Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Erik Loomis

rss feed

Visit Erik Loomis's Website

Today in Badasses

[ 23 ] September 6, 2014 |

Manolis Glezos:

Today, he is an iconic figure in Greece, a leftist who transcends ideology and a national symbol of resistance — beginning in 1941, when he and a friend, Apostolos Santas, ripped down the Nazi flag from the Acropolis, risking death as Hitler’s forces conquered Athens.

That brazen act was telegraphed the world over and inspired millions during one of Europe’s darkest hours. A snowy mane has replaced the brown locks of Mr. Glezos’ youth, and his powerful frame is now stooped. But his steel-gray eyes still burn with conviction, especially when he recalls his foray to the Acropolis.

“We had absolute consciousness that it was a historic moment,” Mr. Glezos said one recent weekend at his home in an Athens suburb, where he greeted a reporter with a viselike handshake. “No struggle for what you believe in is ever futile.”

He has turned up the volume on that message with his latest fight against German-led austerity in Greece, which has gotten him pepper-sprayed, hospitalized and arrested. His platform won him a landslide election victory in May representing Greece’s leftist party Syriza in the European Parliament, where he began work this month as its oldest lawmaker.

“Across Europe, I keep hearing the same theme,” Mr. Glezos said. “People are saying, ‘I don’t want others deciding my future for me.’ ”

Dang.

Unions: Not Entities That Can Make Their Members Radical

[ 61 ] September 6, 2014 |

Ignore the anti-union bias in this linked story. New York teachers wearing pro-police shirts after the union told them not to is a useful window into the problems with those who say that unions should be radical and support all sorts of justice movements while also talking up a storm about union democracy. Unions are made up of individuals with a variety of political beliefs. Any sort of democratic union has to deal with this. Some of their members are going to be right-wingers. When it comes to police violence, some of those teachers are going to be racist. Some will come from a family of cops. Some will be dating cops. There are lots of reasons why workers might buck union leadership on an issue like this.

In other words, it may be an entirely democratic process that leads to a right-wing positions on issues like police violence. The “union,” by which people mean the bureaucratic union leadership they often denigrate, can’t do a whole lot about that. And if people want to say education campaigns are important here, they have to understand that given the limited resources unions have, using those scarce dollars and time on issues peripheral to the core mission of the union is a)not practical and b)would alienate a lot of members.

Willie

[ 52 ] September 3, 2014 |

This Rolling Stone profile of Willie Nelson is pretty great, even if magazines should not refer to their own work as “definitive,” which is the equivalent of talking about your own integrity since evidently we can just judge ourselves objectively these days.

Willie is a deserving legend and I say very little negative about his music. I do think that his love of marijuana has come to dominate discussions of the man who wrote “Crazy” and “Hello Walls” and “Night Life” and so many other definitive songs, not to mention full albums like Phases and Stages and Red Headed Stranger. Of course all of that was a very long time ago and Willie started resting on his laurels a bit by the late 1970s, not writing too many songs after that and certainly not writing songs on the quality level of the first half of his career. But then he didn’t have to. When the world is at your fingertips, as it was for Willie in the last 40 years (IRS notwithstanding), why try? But when you are in your mid-30s, kind of a mess as a person, and still holding onto the dream of making it in Nashville, yeah, you are going to write “Funny How Time Slips Away.” But I do wish that he wasn’t something of a joke for his weed smoking. The article certainly engages that side of him and maybe for good reason, since its not like he has hidden it.

Overall, there are some great stories and crazy stuff in the article. Willie worked as a plumber’s assistant in Eugene? Why did he end up there for awhile? And the number of country singers who spent time in the Pacific Northwest for random reasons is really quite high, most notably Loretta Lynn, whose worthless husband dragged her out there just as she was getting started as a singer. Buck Owens was working up there for awhile too. Willie’s drummer Paul English was a pimp? Whoa. On the other hand, English knew how to handle the rednecks which Bee Spears and Mickey Raphael struggled with during those transitional years in the 70s. Willie probably needed a roughneck in the band somewhere given the craziness.

Anyway, lots of laughs here and well worth a read. Also, check out some footage of this Willie show on the first ever episode of Austin City Limits in 1974. This is great stuff.

