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Marriage Equality–In Utah?

[ 148 ] December 20, 2013 |

I am not the resident LGM expert on these issues. But I have to think that marriage equality in Utah of all places is basically the tipping point for it spreading across the whole nation very quickly. Maybe I am too optimistic.

Holiday Parties

[ 123 ] December 19, 2013 |

Some of you may be having holiday parties at work or with your friends. I have one wish for you–that your holiday party is as awesome as that of the International Woodworkers of America holiday party from 1972, documented in this photo I discovered in the IWA archives at the University of Oregon. Sadly, I know no more about this party than this photo. But what happens at the IWA party stays at the IWA party.

Korematsu

[ 186 ] December 18, 2013 |

Worth noting that today is the 69th anniversary of the notorious Korematsu v. United States decision, when the Supreme Court ruled for the acceptability of Japanese concentration camps.

Early in World War II, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, granting the U.S. military the power to ban tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry from areas deemed critical to domestic security. Promptly exercising the power so bestowed, the military then issued an order banning “all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien” from a designated coastal area stretching from Washington State to southern Arizona, and hastily set up internment camps to hold the Japanese Americans for the duration of the war. In defiance of the order, Fred Korematsu, an American-born citizen of Japanese descent, refused to leave his home in San Leandro, California. Duly convicted, he appealed, and in 1944 his case reached the Supreme Court.

A 6-3 majority on the Court upheld Korematsu’s conviction. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black held that although “all legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect” and subject to tests of “the most rigid scrutiny,” not all such restrictions are inherently unconstitutional. “Pressing public necessity,” he wrote, “may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions; racial antagonism never can.”

In Korematsu’s case, the Court accepted the U.S. military’s argument that the loyalties of some Japanese Americans resided not with the United States but with their ancestral country, and that because separating “the disloyal from the loyal” was a logistical impossibility, the internment order had to apply to all Japanese Americans within the restricted area. Balancing the country’s stake in the war and national security against the “suspect” curtailment of the rights of a particular racial group, the Court decided that the nation’s security concerns outweighed the Constitution’s promise of equal rights.

And yes, they were concentration camps. Calling them “internment camps” is an insult to what the Japanese experienced and helps make what white Americans did to them seem less bad.

A MOOC Experiment Ends

[ 41 ] December 18, 2013 |

The disastrous experiment between San Jose State University and Udacity has basically ended after it turns out students fail in enormous numbers using MOOCs.

“This is very much the end of the San Jose State-Udacity partnership for this pilot, and it’s really an attempt — in my opinion — to frame it in a positive light,” said Phil Hill, a higher education consultant. “This is an attempt to do a very nice eulogy for an event that wasn’t really pretty as it was happening.”

The project, known as SJSU Plus, has been on “pause” since this summer after its three spring semester courses posted pass rates between 23.8 and 50.5 percent — much lower than their on-campus equivalents. Although the rates rebounded over the summer, those sessions featured a vastly different student population, including some students with doctoral degrees. In comparison, the spring pilot included more at-risk students. After a National Science Foundation-backed study was published without fanfare in September, buzz about the project died down.

The results of SJSU Plus have even caused Udacity to shift its focus to corporate training. Speaking to Fast Company, the Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun said the disadvantaged students targeted by the pilot proved a mismatch for online education. “It’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit,” he said.

23.8 to 50.5 percent passing rate. Wow. And if disadvantaged students aren’t the medium for this kind of education, who is? Harvard students? Who exactly is going to take these classes? No one who has the social and economic power to go to institutions where actual teaching occurs. The big public flagship school in a fairly average state, say the University of Rhode Island, has students not all that much more advanced or prepared than at San Jose. The leading public institutions like Michigan and Texas are filled with students who will also try to avoid these sorts of courses in order to achieve the real education they wanted by going to those schools. If these things aren’t for the masses–and let’s face it, the masses are not always the most motivated or prepared students–who are they for?

Michael Bloomberg’s America

[ 86 ] December 18, 2013 |

Speaking of the New Gilded Age, Michael Bloomberg sure is the perfect plutocrat/political leader for it:

It was only a matter of time — assuming Michael Bloomberg couldn’t run out the clock for two more weeks — before a reporter managed to ask the mayor about the New York Times’ five-part, lose-your-faith-in-humanity story on Dasani, a homeless 11-year-old, and her Brooklyn family. And so it was only a matter of time before Bloomberg delivered at least one tone-deaf line among a larger defensive response.

Based on Bloomberg’s past callous answers to questions about the city’s homeless problem, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that he said today, “This kid was dealt a bad hand. I don’t know quite why. That’s just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky and some of us are not.”

