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[ 58 ] October 9, 2015 |

Give a shoutout to bspencer for the new banner.

One can assume that the gentlemen in the picture is not only balancing our obsessions, but also riding a dead horse.

Apropos of nothing except Farley saying we get an image in our posts to get more Facebook attention, and since the banner is already on the site and thus no reason to replicate it, here’s a tune for your afternoon.



[ 17 ] October 9, 2015 |


This reprint of a 1977 profile of Reggie Jackson is amazing. It goes up there with the Ken Stabler profile. In fact, there should be more reprints of old sports journalism. Great stuff.

All of Your History Stories, In One Fine Collection

[ 52 ] October 9, 2015 |


Like the environmental post yesterday, there are a lot of interesting historical posts I’ve been meaning to talk about. Let’s move through them all at once.

1) Extremely expensive dinners in 19th century America. Turtle for all!

2) In the late 19th century, Christians responded to Satan’s minions practicing “science” by showing how the scripture proves the Earth is flat. Today’s conservatives are slacking off in their anti-science ways. Step it up people. Sounds to me like we might have a new requirement for being elected Speaker of the House.

3) Decolonizing elementary school American history, a much needed phenomenon to teach our children something other than Puritans were awesome and prepare them for the multicultural American of 2015.

4) People sometimes complain when I write about the Civil War and battles over its memory that this is all long ago and doesn’t matter. This is an incredibly myopic view, in no small part because conservatives are fighting this war all the time and they pick their battles wisely, i.e., they force textbook companies to tell conservative history. Such as that slaves were workers brought from Africa to work on agricultural plantations. But not slaves. Don’t mention that word.

The Whitest Protest Movement in Global History

[ 258 ] October 8, 2015 |


People who need to reconsider their priorities:

It’s nothing personal, says Ben Ewen-Campen, he just doesn’t think French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir is much of a painter. Monday, the Harvard postdoc joined some like-minded aesthetes for a playful protest outside the Museum of Fine Arts. The rally, which mostly bewildered passersby, was organized by Max Geller, creator of the Instagram account Renoir Sucks at Painting, who wants the MFA to take its Renoirs off the walls and replace them with something better. Holding homemade signs reading “God Hates Renoir” and “Treacle Harms Society,” the protesters ate cheese pizza purchased by Geller, and chanted: “Put some fingers on those hands! Give us work by Paul Gauguin !” and “Other art is worth your while! Renoir paints a steaming pile!” Craig Ronan, an artist from Somerville, learned about the protest on Instagram and decided to join. “I don’t have any relationship with these people aside from wanting artistic justice,” he said. The museum hasn’t commented on the fledgling movement, but a few folks walking by Monday seemed amused. “I love their sense of irony,” said Liz Byrd, a grandmother from Phoenix who spent the morning in the museum with her daughter and grandchild. “I love Renoir, but I think this is great.

On first glance, this is just stupid. But on second, it’s actually pretty offensive because it lampoons those who actually care about social change, trivalizing actual issues, whether one is on the left or right. And I guess that’s fine if they want to–it’s a free country if you are a rich, white, heterosexual male–but these people probably laugh at real protesters and find them worth mocking.

Also, regardless of the merits of the art, Renoir fathered Jean Renoir and anything that led to Rules of the Game cannot be bad.

Environmental News and Notes

[ 44 ] October 8, 2015 |


A bunch of smaller stories on environmental issues that deserve some attention:

1) With buildings collapsing in Oklahoma from the plethora of earthquakes caused by fracking, maybe someone in the state will make the connection and suggest that we need to research these earthquakes before going ahead with the procedure? Probably not.

2) I get that this essay about runners racing on the Grand Canyon trail and throwing their energy packs and water bottles on the trail and defecating around the trail has more than a little bit of the “kids get off my lawn” feel. But the issue is real enough. Are public lands designed for the kind of endurance racing, record setting, and extreme sports that a growing number of people love, even though they can cause real damage and degradation of the land? Or are they for a gentler use? Do societal norms exist on the trail or is it a dog-eat-dog world of extreme individualism? Naturally enough, these questions reflect trends in larger society, as do the sports of choice themselves.