Fifty Years of the Wilderness Act

[ 27 ] September 3, 2014 |

Fifty years ago today, Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act of 1964. This groundbreaking legislation promised a legislative solution to the problem of saving the nation’s most beautiful lands from industrial development, roads, and other intrusive human activities. The law defined wilderness “as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” This legislation led to the creation of over 109 million acres of wilderness in the last fifty years, slightly over half in Alaska, with California, Idaho, Arizona, and Washington the next states with the most wilderness. Today, about 5 percent of the United States is a wilderness area.

The Wilderness Act had support from many circles, but the leader of it was The Wilderness Society, led by the tireless Howard Zahniser. Zahniser, unlike many of the early advocates of wilderness was not a self-designated manly man but an intellectual not in particularly great physical shape who loved the beauty of the United States, a man seemingly fitting to lead a movement that would attract a lot more dayhikers than people with the money, time, and inclination to spend weeks in the distant corners of the country.

Leading the opposition to wilderness legislation was the United States Forest Service, which saw the designations as undermining its goal to cut every tree in the forest, and western lawmakers like Colorado’s Wayne Aspinall, who saw it as a threat to the development of their states. Yet through a decade of political organizing and compromise and failure to pass earlier versions of the legislation, not to mention a rapidly changing nation that year by year was more in tune to environmental reforms, the act finally passed with only one dissenting vote in Congress. And that’s not because LBJ gave a speech or used his powers of persuasion.

As the historian Nancy Unger writes, this truly was remarkable given the developmentalist ideology that was unchallenged in the United States for most of its history. Today, many Americans tsk-tsk at the developing world for their environmental polices that include the Chinese killing basically ever mammal in Asia and Brazil turning its rain forest into cattle plantation. This was the United States before 1960. Despite the early conservationists and a few national parks, total and complete development is what defined America from its beginning. Yet by 1964, this had begun to change, in no small part because of the economic boom of the postwar period that gave the American working class the chance to play in nature for the first time, thanks to union contracts that gave them higher wages and shorter hours. Unions started lobbying for the recreational interests of their members and many supported the Wilderness Act. This was almost a blip in time, one that ended with the 1973 recession and the decline of industrial jobs in this nation, but it’s an important precedent.

The law has some weaknesses. Allowing horses into the wilderness areas was a terrible idea and as anyone who has hiked along trails popular with the horse riders knows, it gets pretty unpleasant, unless you came to the wilderness to step in horse manure and hike in an eroded, gullied trail thanks to horse traffic. You also run into situations like today where you have fireeaters in one political party determined to stop all environmental legislation in principle. This was fairly unimaginable in 1964, when there were lots of conservative Republicans happy to not only vote for environmental legislation, but to spearhead it. Some of the law’s weaknesses and compromise never fulfilled the fears of wilderness advocates. For instance, the legislation had exemptions to mining operations with preexisting claims in the wilderness areas, but the big mining companies backed away in the face of widespread opposition to butchering what rapidly became seen by the general public as sacred spaces. John McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid has a good section on the threat of copper mining in one of the wilderness areas of northern Washington. It’s also worth noting that the language about land untrammeled by man is not only vague but quite value-laden and undermines the possibility of rejuvenating land damaged by timber, mining, and agricultural production back into wilderness.

Today, it does feel that the importance of wilderness to environmentalism has faded significantly. That does not mean that there aren’t vigorous supporters of wilderness; in fact there are across the West especially and they often make a huge difference in individual struggles. But, and perhaps this is a good thing, the popular notion of environmentalism does seem to have moved toward climate change and food activism. I think the two are closely connected. Climate change is the greatest challenge the human race faces and we are failing miserably to do anything about it. It’s so big and depressing that I think a lot of environmentally minded people, and I am primarily talking about the young people I have taught over the past several years, have moved into food activism because it is something they can control on a personal level. The other area of interest for a lot of young people is environmental justice, writ large, which is a major shift away from the concerns of land preservation that dominated the young people of my generation and the generation before.

Still, the impact of the Wilderness Act can not be overstated. As someone who just recently went hiking in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness, I can’t state how glorious these gems are. We should all remember how important it is to protect these beautiful spaces, even if we don’t always get to visit them (or even want to).

