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I Love The Smell of Georgia Burning in the Morning

[ 19 ] November 27, 2014 |

Here’s something not to be thankful for in American history: treason in defense of slavery. Rebecca Onion has a review of what looks to be a very interesting new book on the sensory impact of the Civil War, exploring how the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the war were experienced by people.

Hancock, intent upon serving as a nurse in the aftermath of the battle, brought that average nose to Gettysburg, where she was too late to smell the flowering peach blossoms and the saltpeter of expended gunpowder, but in plenty of time to smell the dead. She wrote home:

“A sickening, overpowering, awful stench announced the presence of the unburied dead upon which the July sun was mercilessly shining and at every step the air grew heavier and fouler until it seemed to possess a palpable horrible density that could be seen and felt and cut with a knife …”

Hancock, Smith writes, was so overcome by the smell that she viewed it as an oppressive, malignant force, capable of killing the wounded men who were forced to lie amid the corpses until the medical corps could reach them. Hancock’s account, vivid in its horror, proves the limitations of the visual record of war. No photograph of the aftermath of the battle, writes Smith, could “capture the sounds, the groans or the rustle of twitching bodies”—and no image could ever capture that smell.

And the meanings of these sensory experiences was complex:

The senses also had social meaning to mid-19th-century Americans, marking differences between types of people. A 19th-century woman like Cornelia Hancock might process the smell of Gettysburg differently than we do because of the contemporary belief that cultivated people had sensitive noses and should guard themselves from unpleasant odors. The besieged citizens of Vicksburg weren’t merely turned off by the poor provisions during the long siege by Grant’s army; they were horrified at the idea of eating the same kinds of foods as the enslaved people around them. In the South, a sophisticated sense of taste was a marker of social status. Black people’s mouths and palates, by contrast, were considered by Southerners to be “physically unrefined and aesthetically immature,” Smith writes, a stereotype “justifying the allocation of plain, functional, and flavorless food to slaves on plantations.” White residents eating a monotonous cornbread and bacon diet inside the crowded city or in their cave shelters felt their social boundaries collapsing, even as they grew hungrier and hungrier.

I love the smell of Georgia burning in the morning.

Happy Thanksgiving!

[ 155 ] November 27, 2014 |

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Let’s learn a bit the lovely people we are remembering today:

On May 26, 1637, a Puritan force fortified by Native allies massacred a Pequot fort in Connecticut, killing as many as 500 men, women and children and burning the village to the ground.

McBride called the Pequot a “complex society” and the Pequot War one of the most controversial and significant events in Colonial history. The attack at Mystic Fort, which was the first of three massacres that occurred during the war, changed the way Native forces looked at warfare.

The massacre, led by English Captain John Mason, was the first documented use of “total war” against American Indians, meaning the English force slaughtered all Pequot they came in contact with, making no distinction between armed warriors or helpless women and children.

“By any standards, it was a massacre,” McBride said. “The English did intend to kill everyone there, but they did not do it to steal land or to control trade. They did it out of fear that the Pequot and their Native allies would perpetuate a region-wide attack on the English.”

Justifying his conduct, Captain Mason declared the attack was an act of God, he wrote in his Brief History of the Pequot War, published posthumously in 1736.

God “laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to scorn making [the Pequot] as a fiery Oven… Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling [Mystic] with dead Bodies.”

Native peoples in North America understood war. They didn’t understand genocide, at least not until the Puritans brought it to them in 1637.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Milk, Brought to You by Coke

[ 110 ] November 26, 2014 |

Coca-Cola is dealing with lagging soda sales by investing in moo juice:

With soda sales sagging, Coca-Cola is moving into the dairy business. It plans to offer milk with some big differences to the stuff now on supermarket shelves: For starters, it will cost twice as much.

A Coke exec told a conference last week that the company’s Fairlife will be “a milk that’s premiumized and tastes better and we’ll charge twice as much for it as the milk we’re used to buying,” the Guardian reports. Chief Customer Officer Sandy Douglas said the milk, which is being produced in venture involving 92 family-owned farms and will launch next month, will contain 50% more protein and 30% less sugar than regular milk.

