government’s control over public land, demanding the government get out of their ability to do whatever they want to the land while still expecting subsidies for those acivities both direct and indirect. One of the big fights in recent years has been over road access, particularly in Utah. Still infuriated by Clinton’s creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah politicians has repeatedly sued for the public access to roads across wilderness areas and national monuments. A settlement was just reached in one case which seems to me a compromise that everyone hates enough to live with. But I thought this was telling:

The second settlement in the Utah cases might come in Kane County. In March, a federal district judge approved 12 of the county’s 15 R.S. 2477 claims, including on roads that cross the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, but that decision has been appealed by both sides. In an interesting twist, in May two Kane County ranchers filed papers seeking to get roads on their lands removed from the suit; they want those roads to remain private, rather than being opened to the public, reports the Salt Lake Tribune:

Their intervention marks a new front in Utah’s road controversies, pitting counties against their own residents.

“Nobody has taken into account these private property owners,” (Chris) Odekerken’s lawyer, Bruce Baird, says. “The county is in a philosophical fight with the feds. It’s a fight between two dinosaurs, and my clients are the rodents scurrying underneath trying to not get squished.”

That’s right, except I’d call it an ideological instead of a philosophical fight. While certainly many rural landowners support the state of Utah, especially the big rich ones, asking the people who are actually affected by these lawsuits evidently didn’t come to anyone’s mind.

Measles

[ 50 ] August 25, 2013 |

Who could have guessed that anti-vaccination idiocy would lead to illness?

A measles outbreak in Texas traces to a congregation of a megachurch whose leader, Kenneth Copeland, reportedly has warned followers away from vaccines, advocating for faith healing and pushing the debunked notion that vaccines cause autism. One of Copeland’s churches, Eagle Mountain International Church in North Texas, is the epicenter of the outbreak, which now has hit at least 20 people. According to USA Today’s Liz Szabo,

Those sickened by measles include nine children and six adults, ranging in age from 4 months old to 44 years old. At least 12 of those infected were not fully immunized against measles, Roy says. The other patients lack documents to show whether they were vaccinated.

Just as Wales is paying the price of the autism-measles vaccine panic begun 15 years ago, so is this Texas community. In the wake of the outbreak, the church’s pastor and Kenneth Copeland’s daughter, Terri Copeland Pearsons, was urging congregants take advantage of a couple of free vaccination clinics the church suddenly has on offer or to self quarantine at home for two weeks if they didn’t want to receive vaccinations.

The only solution to this problem is to give Jenny McCarthy a plumb position on a major talk show.

The Traditional American Breakfast

[ 240 ] August 25, 2013 |

What’s the deal with masculinity and the traditional American breakfast? The idea that it is our birthright, as American men, to eat a big breakfast of eggs, bacon or sausage, and toast, all covered in grease, is quite pervasive. When one says something like bacon is overrated, an argument I am willing to make at least for average bacon, outrage results. Feel free to bring the hate, I can take it. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with eating these foods occasionally. I like a big breakfast with some hash browns every now and again. But eating like this everyday is gross and bad for you. Tying this type of eating to what it means to be an American male is unhealthy. Take J. Oliver Conroy:

In this world there are a surprising number of people who believe that sliced fruit, or yogurt, or granola — or perhaps, if they are feeling especially bold, some combination of all three — constitutes breakfast. These people are categorically wrong. They may consume these foods at the time of day associated with breakfast, but at best they eat at breakfast or a breakfast; they do not eat Breakfast. We must regard them with scorn, or pity; they worship false idols, they covet their neighbors’ kale.

What is breakfast? Breakfast is the meal which exists in slight variants throughout the English-speaking world and includes eggs and meat and something made of potatoes or bread and a hot beverage. Breakfast is the Full English, or the Full American, or the Full Canadian. Breakfast is a triumph.

Yet breakfast is under threat. Breakfast, besieged by the pathologies of the twenty-first century, is fighting a desperate rearguard battle for survival, and at stake is nothing less than civilization itself.

This is a war of at least three fronts.

So the manly breakfast gets capitalized.