10547622_10152331500585959_5379446102776401666_n

There are still new proposals for wilderness today and they deserve our support.

By coincidence, I visited Howard Zahniser’s grave the other day. It’s on the banks of the Allegheny River in Tionesta, Pennsylvania. A beautiful spot. Zahniser had a heart problem and died just a few months before the Wilderness Act finally passed. Sad that he didn’t live to see its passage.

10616046_10152357176770959_4047362522560401447_n

This is Korea

[ 17 ] September 2, 2014 |

Now that I finished my 2nd book manuscript in 3 months, I have time for a vacation. About 50 minutes in fact before I get to the 4000 things that must be done yesterday. So I spent it watching John Ford’s 1951 film This is Korea. This is the Korean War version of the World War II documentaries the military commissioned from leading film directions. While I don’t know if it quite matches the artistic glory of John Huston’s The Battle of San Pietro, This is Korea is probably the best war documentary Ford made.

Ford pushed this project hard, convincing the government to allow him to make it. And he had to put together the editing, narration, voice work, sound, and concept. But the real heroes here are the war photographers, filming this absolutely jaw-dropping footage. I can’t easily find a number of U.S. military photographers who died in the war, but no doubt the number was significantly above zero, especially given that these guys were right on the front lines. Amazing.

Now, Ford does slightly simplify Korean history for American audiences. The film starts with him painting a Korea at rustic peace before the evil commies arrived. I mean, sure, there’s those 40 years of brutal Japanese occupation, but hey, let’s not let history get in the way of a pat narrative. And Ford never was too much into subtle imagery or messaging in his feature films, never mind a documentary made to get Americans on the home front to sacrifice for the cause–give blood or send care packages at the very least. But he was pretty bloody convincing to me in doing that. His soldiers’ lives are brutal. Terribly cold weather, dug in enemies, hills, a lack of clear progress. Throughout it all, the soldiers are brave. Not heroic. But just regular guys doing a job and doing it well and dying at it.

Well worth a viewing.

AHA on Salaita

[ 58 ] September 2, 2014 |

The American Historical Association writes a strongly worded letter to the University of Illinois in protest of firing Stephen Salaita:

If allowed to stand, your administration’s punitive treatment of Steven Salaita will chill the intellectual atmosphere at the University of Illinois. Even tenured professors will fear for their job security, persuaded that their institution lacks respect for the principles of academic freedom. The unhappy consequences for the untenured will be even more pronounced. A regimen of defensive self-censorship will settle like a cloud over faculty lectures and classroom discussions. Faculty will be inclined to seek positions elsewhere. This, surely, is not the future you wish for your historically great institution.

While we have thus far dwelt at length on the justification that you gave ex post facto for the rescinding of Professor Salaita’s offer, we find the procedural irregularities entailed in that decision equally troubling. On this score, too, the facts of the case have emerged more clearly since August 1. The recruitment of Professor Salaita was carried out with scrupulous care and adherence to prescribed procedure. The American Indian Studies Program chose him as their preferred candidate after a national search; every subsequent level of the University administration below the Chancellor endorsed that choice. His scholarship passed muster with your trusted colleagues. Especially important, in light of your remarks of August 22, he has a record of teaching successfully at Virginia Tech, and by all indications, students of every stripe felt welcome in his classroom. Finally, your University provided him with a standard written job offer of the type that routinely guarantees appointments at Illinois. By depriving him of that appointment, you do him a personal injustice. You also disrupt your own system of internal university governance, sowing distrust by ignoring its counsel. And, at the national and international levels, you risk saddling your institution with a reputation for arbitrary administrative practices. Certainly the American Historical Association would have concerns about our members applying for positions at Illinois.

Until Everybody Was French

[ 73 ] September 1, 2014 |

We all know Kevin Williamson is a horrible human being and there’s really no good reason to link to his trolling of liberals. And so normally I wouldn’t mention his anti-Labor Day screed. Except that he said one of the quiet parts loud:

The Canadian typographical workers had been demanding a 58-hour work week and the repeal of anti-union laws. Parliament obliged, and of course the unions’ immediate response was to press for a 54-hour work week, and then a still shorter one, and so on, until everybody was French. The French 35-hour work week is the current object of envy among our naïve Europhiles, and it has been an object of curiosity among economists: Contrary to their indolent reputation, French workers are, on paper, among the world’s most productive, outperforming U.S. workers on a GDP-per-work-hour basis. There are many possible explanations for that, the most likely of which is lying. It is probable that French people work more hours than they claim and Americans less, with work spilling over the borders of those official 35-hour French weeks and Internet-fueled leisure time infiltrating American weeks.