3) Texas water use is totally sustainable. Just keep piping that water to new suburban developments.

4) I’m not sure what Gregg Easterbrook is thinking here. He’s right that we need new environmental legislation to deal with greenhouse gases. But he’s hopelessly muddled in how he thinks that’s going to happen:

But there is a compromise the political world has missed: The Democratic presidential contenders endorse the Keystone pipeline, in return for the Republican presidential contenders’ backing the E.P.A.’s effort to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

This is a classic compromise in which each side gives something and gets something. The pipeline would help ensure American petroleum security; activists of the left should drop the silly pretense that Keystone is some kind of doomsday device. Carbon restrictions on power plants absolutely must come, and are likely to be good for everyone; activists of the right should stop fighting the future.

If the presidential contenders could shake hands on this compromise — even if any pair of two did so — the nation would benefit, and the stage might be set for constructive revisions of environmental laws following the 2016 election. Peace needs to break out on environmental protection. The presidential contenders can prove they are leaders by taking the first step.

This is super dumb. Even if we accept his Keystone argument (and doing so underplays the symbolic importance of it to popular conceptions of environmentalism; given the role of consumers and citizens in shaping American environmental policy over the last 60 years, one must take it into consideration), in what alternative universe does the Republican Party of 2016 agree to this? They are on a race to the intellectual bottom in denying climate change and hating the EPA. Such an agreement assumes that rational politics would not torpedo a given Republican’s chance to win the nomination. “Activists of the right should stop fighting the future.” Oh, OK. Because clearly the environment is the ONLY issue in which they are doing that.

Pesticide Protections for Farmworkers

[ 12 ] October 8, 2015 |


One of the most important and underreported stories over the last few weeks was the EPA setting new pesticide protections for farmworkers.

The new rules, announced by EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, and United Farm Workers (UFW) president Arturo Rodriguez, include the following stipulations:

All pesticide applicators will be required to be at least 18 years old, rather than 16;

Whistleblower protections, including for undocumented workers, must be implemented so that farm laborers can safely file complaints over workplace abuse;

Workers or their representatives must be allowed easy access to records involving hazardous chemical exposure.

These are the first new regulations designed to promote farmworker safety since 1992. One reason for that is that the new pesticides developed to protect consumers from pesticide poisoning strike hard and fast, but don’t persist. That means that their entire human impact is on the farmworkers, but consumers were safe. That basically ended the pesticide exposure movement among foodies (the organic movement is different but related, but both focus almost entirely on consumers) and left farmworkers high and dry as far as effective allies go for protecting them from pesticides. We’ll see how effective they are; my guess is an improvement but a lot of workers will still get sick.

Agribusiness is of course furious, with all the expected stated reasons being used to hide the real reason, which is that they don’t mind killing farmworkers if it increases their profits.

I’ll also note how the United Farm Workers, despite being a non-entity among unions and that includes those actually organizing farmworkers, remains the historical touchstone that centers them in narratives of farmworker protection in the present as well. If I was an organizer for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee or Coalition of Immokalee Workers, this might annoy me.

This Hour’s Idiotic Republican Presidential Candidate Argument

[ 232 ] October 7, 2015 |


Carly Fiorina claims that her B.A. in medieval history she received nearly 40 years ago gives her qualifications to fight ISIS. Yeah, no. Medieval historian David Perry with the smackdown:

As a medievalist, I believe that we need to study the past in order to respond to the present, but we must learn the right things. Isis is, undoubtedly, inspired by medieval and pre-medieval Islamic ideas about power, purity and what they believe to be the “true nature of Islam.” Medieval Islam, like all religions, contained many different types of ideas and practices. Some were comparatively tolerant and open to innovation and differences; others were more restrictive. I argue, as the president did in February, that you can look into the history of any religion and find examples of both the best and worst of humanity within it, then draw inspiration as you see fit.

It’s vital to recognize, though, as John Terry writes in Slate, that the viciousness of Isis emerges from its modernity, not its artificial links to the past. Terry writes: “Isis is not re-enacting the seventh-century Arab conquests, even though some among its ranks may think they are. They’re nostalgic for a make-believe past, and those among them who know plenty about Islam’s first decades have conveniently revised medieval history to fit modern ideological needs.”

