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Fearing the Poor

[ 112 ] May 21, 2014 |

For controlling the world, today’s plutocrats sure do scare easily:

American-Spectator-cover

Whether it’s this cover or comparing mild criticism of income inequality to Krystallnacht, the elites in this New Gilded Age freak out at the slightest challenge. Perhaps it’s guilt over their crimes, perhaps it’s their superior understanding over just how much they are taking away from everyday people through capital mobility, supply chain capitalism, temporary work, subcontracting, regulatory capture, Supreme Court decisions, gerrymandering to develop extremist state legislatures, etc., etc.

Gavin Mueller with more.

Legitimizing BENGHAZI!!!!!!

[ 102 ] May 21, 2014 |

I have no idea why Nancy Pelosi is legitimizing Republicans’ Benghazi committee by naming Democratic representatives to it.

Wussy and Adorno

[ 290 ] May 21, 2014 |

Scott and I have been pushing the new Wussy album hard. And really, you haven’t purchased it yet? How about solving that problem now.

If you don’t take our word for it, check out this very long Charles Taylor discussion of the band in the new LA Review of Books. Evidently and deservedly, Wussy is becoming the cause celebre of cultural critics in 2014. An excerpt about what the band represents to Taylor:

The gulf I’m taking about is the alienation felt by those of us who watch our contemporaries give themselves over to conformity and deadness in their political and cultural responses. It’s seeing friends with whom you once enjoyed sharing movies or books or music become parents and abdicate any emotional or aesthetic response beyond assuming the role of cultural watchdog. It’s listening to Lolita praised as a useful book because it reminds us to be on the lookout for pedophiles, who seldom look like monsters. It’s spending evenings in which entire conversations are given to home repair or property values. It’s the underlying edge of condescension used to address anyone who hasn’t bought a house or had kids, as if we couldn’t possibly know what being an adult really meant.

Life past 50, maybe past 40, sometimes feels like a continual affirmation of Adorno’s claim that, in the modern age, the subjective and the objective have switched places. Received wisdom passes itself off as an unflinching acceptance of the way things are, while questioning the precepts of work, sex, marriage, art, and politics is dismissed as an expression of adolescent discontent. For me, nothing embodies that dead, unquestioning response as much as NPR, the great progressive soporific, its reporting and commentary all delivered in the calm, Xanax tones that reassure us no problem is too big that it can’t be grasped, and likely solved, simply by assuming the proper civilized and reasoned attitude.

To be fair, no argument for cultural engagement can fail to take into account an economic reality so predatory that most people often have only enough energy to get through their day. You can’t blame folks who are knocking themselves out just to pay the rent for not having time to explore new things. And if the glut that the digital age has fostered — in everything from the availability of political opinion and news sources to the ease of accessing music, books, movies — doesn’t make people abandon all hope of staying up to date, it too often turns keeping up into a sucker’s game of hopping from thing to thing without absorbing anything, or even finding something worth paying attention to. Even without that glut, it’s inevitable that as we get older, whether we’re living mainstream lives or not, we may feel out of tune with the culture, may choose to delve more deeply into what’s given us pleasure in the past, to decide what it is that sustains us. It might be Raymond Chandler or Norman Mailer or Marianne Moore over David Foster Wallace; Howard Hawks or Godard over Wes Anderson; the Beatles or the Velvet Underground or Big Star or Glenn Gould over Arcade Fire or Drake. The trouble comes when people reject the culture without doing the work of engaging with it. Most often, that happens with music.

Music continues to be the prime cultural vehicle each generation uses to identify itself. It’s also the means each generation uses, no matter how hypocritically, to proclaim its superiority over succeeding generations. Nothing has ever summed up that attitude like the installment of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury that ran in Sunday papers on August 26, 1979, in which Mark, the radical DJ, is ordered by his station manager to play more disco. “Let’s start out with the Village People’s ‘YMCA’ and Donna Summer’s ‘Bad Girls,’” he says, “two exciting testaments to the social sensibilities of disco. One of them is about meeting adolescent homosexuals in a public gymnasium, and the other is a celebration of prostitution.” A strip to make William Bennett or Donald Wildmon smile. Trudeau is telling us that the drugs and sex he and his contemporaries engaged in was about changing the world. This new stuff? It’s just hookers and queers cruising the showers.

