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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.

Can’t Take No More

[ 9 ] August 24, 2013 |

“Can’t Take No More,” a 1980 film about workplace health and safety narrated by Studs Terkel is just incredible and very much worth watching, both for its footage of early 20th century workplaces as well as its discussion of contemporary issues and how OSHA empowered workers.

The film takes on an optimistic tone. But already by 1980, corporations were moving their plants from the United States to Mexico, Taiwan, and South Korea, and later to Honduras, Bangladesh, and China precisely to recreate the days of the Triangle Fire, when they could profit handsomely off workplace death without any repercussions. Americans suffer from a lot less workplace disease than they used to, but that’s because Americans have a lot less steady work. Ultimately, it will take internationally enforceable workplace health and safety standards, with workers around the world able to sue companies in the corporate country of origin, to make corporations accountable. Maybe one day, if I live long enough, I might see that.

This is also a good time to note that just yesterday, OSHA issued new regulations on silica that could save up to 700 lives a year by preventing silicosis, a disease that plays a big role in “Can’t Take No More.”

….IB in comments: “People talk a lot about the Supreme Court (very sensibly) and war-and-peace (a little less so, sad to say) as reasons to keep voting for Democratic presidential candidates, but honestly it’s things like those OSHA regs on silica that have led me to hold my nose and support the Lesser Evil presidential candidate. On the margin, lives are on the line.”

Could not say it better myself. When people say that the two parties are the same or say we should throw our votes to Republicans because of this or that issue they’ve decided is the one who matters, I say they are showing the privilege to ignore the consequences of the issues the two parties are in fact quite different on, such as workplace safety. No McCain or Romney administration would be issuing those new silica regulations. That stuff matters a lot.

Rule of Three

[ 18 ] August 24, 2013 |

Some of you are probably hanging out with friends today, what with it a nice August Saturday and all. See how many archaic words for genitalia you can drop in conversation. Your friends will be quite impressed. Even more so if it is your family.

Class Segregation

[ 40 ] August 24, 2013 |

Jim Crow worked so well for race, applying its principles to separate the rich and poor makes total sense!

A luxury high-rise apartment in Manhattan’s Upper West Side is set to have a so-called “poor door” — a separate entrance for low-income residents receiving subsidized housing.

The 33-story building — 40 Riverside Boulevard – being developed by Extell Development Company will have 219 condominiums selling for more than $1 million each.

But by including 55 affordable housing units on the first few floors renting at a starting price of $845 a month, the developer could get a tax break, according to the West Side Rag.

With this disparity between the million-dollar condos for purchase versus the units for rent at a phenomenally low price for Manhattan, the developer decided to design the building with separate entrances for those who own condos and those who rent at a price below market value. As one might expect, this “rich door,” “poor door” situation doesn’t sit well with some.

I wonder why.

The Tebowites Try to Cope With Their Loss

[ 103 ] August 23, 2013 |

As we are seeing the likely end of Tim Tebow’s football career, with the inevitable right-wing political career to follow, Tebow defenders are trying to figure out their lord and savior is so bad at football. Rather than admit that they have been wrong about his NFL abilities from day one, they’ve come up with the idea that Tebow was good but has suffered a sudden loss in skills. Mike Freeman:

Tebow’s skills have eroded so quickly, so shockingly fast—think heavy boulder dropped from low orbit—that it has actually stunned several scouts who have watched him closely for years.

Note that these scouts will remain unnamed.

And, I’ll be damned. It’s clear. Tebow’s career as anything but a blocking fullback is over.

The reason why is speed. Speed doesn’t just kill; speed is currency in football. It’s the dollar, the deutsche mark. A player without a basic modicum of it is a brontosaurus in a league of tyrannosaurus rex.

That lack of speed is evident in three critical phases of Tebow’s game: His throwing motion, his mental acuity and his ability to avoid tacklers.

It’s not simply that he can’t do these things now. We knew that. What’s stunning, upon closer examination, is the rapidity with which these skills have been lost.

Precisely what physical speed has to do with Tebow’s throwing motion and mental acuity remain unknown. Tebow does have a slow throwing motion but that’s irrelevant to any discussion of his legs. Now on to the one part of this that might make sense, Tebow’s ability to avoid tacklers.

My suspicion is that the physical punishment he endured starting at Florida and continuing through the NFL has taken its toll in ways we may not have noticed before.

Look at Tebow at Florida versus Tebow now. He didn’t blast by some of the best defenses in the SEC on his good looks and charisma. He did have speed. And he did have skill.