Isis depends on modernity. Their growth was made possible by modern wars – from the division of the Middle East post-World War I to the most recent wars in Iraq and Syria. It’s only in this ultra-modern context that a group like Isis could grow and flourish. They expertly deploy modern technology to recruit and communicate. Some of their recruits even purchased Islam for Dummies before trying to head to the war zone. Now there’s an ultra-modern “fake it until you make it” mentality.

If Carly Fiorina really wants to draw on the Middle Ages for inspiration, I do have some suggestions. Lesson one: support universities, scholars, writers and artists, as their contributions outlive us all. Lesson two: peasants, oppressed for too long, always rebel. Lesson three: don’t go to war in the Middle East without a good exit plan.

In other words, “medieval” is just an incorrect word to describe policies we find distasteful, not only is no one qualified to lead the United States because they have a particular degree but Fiorina is especially unqualified because she misunderstands ISIS and what period of history created them, and third, Fiorina, like the Bush administration and all the other Republican presidential candidates not only doesn’t understand Islam but doesn’t want to understand it because said understanding would create complexity and get in the way of bombing the savages and making Americans feel awesome about themselves through war against unworthies. Meanwhile, actual medieval Islam was saving the knowledge of the Greeks from the illiterate, warlike, and brutal European tribes marauding through Rome.

The Left, Politics, and the Democratic Party

[ 162 ] October 7, 2015 |


Dissent’s new issue is titled “Arguments on the Left” and pairs authors together to argue a point. One of the questions is the relationship of the left to the Democratic Party. This is a case however where both sides are essentially correct because they aren’t really arguing with each other. First, Michael Kazin argues that the left must also be Democrats:

It would be wonderful to belong to and vote for a party that stood unambiguously for democratic socialist principles, articulated them to diverse constituencies in fresh and thrilling ways, and had the ability to compete for every office from mayor to legislator to governor to senator to president. But not many Americans speak Norwegian.

In the United States, there are innumerable obstacles to starting and sustaining a serious new party on the left: the electoral laws work against it, most of the media would ignore it, the expenses of building the infrastructure are prohibitive, and the constituency for such a party doesn’t currently exist. A majority of Americans do say they would like to have a third party to vote for. But at least as many of those people stand on the right as on the left, and many others just despise “politics as usual” and seldom, if ever, vote. In the meantime, a tiny, existing left-wing party can run a famous individual for president who manages to win enough votes to tip a critical state to the Republican nominee. In 2000, if just one percent of the 97,488 Floridians who voted for Ralph Nader had, instead, chosen Al Gore, George W. Bush would have remained in Texas. And the United States would probably not have invaded Iraq in 2003. Bernie Sanders knows all this—which is why he decided to run for president as a Democrat.

For Americans on the left, whether to vote and canvass for Democrats, and perhaps run for office as one, ought not to be a matter of principle. It’s a pragmatic question: can one do more to make the United States a more just and humane society and help people in other societies by working inside, as well as outside, the party, or by ignoring or denouncing it? Of course, leftists in the United States should continue to do what they have always done: stage protests, build movements, educate people, lobby politicians, and create institutions that try to improve the lives of the people whom they serve. But political parties are essential to a healthy democracy. And right now, the Democrats are the only party we have.

Right. There is no question that any serious discussion of how left-leaning change will happen must include running through the Democratic Party. There are no third-party alternatives in the United States, moreover THERE NEVER HAS BEEN. Third parties at best can be advocacy groups to promote a cause that eventually gets taken up by one or both of the two dominant parties. But it’s usually an awfully ineffective way to raise the issue because the amount of work it takes to build the party detracts from working on the actual issue. The only possible exception is the Populists, but as I have stated many times before, the Populists only gained traction in states that did not have a functional second party and totally failed in any state that was competitive. And then when it did try to go national, it was easily co-opted by the Democrats and completely collapsed. This one example, 120 years ago, is the best example third party activists have. So that’s not good.