What does Taylor suggest to overcome this gulf, this rejection of modern sounds to the cheap lazy nostalgia of our 20s? This:

(Fake) Dead Horses in American History (XII)

[ 30 ] May 20, 2014 |

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A fake dead horse constructed to serve as a sniper’s pit by the U.S. Army Signal Corps in No Man’s Land, World War I.

This was sent to me by a reader and is highly appreciated.

….In comments, herr doktor bimler does the research to note that the photo is miscaptioned at the Atlantic link and it is actually a listening post.

Empty Apologies

[ 28 ] May 20, 2014 |

New York University expresses its deep apologies for the workers exploited in building their new Abu Dhabi campus. Of course, they are probably not sorry enough to do anything about it. They certainly didn’t heed the many warnings about the horrifying exploitation of immigrant labor in the United Arab Emirates. NYU could have had someone on site monitoring the labor conditions that would actually try to find out what was going on rather one who papered over problems to make the client happy. It could employ these workers directly and be the responsible party for paying them. It could have constructed its own dormitories for these workers.

But of course it did none of these things. NYU administrators were just following the cash. It contracted out the labor and completely forgot about it until the news reports about the exploitation came out. If NYU wants to take real responsibility, it will take on liability for these workers. Otherwise, this falls into the empty “I’m sorry we were caught” category of apology.

Climate Change’s Threat to the Cultural Landscape

[ 18 ] May 20, 2014 |

I wanted to point everyone to this important Union of Concerned Scientists report on the impact of climate change on the nation’s cultural landscape and historic sites. The UCS asked me to be the reviewer on the Cesar Chavez National Monument section and I was happy to do so. You can click on any of the various places the report discusses here or you can read the whole thing as a PDF here. Kate Sheppard also has a nice run-down of the potential impact on the new Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland.

The Lack of Skilled Blue-Collar Labor

[ 95 ] May 20, 2014 |

Those who follow labor frequently hear companies complaining about the lack of blue-collar skilled labor. Why, Chevron needs all of these workers and they can’t get them! says the standard narrative. Why? Well, the answer of course is Chevron.

The two missing links are the role of the construction owner, like Chevron, in crushing the unions that provide skilled journeymen in the construction trades, and a clear discussion of the wage levels needed to attract skilled workers from parts of the country the recovery hasn’t reached. The story says wages are rising in Texas, but from what to what? Are wage levels high enough to persuade a journeyman electrician from Michigan or Los Angeles to relocate to Houston? Or are they unreasonably low, given the scarcity of skilled workers and the years of training required to produce a journeyman? How do union wages compare with non-union wages? The story never says.

Oil giants like Chevron can afford to have their construction contractors pay well for skilled work, but they resist. Organizations they fund, such as the Business Roundtable, have led a decades-long

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campaign to weaken or destroy the building trades unions that actually train the greatest number of skilled tradesmen. Chevron, Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and many other energy industry corporations fund the American Legislative Exchange Council and its legislative efforts to kill unions and eliminate labor standards. It’s hard to hear Chevron complain about a labor shortage when Chevron and other Fortune 500 companies themselves are a major cause. They don’t merely fight unionization, they also oppose the state and federal prevailing wage laws that protect construction wages from being driven lower and allow union apprenticeship programs to continue providing the best-trained workers.

I know for instance that the United Brotherhood of Carpenters has a huge training center in Las Vegas where they make sure that the next generation of UBC members have the needed skills for the modern workforce. But without the building trades training their own members, who is going to do that? The companies? Please. No one. If you want a trained, high-quality blue-collar workforce, you need unions. But ideology trumps economic rationality for corporations.

Idaho Anti-Wind Energy Billboards

[ 129 ] May 19, 2014 |

A friend of mine saw this on a billboard outside of Boise.

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Not sure I really get this one except to say that people ideologically opposed to wind energy have problems.

Mt. St. Helens Day

[ 37 ] May 18, 2014 |

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On May 18, 1980, Mt. St. Helens underwent its cataclysmic explosion that reshaped the mountain
, reminded Americans about the amazing powers of volcanoes, and blew a little 6-year old nerd’s mind. We lived south of Mt. St. Helens so in the leadup to the big eruption, we only had ash a couple of times and that just a dusting. But my family all comes from eastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, and Idaho so I saw tons of pictures when the eruption turned day into night. This was a pretty huge event for everyone in the Northwest. We saw images of the destruction in school for years. When IMAX theaters first came out, the big film to see in the Northwest was the Mt. St. Helens film.

