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Bad Ideas

[ 20 ] May 15, 2014 |


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the Fulbright Program is a bad idea.

Cold War Film Course Bleg

[ 448 ] May 14, 2014 |

So I am teaching a short 4-week summer session course on Cold War Film. It only meets 10 times (4-hour sessions) so while the official course title is Recent America through Film, I’m concentrating on the Cold War since it’s not really possible to do a broader topic justice. And just because it says Recent America doesn’t mean I’m going to let something as silly as a course title stop me from showing foreign films as well. Plus we can’t understand the U.S. in the Cold War without understanding other nations as well.

I mention this because I am making them get a Netfilx account as part of their course “readings” and keep a film notebook on films they watch outside of class. What films would you show? We can think broadly here–either films that are really Cold War-themed in an obvious way or some film(s) from the era that aren’t political but some up an era.

The films I presently planning on using in class, subject to some change include parts of the Animated Soviet Propaganda set (paired with bad Cold War US propaganda from the Chamber of Commerce), Atomic Cafe, Salt of the Earth, The Day the Earth Stood Still, I Am Cuba, The Battle of Algiers, Punishment Park, Red Dawn, and Goodbye Lenin (I think). I could also skip a post-Cold War film and go with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which has certain advantages.

So what should I put on the list of possible films for them to watch outside of class? I have lots of ideas, but I am sure I am forgetting things.

Gender Discrimination at the Times

[ 144 ] May 14, 2014 |

My usual response over turmoil at major media outlets is to make fun of the media spending a day on its favorite theme: talking about itself. And I really don’t care about rich people losing their jobs. But this is quite notable and significant so I will make an exception:

As with any such upheaval, there’s a history behind it. Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. “She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was “pushy,” a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect. Sulzberger is known to believe that the Times, as a financially beleaguered newspaper, needed to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson had also been at the Times for far fewer years than Keller, having spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, accounting for some of the pension disparity. (I was also told by another friend of hers that the pay gap with Keller has since been closed.) But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy. A third associate told me, “She found out that a former deputy managing editor”—a man—“made more money than she did” while she was managing editor. “She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off.”

[SL] See also:

The Gerry Adams Arrest and the Future of Oral History

[ 188 ] May 14, 2014 |

From a historian’s perspective, the most interesting thing about the arrest of Gerry Adams on murder charges is the central role of oral histories given under an understanding of confidentiality. The interviews were stored as Boston College as part of the Belfast Project but the British government managed to undue their confidentiality in court. This is a real threat to the future of oral history projects of controversial matters. If these histories are not confidential, who is going to give them?

But what began as an oral history archive designed to promote reconciliation in Northern Ireland in the future is now tearing open old wounds.

For the last four years the agreement to keep the tapes secret unto death has been the subject of intense controversy, academic dispute and international litigation.

A federal court forced Boston College to hand over some of its sensitive archive after British authorities invoked a treaty with the U.S. requiring the exchange of information in violent criminal cases.

Now, after another tape was released implicating Sinn Fein President Adams in an IRA murder he denies, Boston College has had a change of heart and is changing the rules for the oral history project, says Dunn.

“If individuals contact us who desire to have their specific interviews returned then we will accommodate them once we verify their names, but there will never be a disclosure of people who participated in the project,” Dunn said.

But that guarantee is not iron-clad. The troubling archive could potentially be subpoenaed again. Dunn won’t speculate.

“You know that’s something that we’ll just see what happens down the road,” he said.

More than 60 nations have signed the international agreement that was used to force BC to give up some of the oral archive. The case sends a message oral historians have heard ’round the world.

“Researchers will always have to be aware of this precedent,” Dunn said. “So if they’re recording information on criminal or violent activities, you’re gonna have to be aware of this precedent.”

I’m not saying this the most important issue at play here. I am saying it is an important issue for how future people will understand their past. Former IRA members are now suing Boston College. This is all pretty chill-inducing for historians.