But at the same time, it’s not like all leftist activity should go through the Democratic Party. That would also be a terrible idea. Tons of organizing needs to happen on every issue outside the 2-party system in hopes that the necessary policy changes to enact those agendas becomes part of the legislative conversation. David Marcus:

It has often been said that citizen activism alone is not enough—that real political action begins after the street marches and sit-ins. This is when the tough and necessary compromises of politics happen, the so-called “sausage making” required to turn a movement’s demands into policies and legislation. And the point is well taken. In a liberal democracy, elected representatives will almost always be the main agents of social change and the democratic left—no matter how committed it is to a citizen politics—will never entirely be released from its obligation to engage with the Democratic Party.

But the left’s strength, and its power, will always lie outside formal politics. From the abolitionists and the suffragists to the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, our advantage has always been the result of our outsider status. By working outside formal bodies of power, we can demand what appears to be impossible to those within; our acts of organized dissent—our pressure and publicity campaigns—can insist on a set of political alternatives. Michael Harrington was right to see the democratic left as a core element of the “left wing of the possible,” those working within the Democratic Party to help elect and empower its liberal and progressive factions. But we must also remain just left of the possible, reminding those in power not only of what is achievable within the limits of the political system but what ought to be achievable.

This is a politics of protest and public persuasion, the work of citizen activists and amateur politicians organizing and persuading neighbors and co-workers. It will almost certainly take too many evenings, as Oscar Wilde once complained. But this is also the steady work that has always been the purview of a left committed to democratic opposition. “Socialism is done from below,” a Cuban activist recently told one of our writers. Our hope is that one day it will also trickle up.

That’s fine too. In fact, I don’t even think they really disagree. Kazin doesn’t say to avoid non-party politics and Marcus doesn’t seem to support pointless third party runs. Rather, he’s saying that organizing should take place on the ground and in the streets. Which is absolutely correct. Labor should work to elect Democrats but it should also promote grassroots activism outside the political realm, like the Fight for $15. Environmentalists should work to promote Obama’s EPA coal-fired power plant restrictions and get arrested over the Keystone XL Pipeline. Etc. There’s plenty of room to create change both inside and outside the Democratic Party. What I hope we can unite around is that third parties are a pointless waste of time and resources that rarely if ever serve a good for anyone. But as for outside or inside the political system, both please.

Out of Sight in Cambridge

[ 60 ] October 6, 2015 |

Given that approximately 113 percent of LGM commenters live in the greater Boston area, it was really good to meet so many of you tonight. Meeting the regulars been the most enjoyable part of these book events. FYI, the next event is November 10 at Marist College in Poughkeepsie.

Guns, Slavery, and America’s Permanent White Wingnuttery

[ 148 ] October 6, 2015 |


Conservatives, including the conservative I ended up across the table from last weekend who I told that I wanted the government to invade his home and take his guns, love to say that their ability to have 8000 high-powered guns was the direct intent of James Madison. To say the reality is a wee bit more complicated is a huge understatement. The supposed iron-clad judicial approval of unlimited gun control is only true if you take the decisions of pro-slavery southern judges as your guide. If you consider what is happening in the antebellum north, it’s a different story.

The slave South’s enthusiasm for public carry influenced its legal culture. During the antebellum years, many viewed carrying a concealed weapon as dastardly and dishonorable—a striking contrast with the values of the modern gun-rights movement. In an 1850 opinion, the Louisiana Supreme Court explained that carrying a concealed weapon gave men “secret advantages” and led to “unmanly assassinations,” while open carry “place[d] men upon an equality” and “incite[d] men to a manly and noble defence of themselves.” Some Southern legislatures, accordingly, passed laws permitting open carry but punishing concealment. Southern courts followed their lead, proclaiming a robust right to open carry, but opposing concealed carry, which they deemed unmanly and not constitutionally protected. It is this family of Southern cases that gun-rights advocates would like modern courts to rely on to strike down popularly enacted gun regulations today.

But no similar record of court cases exists for the pre-Civil War North. New research produced in response to Heller has revealed a history of gun regulation outside the South that has gone largely unexplored by judges and legal scholars writing about the Second Amendment during the last 30 years. This history reveals strong support for strict regulation of carrying arms in public.