Sometimes that’s the way God works. Other times you have a billionaire that is mayor for 12 years with the open goal of making his city the international playground of other billionaires, eliminating affordable housing, and creating a class divide unseen in the city in the last century. You know, it’s one or the other. But Bloomberg knows the real reason New York’s homeless population has gone up:

Mayor Bloomberg, who asserted earlier this year that “Nobody’s sleeping on the streets,” has attributed the rise in shelter populations to their superb quality. “We have made our shelter system so much better that, unfortunately, when people are in it — or fortunately, depending on what your objective is — it is a much more pleasurable experience than they ever had before,” he’s said.

I guess the only answer is to make homeless shelters incredibly dangerous places. Like they already are. That will show those lazy, shiftless 11 year old girls!

The Campaign Volunteers of the New Gilded Age

[ 57 ] December 18, 2013 |

Look, I can’t see why everyone is after Steve Stockman just because his campaign headquarters was an overcrowded sweatshop where volunteers lived and worked without safety precautions and was declared unfit for human habitation. Stockman is just living up to the return to the Gilded Age he so desperately wants with his lunatic policies. Every time one of his volunteers gets electrocuted or gets bitten by a rat, that volunteer is doing more to return this nation to the golden past of a century ago.

I can’t see how this hurts him with the Texas voters who seem to think these policies are a great idea. Given the state response to a fertilizer explosion that destroyed half a town is to do nothing and laud your pro-business agenda, Steve Stockman is perfect to represent it in the world’s worst deliberative body.

Evil Personified

[ 86 ] December 18, 2013 |

It’s always useful to remember the true depraved evil of King Leopold II and the horrors of Belgian rule over the Congo, a legacy that goes far to define the lives of the people of central Africa today.

Children’s Story

[ 19 ] December 17, 2013 |

I don’t have kids so I can’t put them to bed with stories like this. I assume Farley and bspencer use this one all the time.

Night, night!

Wage Theft in the Chile Fields

[ 30 ] December 17, 2013 |

Green chile.

The greatest gift New Mexico has given to the world, when you visit the Land of Enchantment, that chile is found everywhere from the most humble breakfast burrito (breakfast taco is second rate Texans) to the high end overpriced Santa Fe restaurants where tourists from the Upper East Side play Mabel Dodge and wear hoop skirts or buckskin with fringe as they go out to dinner. The smell of roasting green chile in the fall is the single greatest smell on the planet.

Regardless of where you eat your chile, you probably don’t think much about how the chile is produced. Like the rest of agriculture, we do a really good job of separating our consumption from the production of the plant or animal. And that’s certainly true of green chile, where we can hold onto an image of a small family farm surviving for 200 years on acequia irrigation rights than we can for beef or corn or tomatoes or whatever. We are supporting the local economy by eating this product that can only be grown in a few places (although an increasing amount of New Mexico green chile is now grown south of the border). But the reality is that the conditions in the chile fields are bad and wage theft is depressingly common.

In the cool of the early morning, the crew of about 60 workers moves quickly down the rows, rushing back and forth to the crates. Lopez, a big woman, is soon breathing heavily. As the day progresses, the temperature rises, hitting 88 degrees. Exhaustion kicks in, and everyone slows down.

Lopez was told that the crew would work until noon that day. Then 12:30. Finally, at 1 p.m., she calls it quits. “I work until my body says, ‘Stop,’ ” she says. Her legs hurt, her arms hurt; she is spent. She holds out her right hand. It is shaking.

Soon, more workers leave the field. But the tractors keep coming, bringing more empty crates waiting to be filled. No one gets paid until the day’s quota is met, so Lopez waits. At around 2 p.m., there’s a long pause between tractors and she’s convinced she’ll finally get paid. Then another one pulls up. She shakes her head and mutters “pendejo,” a profane word for idiot. By the time she’s paid, she’s lost yet another hour. For filling 55 buckets, she’s paid $46.75. She worked 6.25 hours and waited another two.

She should have earned much more. With rare exceptions for very small farms, state law mandates that when workers are paid hourly—for example, when weeding a field or picking chiles—they must receive the New Mexico minimum wage of $7.50 an hour. If Lopez’s wait time is factored in, her hourly pay falls far below $7.50. That means that, in effect, her wages were stolen.

This is a very strong piece of journalism, demonstrating the many ways that workers wages are stolen, how little most buyers of green chile care one way or another, and how the state of New Mexico simply doesn’t have the resources to do anything about it. It also has a governor that doesn’t care about poor people, which doesn’t help. Of course this is hardly unique to green chile. Wage theft is “as common as dirt” among farm workers generally. With the exception of the late 60s and 70s, when Cesar Chavez was a useful stand in for Martin Luther King among white liberals who wanted to do something for change without dealing too strongly with their own complicity in a racist America, farm workers have always been the forgotten workers of the United States and that’s certainly true today.

When Will the Providence Journal Promote Mayor Angel Taveras for President?!