A Political Conundrum

[ 70 ] May 13, 2014 |

By 1896, the beard trend of the Gilded Age was fading, especially among younger men. The Civil War vets would keep their grizzled old beards, but the Progressives would eschew such resplendent facial hair. Williams’ Shaving Soap actively worked to take advantage. What better way to advertise than bipartisanship? Especially in 1896. Gold bug or silverite, imperialist or anti-imperialist, strong tariff man or weak tariff man, who didn’t need to shave?


The Catholic Church, 2014

[ 212 ] May 13, 2014 |

The Catholic Church is an institution really prepared to move into the future:

The new pope, exorcists say, has become their champion in the face of modern skeptics, many of them within the Catholic faith. Officially, those claiming to be possessed must first undergo psychiatric evaluations. But exorcists say that liberal Catholic bishops have often rejected their services even after such due diligence.

“The sad truth is that there are many bishops and priests in our church who do not really believe in the Devil,” said the Rev. Gabriele Amorth, the 89-year-old priest who is perhaps the closest thing the church has to a Hollywood-style exorcist. “I believe Pope Francis is speaking to them. Because when you don’t believe, the Devil wins.”

During the conference, the Rev. Cesar Truqui, an exorcist based in Switzerland, recounted one experience he had aboard a Swissair flight. “Two lesbians,” he said, had sat behind him on the plane. Soon afterward, he said, he felt Satan’s presence. As he silently sought to repel the evil spirit through prayer, one of the women, he said, began growling demonically and threw chocolates at his head.

Asked how he knew the woman was possessed, he said that “once you hear a Satanic growl, you never forget it. It’s like smelling Margherita pizza for the first time. It’s something you never forget.”

From his small room in a south Rome rectory fitted with a hospital bed, Amorth praised Francis for so fully embracing the biblical notion of the Devil as the personified overlord of hell.

If lesbians remind one of margherita pizza, what pizza can we compare gay men too? What about women who have had an abortion? Or those living with someone outside marriage? Because this is high theology here my friends.

Tomb Raiding

[ 119 ] May 13, 2014 |

The James Garfield tomb is perhaps my favorite example of Gilded Age hyperbolic self-memorialization. This amazing building mythologizes our 20th president and his incalculable contributions to the nation both through finery inside the tomb and stone carvings adorning it. Essentially, when Garfield died, Republican leaders and plutocrats decided to put on a show and give him the temple they wanted for themselves. Emphasized are Garfield’s role in saving the Union and freeing the slaves, which, again, is really a projection of how these men saw themselves, regardless of their actions after the war.



With a tomb like that, you’d think Garfield was something more than a Republican political hack.

Unfortunately, the followers of Winfield Scott Hancock have struck back:

Even in death, President James A. Garfield can’t seem to catch a break.

Last week, someone apparently broke into Garfield’s tomb in the Cleveland suburbs and stole 13 commemorative spoons from a display case.

“We were like, ‘Really? They took spoons?’ ” said Katherine Goss, president and chief executive of Lake View Cemetery, which houses the Garfield tomb.

The spoons, Goss said, “would be hard to sell in a historical auction because everyone would wonder where they came from.”

The thieves left behind several other pieces of memorabilia and even some cash in a donation box, Goss said, leading her to guess that “someone had to prove that they had been inside the monument — so they had to take something.”

The evidence left behind by the burglars, she said, included a broken stained-glass window, a T-shirt, two cigarette butts and, of course, an empty bottle of Fireball cinnamon whiskey.

No doubt it was an issue over tariffs related to Fireball cinnamon whiskey.

Tipped Minimum Wage

[ 296 ] May 12, 2014 |

Once again, there is simply no good reason for the tipped minimum wage to exist. Even when cities and states have raised minimum wages in recent years, they often have continued to place restaurant workers below the standard wage.

There is of course one very bad reason for the tipped minimum wage to exist. It allows restaurant owners to exploit their workers.

Lynn Williams, RIP

[ 47 ] May 12, 2014 |

The former head of the United Steelworkers of America has died. And reading his obituary,

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I am again reminded that there is really nothing organized labor could have done in the 80s to stem its decline. If you want to say that labor should have made different decisions in the 40s and 50s that might have made a difference down the road, well maybe. But the problem with organized labor in the 80s and 90s was the jobs all going overseas and there is nothing any union leader could have done about that at the time.