A filtering process will also make it lactose-free.

Why, yes, I would love to pay twice as much for my milk! And I know that if there’s one company I trust to produce milk that is lower in sugar and higher in good things for you, it’s Coca-Cola.

I’m not lactose-intolerant so I can’t speak to this, but is there a real appeal to a lactose-free milk that would convince people to pay twice as much as regular milk? I know dairy-free faux dairy products, such as the unfortunate “cheese,” are not great, but there are lots of other ways to cook as well. Just curious here.

Worker Power on Thanksgiving

[ 34 ] November 26, 2014 |

Last year, Whole Foods was one of many companies to force employees to work on Thanksgiving. The employees were very angry about this and seven went on strike at a store in Chicago. In response to the negative publicity, Whole Foods stores in the Midwest are now allowing workers to sign up if they want to work on Thanksgiving and will pay them double wages to do so. That’s a victory. A bigger victory would be for Whole Foods to just close on Thanksgiving and allow its workers to have the holiday with family or friends. But it’s something.

The Last Time Mississippi Will Subsidize Health Care

[ 13 ] November 26, 2014 |

Researching the labor history post on the Black Codes, I ran across this tidbit from historian David Oshinsky:

Nugent was among the lucky ones: he came back alive. More than a third of Mississippi’s 78,000 soldiers were killed in battle or died from disease. And more than half of the survivors brought home a lasting disability of war. Visitors to the state were astonished by the broken bodies they saw at every gathering, in every town square. Mississippi resembled a giant hospital ward, a land of missing arms and legs. In 1866, one-fifth of the state budget went for the purchase of artificial limbs.

20 percent of a state’s budget, just for artificial limbs. I suppose the lesson is don’t commit treason to defend slavery, but while the percentages were must lower in the North, the impact of the returning amputees was just as drastic.

Life on the Road

[ 106 ] November 25, 2014 |

A good tale of a successful band that tours well, sells out shows, and comes up $11,000 in the hole for the tour. The whole “we don’t need to buy our albums because the artists will make the money on tour” is nothing more than justification for not buying albums. The artists aren’t making money on the tour.

Bangladesh: No Corporate Responsibility

[ 5 ] November 25, 2014 |

In 2012, the Tarzeen Fire in Bangladesh killed 112 workers. It’s been slightly forgotten in the aftermath of the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse that killed over 1100, but was certainly horrible in its own right–remember, Triangle killed 146 so Tarzeen was nearly as deadly. Of course, it’s hardly coincidental that all three of these incidents were in the apparel industry, which has long thrived on an extremely exploitative model that sought to protect department stores from responsibility for production. Such was the case at Triangle and such is the case at Tarzeen. Of the 16 clothing firms linked to production at Tarzeen at the time, only 2 have paid any compensation to the survivors or the families of the dead. Neither are American firms. The American firms contracting to have apparel made at Tarzeen: Dickey’s, Wal-Mart, Disney, and Sears. None of these companies have paid a cent. They continue to profit off the long-established system of apparel worker exploitation and dead workers are an acceptable cost for those profits. Only with mandatory compensation and legal recompense for the affected will these companies be held to account. And that is what we need to be fighting for, as I argue in Out of Sight.

This Day in Labor History: November 25, 1865

[ 35 ] November 25, 2014 |

On November 25, 1865, Mississippi created the first of the Black Codes. Designed to recreate slavery in all but name, this signified the white South’s massive resistance to the freeing of their labor force and the lengths to which it would go to tie workers to a place under white control.