First, I love his random assumptions that the French must work harder than Americans because derp.

Second, Canada is the bete noire! Even the readers of NRO are going to struggle to see Canada as a hell hole. It’s too close.

Third, how dare American workers copy their communist Canadian brethren and refuse to work a 58-hour week!

Dude, I don’t think you are supposed to openly lament this. That’s supposed to stay in the inner sanctum, where you and the plutocrats slit the necks of live goats and let the blood drip in your mouths. Talking about returning to Gilded Age working conditions comes between courses of the goat blood.

…This was actually his Labor Day rant from last year, but it makes no difference.

Labor History on Labor Day

[ 12 ] September 1, 2014 |

I don’t have time for a major post on Labor Day, as I have just completed the manuscript draft of my logging book and am exhausted. But I do have 116 This Day in Labor History posts, helpfully archived, for your perusal. That ought to serve your Labor Day needs.

The Cats of World War I

[ 26 ] August 31, 2014 |

ltjnxsjydm4pbzuaqsl7

There were lots of cats hanging around soldiers during World War I. They were cute. That is all.

Viewing the Great Depression

[ 16 ] August 31, 2014 |

Between 1935 and 1945, photographers employed by the Farm Security Administration documented the nation and its people as it suffered through and emerged from the Great Depression. 170,000 images remain. Yale University has now placed them online for your exploration and you can even explore by county, which is incredibly awesome. Have fun!!

More here.

Running in Cemeteries

[ 56 ] August 31, 2014 |

I find cemeteries pretty fascinating places for a number of reasons. First, I have a bit of a weird hobby of visiting the graves of random famous people from American history that interest me in some way. You can only imagine how much my wife loves random stops at cemeteries. I am going to start a series one of these days about the various people who I have visited in the ground. Sometimes they are horrible people like Henry Clay Frick. Other times, well, just random famous people. Like just the other day, I visited the grave of former Wilderness Society head Howard Zahniser, which I actually have reason to blog about in more detail in a couple of days. Why did I visit the grave of Howard Zahniser? Isn’t the better question why haven’t you visited the grave of Howard Zahniser?

Anyway, that’s just part of my interest in cemeteries. Because cemeteries are also public green spaces, albeit of an odd kind. In many towns, they are the nicest parks around. When I am with my wife, who teaches at a university in a very small town a couple of states over from Rhode Island, I run in the cemetery. Other people use them too–walking the dog, taking the babies on a stroll, etc. And of course for mourning and remembrance. Anyway, maybe it’s because I’m a historian and one more interested in the lives of everyday people than the famous, but when I run through the cemetery, I keep thinking, “Who are these people.” I was running the other day and passed the grave of a man named Jose Garcia, who died in 2000. How did this man, who I assume (rightly or wrongly) came from Mexico or maybe Puerto Rico, end up in this 99% white and very politically and racially conservative town (evidently the official town color is camo based upon the dress of the citizenry)? What was it like for him? What is his story? How did he end up there? What are the stories of everyone else? What was life like here in the 1950s? In the 1890s? Through the hard times and the good times?

I suppose there are some who think people shouldn’t run through cemeteries, and certainly if there’s any, uh, activity going on, I turn around. But I think that by at least thinking about these people and wondering about them, it’s honoring them in a certain way. Some of them were no doubt horrible human beings who committed heinous crimes, treated their families like garbage, and were unloved. Others were great people who made the lives around them better. Who knows. But I’d like to think that when I’m dead and buried in the ground, that someone might run past my marker and think, who was that guy? Kind of gives a person something to die for.

The Worst Person in the World

[ 129 ] August 30, 2014 |

Victor Davis Hanson, for comparing the IDF to William Tecumseh Sherman and the people of Gaza to the Confederate slaveholding class.

Page 3 of 25212345102030...Last »