Scouts say they don’t recognize the Tebow they saw in college. His regression has been so steep that I don’t believe there is a league he can now play in.

You mean an athlete who could blow by the mighty defenses of Mississippi State and Kentucky can’t therefore blow by the defenses of the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers? I know SEC fans believe their teams are the equivalent of NFL teams, but no they are not.

Tebow’s story is entirely predictable outside of the media hype. You have a great athlete, but not by NFL standards, who finds himself unable to play the game of football on the highest level. This happens to hundreds of people every year. Even if Tebow has slowed a bit, and I have no idea if this is true, that’s not his problem. I don’t quite remember Drew Bledsoe as a burner, but he had a long career in the NFL. Tebow’s problem is the same as it has always been, a complete inability to throw the ball. The one thing Tebow can do is huck it far downfield. That served him well in that Broncos playoff win a couple of years ago against the Steelers, but while the media story was that Tebow Wins Games (TM), the real winner of that game was Denver’s defense behind Elvis Dumervil, Von Miller, Champ Bailey, and others. Combine that with one long throw (and a couple of other lengthy throws to be fair) and I guess it is all Tebow and none of the other players did anything.

But Tebow’s ability to operate an NFL offense is a joke and everyone in football knows it.

More Maps

[ 89 ] August 23, 2013 |

We live in a golden age of mapping.

First, we have this wonderful map showing the percentage of households in each county where English is not the first language. All counties over 10% are shaded. Over each county is also shows which non-English language is the most commonly spoken. Usually Spanish but there’s some scattered Portuguese counties in the northeast, Jefferson County in Iowa with its 10% Hindi speakers, occasional Hmong counties, etc, as well as more expected French, German, and Native American languages. That Liberty County, Montana still has 27% German speaking households is something I did not expect. I assume that’s because of small populations that tend to be older, but I don’t really know. Great stuff.

Then we have this fabulous graphic at Foreign Policy mapping protests around the world by the month since 1979. Really mindblowing. A couple of points. First, you are going to see a dot constantly in Kansas. I figured this was Operation Rescue. It’s not. It’s the mapmakers placing a dot in the center of a country is they don’t know the city of protest. Second, by the end the number of dots is going to get crazy. At first I thought it was good evidence of impending worldwide revolution. Instead, the researchers note it’s just that media coverage is far more complete than it was in the 70s.

Today in Duh

[ 43 ] August 23, 2013 |

I suppose it’s good to know for sure that the CIA orchestrated the 1953 coup in Iran, overthrowing a democratically elected government and replacing it with a corrupt but oil-providing Shah, although it’s not like anyone doubted it in the first place. There’s a reason the Iranian government can prop up the United States as an enemy. This is it. Most peoples of the world have much longer memories than Americans. That’s because we can afford short memories and they can’t.

The NFL Finally Gets Serious About Head Injuries

[ 75 ] August 23, 2013 |

What motivates the NFL to get tough on head injuries? Nothing except to crack down on its media partners if they start reporting on those injuries. Because what’s really important is not player health, but the bottom line.

Pressure from the National Football League led to ESPN’s decision on Thursday to pull out of an investigative project with “Frontline” regarding head injuries in the N.F.L., according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.

ESPN, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company, pays the N.F.L. more than $1 billion a year to broadcast “Monday Night Football,” a ratings juggernaut and cherished source of revenue for Disney.

“Frontline,” the PBS public affairs series, and ESPN had been working for 15 months on a two-part documentary, to be televised in October. But ESPN’s role came under intense pressure by the league, the two people said, after a trailer for the documentary was released Aug. 6, the day that the project was discussed at a Television Critics Association event in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Last week, several high-ranking officials convened a lunch meeting at Patroon, near the league’s Midtown Manhattan headquarters, according to the two people, who requested anonymity because they were prohibited by their superiors from discussing the matter publicly. It was a table for four: Roger Goodell, commissioner of the N.F.L.; Steve Bornstein, president of the NFL Network; ESPN’s president, John Skipper; and John Wildhack, ESPN’s executive vice president for production.

At the combative meeting, the people said, league officials conveyed their displeasure with the direction of the documentary, which is expected to describe a narrative that has been captured in various news reports over the past decade: the league turning a blind eye to evidence that players were sustaining brain trauma on the field that could lead to profound, long-term cognitive disability.

See Marc Tracy on what it means for ESPN

….The NFLPA is not happy with ESPN.