In the North, publicly carrying concealable weapons was much less popular than in the South. In 1845, New York jurist William Jay contrasted “those portions of our country where it is supposed essential to personal safety to go armed with pistols and bowie-knives” with the “north and east, where we are unprovided with such facilities for taking life.” Indeed, public-carry restrictions were embraced across the region. In 1836, the respected Massachusetts jurist Peter Oxenbridge Thacher instructed a jury that in Massachusetts “no person may go armed with a dirk, dagger, sword, pistol, or other offensive and dangerous weapon, without reasonable cause to apprehend an assault or violence to his person, family, or property.” Judge Thacher’s charge was celebrated in the contemporary press as “sensible,” “practical,” and “sage.” Massachusetts was not unusual in broadly restricting public carry. Wisconsin, Maine, Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, Oregon, and Pennsylvania passed laws modeled on the public-carry restriction in Massachusetts.

But then having unlimited access to guns has always been the goal of conservative white men. And this brings us to Douglas County, Oregon sheriff John Hanlin, who has come under a lot of criticism for his own embrace of extremist gun culture now that his county was the site of a mass murder.

John Hanlin, the sheriff of Douglas County who has been in charge of the police response and investigation of Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College, has fallen under media scrutiny because he’s left an eyebrow-raising trail of gun nuttery that shades into conspiracy theorist territory. His past behavior calls into question not just his own office’s ability to handle this case responsibly, but tells us a lot about why it’s so hard to even begin to have a reasonable conversation about guns in this country, much less move towards sensible policies to reduce gun violence.

Conservatives aren’t lying when they say they need guns to feel protected. But it’s increasingly clear that they aren’t seeking protection from crime or even from the mythical jackbooted government goons come to kick in your door. No, the real threat is existential. Guns are a totemic shield against the fear that they are losing dominance as the country becomes more liberal and diverse and, well, modern. For liberals, the discussion about guns is about public health and crime prevention. For conservatives, hanging onto guns is a way to symbolically hang onto the cultural dominance they feel slipping from their hands.

This comes across clearly in the letter that Hanlin wrote to Vice President Joe Biden in 2013 where he asked that the administration “NOT tamper with or attempt to amend the 2nd Amendment” and where he threatened ominously, “any federal regulation enacted by Congress or by executive order of the president offending the constitutional rights of my citizens shall not be enforced by me or by my deputies, nor will I permit the enforcement of any unconstitutional regulations or orders by federal officers within the borders of Douglas County Oregon.”

Despite all the attempts at formal, legalistic language, Hanlin is clearly writing more in a mythical vein than he is actually addressing any real world policy concerns. His absolutist language about the 2nd amendment ignores the fact that there are already federal and state regulations on guns and who can buy them. More disturbingly, his posturing about open rebellion against the federal government evokes the conspiracy theory-mindset of the hard right, the kind of paranoid hysteria about federal power that led to so much violence during the Clinton administration, from shootouts at Waco and Ruby Ridge to the federal building bombing in Oklahoma City. This is not a letter from someone soberly assessing the pros and cons of proposed regulations on firearms. This is the letter of someone wrapped up in childish fantasies of revolution.

But then this plays so well in Douglas County. The county just south of my hometown is still recovering from the end of the timber industry and the cultural changes that have transformed Oregon in the last 30 years. A place like Douglas County, rural, poor, and white, feels threatened by a secular America, one with a scary black man with a scary name from a scary city as president. With the gays marrying and the women running around, and the libtards in Eugene ruining their resource exploitation state, everything is threatening. Everything. The America they dreamed once existed is no more. And they don’t know what to do. So they arm themselves and kill each other. And this scenario is played out over and over again around the nation, such as Tennessee Attorney General Ron Ramsey urging Christians to arm themselves against the impending atheist-led apocalypse. With white male hegemony under supposed threat from so many places, even as white men still control most of the levers of society, only putting down the strange new people with guns will make them feel remotely safe. But of course they will just put down each other.