Of course the post is meant to be at least half-comical. Here’s the problem: the continental breakfast is far superior to the traditional American breakfast. A roll, some fruit, a boiled egg. How much more do you need? For that matter, who really needs three meals a day, unless you are doing hard physical labor? If I ate three meals a day, I’d put on 100 pounds in a year. Maybe I have a slow metabolism. But a small snack or light breakfast in the morning, a hearty lunch, and a medium-sized dinner seems entirely appropriate. Conroy makes fun of people who don’t eat breakfast because they are still full from last night. But why eat if you aren’t hungry? They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I’d disagree, but if you are dropping 1200 calories at breakfast, it is indeed the most important meal of your day because it is the one that is going to make you unhealthy.

Real men eat pancakes and waffles and eggs and bacon and sausage and toast–all at the same meal sometimes. Wimps and Eurotrash commies eat yogurt and fruit. Got it.

I realize there are plenty of women who love these foods too. But it’s almost a stereotype that this is a breakfast for guys who like breakfast and plenty of men are willing to rush in and defend it.

Finally, I am willing to support Conroy’s war on cupcakes.

Jargon of the Underworld

[ 25 ] August 25, 2013 |

Doing a little background research for my book yesterday, I stumbled across an issue of Dialect Notes from 1927, a publication of the American Dialect Society. In an article entitled “Dialect of the Underworld,” I discovered all sorts of fun stuff. Some examples (and you can explore for yourself here):

“fall togs. n. Good clothes to be worn when on trial so as to create a favorable impression.”

“cross. v. To offer an acceptable bribe.”

“coke party. n. A carousal, usually made up of thieves and prostitutes, where whisky and cocaine are the stimulants.”

“cattle. n. Downtrodden working men who are having their life’s blood sucked out by capitalists.”

“Cain and Abel. n. A chair and a table”

“buttermilk route. n.” The environs of Pittsburgh.”

“white coffee. n. Bootleg whisky”

“virgin. n. A prostitute who pretends she’s never been deflowered.”

“violent. n. A syphilitic far gone.”

“suck the bamboo. v. To smoke opium.”

“soul aviator. n. A preacher.”

“snots. n. Oysters.”

“slugging committee. n. An I.W.W. membership committee.”

“Sears Roebuck detective. n. A rural Sherlock Holmes”

“punk and gut. n. Bread and bologna.”

In other words, short of finding new historical cat boxing videos, this is about as good as it gets for me.

Can the AFL-CIO Organize Texas?

[ 80 ] August 25, 2013 |

Very interesting.

I do agree with the belief that Texas is uncharted country for progressives and Democrats more broadly. For the labor movement, this makes tremendous sense. For one, despite the extremist right-wing politics of Texas, Latinos are so dominant in the border and are so pro-union that it is a huge opportunity to turn south Texas into hardcore union country. Also, the growing numbers of Latinos in Texas combining with the relative progressive mindset (at least on social issues) of young people suggests some real possibilities going forward. This has to be a long-term strategy. Texas isn’t going blue in 2016. But the fundamental conditions on the ground are changing and moving on strategies for the next 20 years is really important. Let’s hope the federation’s commitment is serious.

This Day in Labor History: August 25, 1921

[ 36 ] August 25, 2013 |

On August 25, 1921, the largest labor insurgency in American history and the largest civil uprising since the Civil War began in Logan County, West Virginia when 10,000 miners and their supporters went to war with 3000 coal mine executives and their hired thugs. The Battle of Blair Mountain is one of the least known major events in American history.

By 1921, little had changed for several decades in the coal mining country of West Virginia. The coal companies ruled over this area like a medieval fiefdom, having almost total control over workers’ lives. They issued company scrip to shop at company stores, evicted workers from company housing if they went on strike, brutally crushed union attempts to organize the mines, and murdered union organizers. They hired goons to intimidate miners and spies to infiltrate union organizing effort. The United Mine Workers of America struggled to maintain a hold in West Virginia; in fact the UMWA throughout Appalachia had a rollercoaster of a membership for decades, with numbers skyrocketing after rare victories and collapsing after the inevitable oppression that followed.

Such a widescale rebellion took place in the aftermath of an event far more famous thanks to the John Sayles film detailing it, the Matewan Massacre, when Baldwin-Felts thugs got into a gun battle with the worker-sympathetic law enforcement officers of the town of Matewan. In 1921, the coal industry got their revenge on Mingo County sheriff Sid Hatfield, who had participated at Matewan, by murdering him on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse in Welch. That was on August 1. On August 7, the UMWA issued a petition of workers’ demands, including the arrest of Hatfield’s murderers, to West Virginia governor Ephraim Morgan. Morgan rejected them out of town and workers’ anger grew.