The impact of slavery’s end is hard to overestimate. But the Emancipation Proclamation did not free any slaves immediately and the ratification of the 13th Amendment did not take place until well after the war’s end. The federal government was woefully unprepared, both in manpower and ideas, for ensuring that the rights of ex-slaves were respected after the war. Sure, slavery might be effectively dead as of April 14, 1865, when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, but was the U.S. military there to enforce freedom on the plantations? Largely, no. The immediate months after the war were filled with violence as whites killed newly freed people in the countryside, especially as they began to flee for cities like Memphis and New Orleans. For cotton planters, this black flight was a real threat. They prospered on owning black labor. If they couldn’t own that labor, planters at least needed to keep it on the land to pick the cotton that might allow them to rebuild their economic base.

The Black Codes thus intended to trap black labor in place. The plantation elite’s top goal immediately upon emancipation was to corral black labor, whose core goal was to avoid the plantation labor system, preferably replacing it with small farms they owned. The Black Codes intended to prevent this. Building upon the slave codes regulating black behavior, and especially black movement, before the war, the Black Codes was the South’s statement to the North that the end of the war did not mean the end of white supremacy. Blacks would have to show a written contract of employment at the start of each year, ensuring they were laboring for a white employer. At the core of the Mississippi code and copied around the South was the vagrancy provision. “Vagrancy” was a term long used in the United States to crack down on workers not doing what employers or the police wanted them to do. In this case, it meant not working for a white person.

Mississippi did not allow blacks to rent land for themselves. Rather, all blacks in rural areas must labor for a white under 1-year contracts. They did not have the option to quit working for that white person. If a black person in the countryside was found not working for a white person, the state would contract that worker out to a private landowner and receive a portion of their wages. If a black person could not pay high taxes levied on them by the state, they would be charged the vagrancy and the same process would result. As during slavery, any white person could legally arrest any black person. A Fugitive Slave Act-like provision was included that made it illegal to assist a black person from leaving their landowner with real punishments for whites who did so. That provision also stated that blacks caught running away would lose their wages for the year. Children whose parents could not take care of them, as defined by the whites of Mississippi, would be bonded to their former owners. Other forms of black behavior were also criminalized, such as preaching without a license or “insulting” language toward whites. Interracial marriage, it goes without saying, was banned as well.

In other words, Mississippi reinstituted slavery.

Other southern states quickly built on Mississippi’s black codes. South Carolina barred blacks from any occupation other than farmer or servant unless they played a very steep annual tax that sought to pauperize the large free black community in Charleston. Virginia included in its vagrancy law anyone who refused to work for the “usual and common wages given to other laborers” in order to eliminate whites competing for black labor. Florida’s Black Code allowed whites to whip those who broke their labor contract and then be sold for a year. Texas and Louisiana mandated that women and children who could work be working in the fields.

The response in the North to these laws was largely one of outrage. After all, what had they just fought this war over? While at the beginning of the war, northern whites could legitimately argue the war was about restoring the union and not slavery, no one could make that argument by the end of the war, for so it was so clearly about both. When word of this got out, the North, unclear what path toward Reconstruction it would take and still reeling from the death of Abraham Lincoln six months earlier and the ascendance of his successor, Andrew Johnson, was finally moved to take more decisive action against increasingly recalcitrant ex-Confederates.

Quickly after its passage, General O.O. Howard, head of the Freedman’s Bureau, declared the Black Code invalid. Congress met just a few weeks later for the first time since the end of the war. At this Congress, the South also sent ex-Confederate leaders such as former vice-president Alexander Stephens to represent them. Taken together, this led to the rise of Congressional Reconstruction and the war between Congress and Johnson. As the Southern elite did during the 15 years before the Civil War, its aggressive overreach created northern white backlash that then led to a significant commitment to black rights. That might not have lasted very long, but it did ensure that as unfair as postwar labor relations would become, they would look nothing like slavery. Congressional Reconstruction would void the black codes and put off the violent suppression of southern black labor for several years, opening at least the possibility of a future that provided the freed slaves dignity, although it was not to be.

In the end, it was sharecropping that would define the postwar southern agricultural labor force, not bonded black labor. There are a number of reasons for these complex arrangements that would still strongly exploit African-American labor, but it still provided ex-slaves more control over their lives than desired by the white plantation elite, who would largely be unable to recreate their economic dominance after the war.