Oregon’s White History Uniforms

[ 88 ] October 6, 2015 |


Oregon loves its white heritage. As a native, I’ll be honest, Oregon history is really boring. It missed out on most of the interesting flash points of US West history. It lacked almost all of the Old West violence that people love. There were no major wars with Native Americans. There was almost no mining, especially compared to every other state. It experienced relatively little transformation during World War II, especially as its major World War II city was wiped out by a flood soon after the war. So what Oregon as its central mythology is logging, which is controversial enough in an environmentalist-oriented state with an embittered pro-logging minority that is too recent to embrace, and its pioneer history. That is pretty boring to tell you truth. It’s a bunch of conservative white people moving from Ohio and Indiana and starting farms in the Willamette Valley. And that’s pretty much it. But at the beginning of that is the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Oregon loves it some Lewis and Clark. It’s kind of unclear why. It’s an exciting story in a sense. But it’s also a story that is central to American conquest. Yes, the expedition was relatively nonviolent toward Native Americans. But there’s no question what this was about–Clark’s brother George Rogers Clark was an architect of the late 18th century Indian conquest and William came from the same cloth. And that this is so central to Oregon historical mythology makes sense in how the state is so white. Portland has become the nation’s white paradise, but it kind of always was, with the original Oregon constitution banning African-Americans from the state and with the state never developing a large African-American population.

And then there are the Oregon uniforms. Largely, I love them, even the ugly ones, because I want the Ducks to win, as challenging as that has been with the atrocious quarterbacks of the 2015 edition. They help Oregon win because the kids love crazy uniforms. So it really helps a team in a state with a big zero of high school talent to recruit quality players. They keep coming up with new ideas. And on Saturday, Oregon will be wearing Lewis and Clark uniforms. I have trouble with this because it’s another example of Oregonians embracing a white supremacist history as its core mythology. I can’t be comfortable with this. No, it’s probably not the equivalent of Mississippi fans bringing Confederate flags to games. But then we still downplay racism toward Native Americans in American culture, even on the left, as we often forget about them when thinking about racism in the present. Lewis and Clark uniforms are uniforms celebrating American conquest. That’s not cool. Not at all.

Maybe I’m taking this too seriously. But the politics of history matter and so much of American history is based upon exclusion and white supremacy. That includes the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Diapers and Poverty

[ 71 ] October 5, 2015 |

It’s great that San Francisco is developing the nation’s first government-run diaper bank for poor families. It’s totally ridiculous that this is not a national program or that we don’t see diapers as a human right for children.

Government benefits have extremely restrictive spending rules that can place challenging limitations on beneficiaries. Diapers are classified like cigarettes under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps”), one of the primary resources for low-income families in the United States. While cash benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) can be used at the beneficiary’s discretion, most families sink those resources into housing and other critical needs — like menstruation supplies, which are also not covered by SNAP. That leaves them struggling to afford diapers, especially when paychecks have dwindled down at the end of the month.

5.3 million children in the United States live in poverty, and 33 percent of families report “diaper need,” a shortage of diapers at some point during the year. Toddlers typically need approximately eight diapers daily, while infants can require 12 or more. That’s a lot of diapers, and for many low-income people, predatory merchants overcharge them, knowing that diaper purchases are a critical life necessity. Corner stores and other establishments in low-income neighborhoods, already famous for inflated prices, charge $0.50 or more per diaper, in comparison with prices much lower than that at discount and warehouse stores which low-income families can’t access because they may be out of reach of public transit or inconvenient to get to — or it may be too hard to bring supplies back along a meandering assortment of public transit transfers. Affording an economy pack can also be a barrier, as it may not be possible to spend a large amount of money all at once even with a per-diaper cost savings.

Leaving children in wet diapers comes with health risks like rashes, inflammation and infection. A dry baby is a happy baby not just because wet diapers are uncomfortable, but because they’re dangerous, and many low-income parents are forced to watch their children suffer because they can’t change their diapers often enough. San Francisco’s diaper bank aims to change that, sinking nearly $500,000 annually into diaper assistance for parents who are already on CalWORKS, the state’s welfare program. Parents can show up to distribution centers to request diapers in a range of sizes for their children.

You’d think that anti-abortion activists would rally around this and promote this as a national policy. They care about babies, right? Oh yeah, actual human babies they don’t care about at all. Instead, it’s those heathen atheists in hippie California who are doing something for real life humans.

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