On August 20, armed men began gathering in Kanawha County, outside of Charleston and by August 24, 13,000 miners had arrived fully armed and ready to demand justice. While alarmed politicians began working toward compromise, Logan County sheriff Don Chafin wanted blood. Supported by the Logan County Coal Operators Association, Chafin hated the UMWA and wanted to eliminate them from his country entirely, preferably with the maximum shedding of blood. The coal operators provided Chafin a hired army of 3000 people to oppress the miners. On the request of Governor Morgan, President Warren Harding had sent General Henry Bandholtz to West Virginia on August 25. Bandholtz told union leaders the army would “snuff them out” if they did not end the march, leading many prominent UMWA figures, including Mother Jones to urge the end of the action to prevent fatalities. Although on August 26, many of the miners agreed to return to their homes, Chafin wanted to his pound of flesh. His men began shooting union members as they returned to their homes, with families caught in the crossfire.



A bunker used by the coal miners’ private army.

When news of Chafin’s duplicitious and murderous violence reached miners, they exploded. Several days of sporadic fighting followed between Chafin’s army and the miners. The coal operators hired private planes to drop homemade bleach bombs and other munitions on the miners. The U.S. military clearly showed itself on the side of the mine operators. General Billy Mitchell ordered U.S. army planes to conduct aerial surveillance of the difficult terrain and report back to the mine owners, possibly the first time that planes were used by the U.S. army against American civilians. Over the next week, about 30 of Chafin’s troops died as did probably about 100 miners.



An unexploded bomb dropped by the coal company army on the miners, displayed by those it meant to kill.

The Battle of Blair Mountain ended when Harding sent in U.S. troops to put down the revolt. Fearing massive death, UMWA leader Bill Blizzard ended the revolt on September 2 and told his members to return to their homes, which they did, attempting to hide the guns in the dense mountains. As normal during the pre-New Deal period, UMWA membership followed the fortunes of organizing, with membership plummeting from 50,000 to 10,000 after the suppression of the uprising.

In the aftermath, 985 miners were indicted and tried for charges including murder and treason against the state of West Virginia (who knew you could commit legal treason against a state). The charges against most were dropped. A Baptist minister and his son who led a party that killed three members of the coal companies’ army did serve three years in prison, before a new governor, Howard Gore, pardoned them. Some argue that while the Battle of Blair Mountain was a total loss for the UMWA, the attention it garnered about the lives of coal miners helped build support for the major labor reforms of the New Deal, of which no one benefited more than the United Mine Workers of America.

Some years later, Chafin was arrested on corruption charges and served time in federal prison for bootlegging.

Why is the Battle of Blair Mountain so unknown, in comparison to other big labor events of the period? It’s a combination of reasons. First, the coal companies and their lackey West Virginia politicians worked very hard to keep news of this under wraps, even into the present. The state long refused to acknowledge the existence of this event with even a basic historical marker, although that has finally been rectified. I’m not sure that even today the event is taught in West Virginia history courses in schools, even though it is one of the most important things to ever happen there. Second, it was a total defeat for the union, although that hasn’t stopped other major losses like Homestead and Pullman from becoming iconic events. Third, it was rural West Virginia and not urban Chicago or Pittsburgh. We rarely think about rural people or rural issues in anything more than the abstract. West Virginia is isolated and you have to really work to get out to Blair Mountain, whereas anyone in New York can wander over to the site of the Triangle Fire and the giant factories of Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania serve as visual representations of the struggles of labor past. Blair Mountain has none of this.

Today, the site of the Battle of Blair Mountain is highly endangered thanks to the coal companies’ insatiable desire to take every rock out of West Virginia. The site is on the chopping block for a mountaintop removal operation of the type that is the latest iteration of how the industry has exploited the labor and nature of West Virginia for the last 150 years later. The lack of public knowledge about the important history that happened on the site assists the coal companies in their desire to mine it.

The likely future of the site of the Battle of Blair Mountain

This is the 74th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Ted Post, RIP

[ 10 ] August 24, 2013 |

The director of Hang ‘Em High and Magnum Force is no more.

Also, the Sun Rose Today

[ 152 ] August 24, 2013 |

Another day, another incident of David Sirota embarrassing himself, this time over the March on Washington anniversary.