As with all things Reconstruction, the work of Eric Foner is a great place to start, and some of this post is borrowed from his books.

This is the 125th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

No Indictment

[ 190 ] November 24, 2014 |

The grand jury does not indict Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

Least surprising development ever.

Glacier Memorial National Park

[ 29 ] November 24, 2014 |

I suppose I should visit Glacier National Park and Glacier Bay National Park before the glaciers become one of our starkest memorials to human-caused climate change. The loss of these glaciers will have widespread negative impacts on the humans and ecosystems in entire region, as they will around the world, including in China and Bolivia.

Last Minute Thanksgiving Meal Advice

[ 125 ] November 24, 2014 |

David Chang speaking some truth:

One small consolation is that turkey skin is delicious—no more so than the skin of other birds, but still, it gives you something to look forward to. Peel it off the bird, press it between two baking sheets, and bake it at 350 for twenty to thirty minutes, by which time it will crisp up like delicious crackers made out of meat.

It’s what to do with the white meat that’s the real ball-breaker. I would say feed it to your dog, but maybe your dog knows better than your friends and family? Ideally you’ll use this holiday to judge whether your family members are good people or not. Will they trust you to make Thanksgiving a way better holiday by dispensing with the Rockwell painting once and for all? Put them to the test.

One time I tried to go all Korean Pilgrim Hero, and I turned a gigantic stupid turkey into a couple of roulades, which is French for “delicious meat logs.” It went like this: I splayed the skin out. I pounded the breast meat into cutlets and laid them over the skin. Braised leg meat, stuffing (with lots of thyme and mirepoix), and some super-gelatinous turkey stock went in the middle. I used plastic wrap to torque these assemblages into roulades. Then I roasted them low and browned them in butter and bird fat to crisp the skin before serving. They were good, sure. But you know what I should have done? Gone to KFC and bought a shitload of chicken, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, gravy, and corn. I can’t imagine any turkey tasting as good as KFC.

Dark meat chicken from KFC for me. I can make better mac and cheese though so that can be the homemade part of the meal.

…..Also, at least I now know who to blame for the abomination of marshmallows on sweet potatoes.

Black Friday Strikes

[ 25 ] November 24, 2014 |

Why do Wal-Mart workers keep using one-day strikes as a protest tool? Largely because they don’t have any other tools that are likely to work:

One-day strikes don’t shut down the workplace like iconic strikes of yore did (and some workers, like Chicago teachers, still can). But if done right, they can accomplish some of what those walkouts did: Embarrass companies, estrange them from their customers, and engage fellow workers and the broader public by disrupting business as usual and creating a public spectacle. Instead of halting production, they anchor broader campaigns of political, media, legal, and consumer pressure aimed at getting management to budge. “It’s showing them that enough is enough,” says Venanzi Luna, one of about 60 employees who joined a Nov. 13 California walkout backed by OUR Walmart, the non-union workers group closely tied to the United Food & Commercial Workers union. OUR Walmart insists its protests are paying off, pointing to a series of announcements by the retailer that address policies—from minimum-wage pay, to part-time scheduling, to accommodations for pregnant workers—that have been rallying cries for the campaign.

It’s entirely possible (I’d say probable) that this pressure is what is causing Wal-Mart to slightly move the dial toward a dignified life for its workers. But the end game is really hard to see for this movement. A wide-scale strike is really not possible without 100 times more active support for Wal-Mart workers than it presently has, in no small part because there are so many locations and workplaces. Even if everyone in one store went on strike, if the other nearby stores didn’t follow, Walmart would easily swat it away. Given this situation, the 1-day strike makes a lot of sense with continued pressure throughout the year that keeps the Wal-Mart workers’ situation in our consciousness and hopefully leads to some sort of eventual larger transformation of workers’ lives. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt when Wal-Mart embarrasses itself.

In other words, these actions are indicative of both the problems American workers face in 2014 and the potential organizing actions to alleviate those problems.

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