[ 79 ] December 17, 2013 |

I guess we’ve now reached the point in the presidential cycle when hometown newspapers write ridiculous articles promoting local candidates for a presidential run.

If he weren’t the nation’s oldest governor, a ripe 75, Jerry Brown would automatically be counted among serious Democratic candidates for president in 2016.

He boasts a household name, an impressive list of accomplishments in the country’s most populous state — a state some once deemed ungovernable — glowing national media coverage and a deep familiarity with the pitfalls and rigors of a White House bid, having run three times before.

Now, some are pushing Brown to consider another try for the White House, even if it means taking on Hillary Rodham Clinton, the prohibitive, if still undeclared, Democratic favorite.

“I think Jerry is precisely what America needs,” said Rose Ann DeMoro, the leader of a national nurses union and a strong political ally of Brown. “He has the courage of his convictions, which we haven’t seen in a very long while.”

Hmmm…..I don’t think any of that is true.

Ray Price, RIP

[ 34 ] December 16, 2013 |

Another of the great country legends has traveled to the great honky tonk in the sky. Today, Ray Price doesn’t have the cache of Cash, Nelson, Haggard, or Williams. But like George Jones, his influence within the genre of country music was titanic, even if it traveled less to the broader musical culture. Check this out from his obituary in the Times:

Over a career that began in the 1940s, Mr. Price placed more than 100 singles on the country charts, including Top 10 hits like “City Lights,” “Heartaches by the Number” and “Make the World Go Away.” He hired future country stars to play in his band, notably Roger Miller, Willie Nelson and Johnny Paycheck. And Pamper Music, the publishing company that he owned with two partners, helped start the careers of hit songwriters like Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran and Mr. Nelson.

He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996.

Mr. Price first helped change country music in the mid-1950s, when, hoping to distinguish his sound from that of his former roommate Hank Williams, he and his band transformed the gutbucket country shuffle of the postwar era into sleek, propulsive honky-tonk.

That’s a pretty bloody impressive resume. Among the other people in the Cherokee Cowboys was a young fiddler named Mark Feldman, now a legend of his own on the avant-garde jazz scene in New York. I’ve always found this fascinating given how little his own music is influenced by his years in Nashville.

Part of the reason I suppose Price’s legend is less well known was his choice to keep selling records by transitioning into the countrypolitan sound in the late 60s. That smoothness doesn’t sing to modern hip audiences who like their country, which is defined against the garbage coming out of Nashville today, as something rough, manly, slightly violent. Lots of songs about prison, murder, drinking, etc. And that’s fine. But not only is not all of country music, it leaves out a lot of really talented people who get relegated to “the country music I don’t like even if I’ve never heard Ray Price/Faron Young/Jim Reeves/Hank Snow/Etc” category.

Another key point to Price’s legacy was the release of his Night Life album in 1963. We’ve talked before here about the failure of the country music establishment to understand the potential of the album format, and thus you’d have all these people releasing 4 albums a year, each consisting of 2 good songs, a bunch of lame covers of current pop hits, and some real dreck. Night Life was one of the first real thought out albums in country music history. It’s also a masterpiece of the genre. The great Austin musician Dale Watson calls Night Life his all-time favorite album, and it certainly deserves consideration for the honor. Here’s a couple key tracks off the album. First, we have the title track, “Night Life.”

And then we have “Bright Lights and Blonde Haired Women”

But of course his legacy includes dozens of other hits. One is “City Lights.” This is a live performance from 1962.

And finally an example from his countrypolitan period, doing a cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times,” which Price has called his favorite recording of his career.

Clearly Worth the Money

[ 71 ] December 16, 2013 |

What does private school tuition and massive fundraising campaigns go towards? Why, feathering the nests of top administrators of course!

Forty-two presidents of private colleges were paid more than a million dollars in 2011, up from 36 for the previous two years, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual analysis of the colleges’ latest available tax forms.

The three top earners were Robert J. Zimmer, University of Chicago ($3,358,723); Joseph E. Aoun, Northeastern University ($3,121,864); and Dennis J. Murray, Marist College ($2,688,148).

According to the Chronicle, Dr. Zimmer’s pay doubled in 2011, Dr. Aoun’s nearly tripled in the same time, and Dr. Murray’s almost quadrupled from the previous year. Although their base salaries all remained under $1 million, the top three, like many other highly paid presidents, earned much more from retirement packages, bonuses or deferred compensation.

I happen to be very near Marist College as I write and this is front page news here. While Marist is a reasonably decent institution of higher education, how on earth does the guy deserve $2.68 million? He doesn’t of course, even if the bulk of it comes from some sort of retirement package. This is a major problem in the spiraling costs of higher education. Yet the focus goes on supposedly worthless liberal arts degrees, as if our low salaries and zero research support is even a drop in the bucket of the larger problems.

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