I have visited the blast site a couple of times, once maybe in the late 80s and once maybe in 1994 or so. It’s been a very long time. I may have to alleviate that this summer. It’s an amazing thing to see.

All Money to the Top

[ 92 ] May 18, 2014 |

Who could have guessed:

At the 25 public universities with the highest-paid presidents, both student debt and the use of part-time adjunct faculty grew far faster than at the average state university from 2005 to 2012, according to a new study by the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning Washington research group.

The study, “The One Percent at State U: How University Presidents Profit from Rising Student Debt and Low-Wage Faculty Labor,” examined the relationship between executive pay, student debt and low-wage faculty labor at the 25 top-paying public universities.

The co-authors, Andrew Erwin and Marjorie Wood, found that administrative expenditures at the highest-paying universities outpaced spending on scholarships by more than 2 to 1. And while adjunct faculty members became more numerous at the 25 universities, the share of permanent faculty declined drastically.

“The high executive pay obviously isn’t the direct cause of higher student debt, or cuts in labor spending,” Ms. Wood said. “But if you think about it in terms of the allocation of resources, it does seem to be the tip of a very large iceberg, with universities that have top-heavy executive spending also having more adjuncts, more tuition increases and more administrative spending.”

Why, it’s almost like university administrators advance their careers on undermining tenure-track faculty, expanding administrative spending, and forcing their students into debt while acquiring outsized salaries for themselves! In other words, for everyone who says we need to run higher education like a corporation, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Gilded Age Presidential Pets

[ 29 ] May 17, 2014 |

I realize I am really scraping the bottom of the relevance barrel here, but I am now fascinated with Gilded Age presidential pets as a way to not write my book. For instance, did you know that President Rutherford B. Hayes was the owner of the first Siamese cat in the United States?

Twelve-year-old Fanny Hayes watched excitedly as the White House staff opened the Wells Fargo crate for her mother. It had been more than two months since David B. Sickels, a United States diplomat at the consulate in Bangkok, had written to First Lady Lucy Hayes. Sickels explained that when he discovered that Mrs. Hayes was fond of cats, he decided to send her one as a gift. He wrote, “I have taken the liberty of forwarding you one of the finest specimens of Siamese cats that I have been able to procure in this country”. I am informed that it is the first attempt ever made to send a Siamese cat to America.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t end well:

In the autumn of 1879, while the Hayes family was at Spiegel Grove, Siam became seriously ill. The staff tried fish, chicken, duck, cream, and even oysters, hoping that Siam would respond. When her condition worsened, the staff sent for the president’s personal physician. Dr. J. H. Baxter prescribed beef tea and milk every three hours, but Siam did not improve. A pet lover himself, Dr. Baxter took Siam to his home. There, Fanny’s playmate, Nellie McCrary, daughter of Hayes’ Secretary of War, visited the beloved pet. The next day Nellie wrote to Fanny, bluntly reporting Dr.

Baxter’s grim prognosis that, “he thinks she will die and I do to[o].”

Siam survived another five days. Everyone was saddened when news of Siam’s death reached the White House. Her gentle and appreciative ways had endeared her to the entire staff. It was left to the president’s steward Billy Crump, to write the First Lady about Siam’s passing. Crump then delivered the lifeless body to the Secretary of Agriculture, giving personal instructions to preserve her. Despite searches of the Department of Agriculture’s museum and the Smithsonian Institution, Siam has never been located.

Whoever Hillary hired to kill Vince Foster is also hiding Siam’s body.

Then, there’s Benjamin Harrison’s pet raccoons, Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection.

And really, why not name your pets to reflect tariff policy? That is hot stuff.

Mr. Reciprocity at least has his own Facebook page.

Your comprehensive list of presidential pets is found here.

FDR Walking

[ 48 ] May 17, 2014 |

Pretty amazing footage of FDR doing his best to walk at the 1937 All-Star Game. Unfortunately, it’s narrated by the wife of Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, a horrible governor who is going to get crushed this fall. But turn off the sound and check out the footage.

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