Football’s Decline

[ 232 ] May 11, 2014 |

I’ve said this before, but one really wonders about the end of football as we know it as parents just bail on a sport that destroys their kid’s brains.

Happy Mother’s Day

[ 92 ] May 11, 2014 |

A Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, especially my own mother and my sister.

And of course, to Mother Jones, the greatest mother of them all who is not related to me.

Unfortunately, a lot of women might want to hear someone wish them a Happy Mother’s Day, but they can’t because debt load, a jobless “recovery,” and the general economic instability in a society without long-term stable employment means that having children is not a feasible option. Erika Sánchez:

Halling feels she is worse off than her parents were at this point of their lives. According to a 2013 study by the Urban Institute’s Opportunity and Ownership Project, people under 30 are today worth only half as much as their parents were at the same age. Unemployment for people ages 16 to 24 hovers at around 16 percent, which is twice the national rate (PDF).

The Pew Research Center has also found that nearly 3 in 10 parents of adult children report that a child of theirs has moved back in with them in the past few years because of the economy. On top of that, millennial student loan debt is staggering. Two-thirds of recent bachelor’s degree recipients have outstanding student loans, with an average debt of about $27,000. Two decades ago, only half of recent graduates had college debt, and the average was $15,000.

But even many of those who are better off than their parents are afraid to procreate due to bleak career prospects. I hear it again and again from other children of immigrants: “I don’t want to have to live like my parents did.” When I express my fears about having children, people often tell me that we can just “make it work,” but the truth is, I don’t want to just make it work. Like a lot of women I know, I want a substantial income before I take that plunge. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

“In theory, I should be able to afford having children,” says Patricia Valoy, 27. She graduated from Columbia University with no debt, and has a fairly high income as an engineer in New York City. But Valoy, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic when she was a child, has what she calls a “Latina millennial problem”: She has to help support her family. Her mother makes minimum wage working for a school bus company and often needs financial help, and her two younger sisters, who are in college, often rely on Patricia to pay for fees, books and even food. She is a cosigner for her sisters’ student loans.

I know how much pundits like to blame millenials for their lack of worth ethic or lack of drive or whatever else that makes them feel superior to young people, but the economic reality that centers profits with the 1% has very real social consequences.

And yes, everything is an excuse to talk about economic inequality, even Mother’s Day.

Today in Bundyism

[ 127 ] May 11, 2014 |

There should be arrests and prosecutions:

An illegal all-terrain vehicle (ATV) ride planned this weekend through Recapture Canyon in Utah is the latest flashpoint between anti-government activists and federal land managers. The illegal ride is already drawing criticism from the Navajo Nation, putting American Indian burial sites and cultural resources at risk, and has even forced the cancellation of a traditional Navajo Warrior welcome home ceremony for veterans.

Yet San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman (R-UT) and his supporters appear determined to defy federal law by riding their ATVs through Recapture Canyon, an area of southeast Utah known as a “mini-Mesa Verde” because it contains one of the highest densities of archaeological sites in the country.

Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has refused to pay more than $1 million in grazing fees he owes U.S. taxpayers, has reportedly urged his supporters -– who include armed militia members –- to join Lyman in Utah this weekend.

“We need to help the people of Blanding re-establish who is in control of the land,” said Bundy and his wife, Carol, in an email that was reported by E&E News. “This is your next stand. Will you be there to help them like you helped us?”

Utah County Commissioner Phil Lyman shares Cliven Bundy’s anti-government views. In his showdown with federal law enforcement officials last month, Bundy made clear he does not recognize the authority of the federal government. “I abide by all of Nevada state laws,” said Bundy, “But I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”

Like the Bundy confrontation in Nevada, the illegal ATV ride through Recapture Canyon is intended to challenge federal authority over public lands. Lyman, reports the Salt Lake Tribune, “says the planned ride aims to assert county jurisdiction in the face of federal ‘overreach.’”

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