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The Losers of Globalization

[ 126 ] September 29, 2016 |


It’s amazing to me that the media and policymakers, not to mention a whole bunch of commenters on this thread, are just waking up to the fact that globalization is not great for everyone, that there are real losers, and that dealing with job loss and long-term unemployment is a real thing that maybe we should deal with before it fuels racial nationalism and extremist political movements. It’s almost like we shouldn’t believe that corporate-generated policies will benefit everyone! And that’s not just in the United States, it’s not just in Mexico, and it’s not just in Bangladesh. It’s everywhere around the world.

But trade comes with no assurances that the spoils will be shared equitably. Across much of the industrialized world, an outsize share of the winnings have been harvested by people with advanced degrees, stock options and the need for accountants. Ordinary laborers have borne the costs, suffering joblessness and deepening economic anxiety.

These costs have proved overwhelming in communities that depend on industry for sustenance, vastly exceeding what economists anticipated. Policy makers under the thrall of neo-liberal economic philosophy put stock in the notion that markets could be entrusted to bolster social welfare.

In doing so, they failed to plan for the trauma that has accompanied the benefits of trade. When millions of workers lost paychecks to foreign competition, they lacked government supports to cushion the blow. As a result, seething anger is upending politics from Europe to North America.

In the United States, the Republican presidential aspirant Donald J. Trump has tapped into the rage of communities reeling from factory closings, denouncing trade with China and Mexico as a mortal threat to American prosperity. The Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, has done an about-face, opposing an enormous free trade deal spanning the Pacific that she supported while secretary of state.

In Britain, the vote in a June referendum to abandon the European Union was in part a rebuke of the establishment, from laborers who blame trade for declining pay. Across the European Union, populist movements have gained adherents as an outraged response to globalization, imperiling the future of major trade deals, including a controversial pact with the United States and another with Canada.

“The trade policy of the European Union is paralyzed,” said the Italian minister of economic development, Carlo Calenda, during a recent interview in Rome. “This is a tragic situation.”

The anti-trade backlash, building for years, has become explosive because the global economy has arrived at a sobering period of reckoning. Years of investment manias and financial machinations that juiced the job market have lost potency, exposing longstanding downsides of trade that had previously been masked by illusive prosperity.

These are huge policy problems and Dylan Matthews and Annie Lowrey impinging the morality of those who point them out isn’t going to make them go away. The entire rhetoric around globalization coming from the elite class remains “this is awesome, we need more, let’s double down.” Yet nowhere through the last half-century of officially sanctioned capital mobility has the American government at the very least taken the disruption to the working classes seriously. I can’t speak to European responses in recent decades, although it’s clear the instability is also affecting those places. In the United States, globalization has happened part and parcel with unionbusting, with rapidly growing inequality, and with the creation of the New Gilded Age. The destruction of good American jobs as a result of globalization has had a very real negative affect on the American working and middle classes. If it has also meant cheap goods at Walmart, OK I guess except for the workers dying to make them, but the economic problems of the United States are very real. Inequality is a lit torch to previously existing racial and social divides. Ultimately, most people in your nation have to believe that life is getting better for them. If they don’t, they will act. That is what we are seeing in 2016. And those actions aren’t likely to be treat others in a very kind way.

This doesn’t mean that we can put globalization back into the box, even if we wanted to. But it does mean that unemployment, job creation for the very people who lose their jobs through globalization and automation, and the creation of a much more robust social safety net has to be a policy priority equal to or greater than passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And it’s just not. In the United States, for a family to get even basic help other than standard unemployment insurance, they have to be truly struggling, to the point of not eating. That’s not acceptable. We are just starting to wake up to this as a problem. Meanwhile elites in both parties embracing more and more globalization, seemingly clueless to the terrible damage of communities at home, not to mention the exploitation of global workers. At least domestically, they are now beginning to pay the cost. We will see if they learn. I am skeptical and I fear for the nation’s future.


Stop and Frisk

[ 52 ] September 28, 2016 |


Simon Balto has a rejoinder to Donald Trump’s fearmongering call to institute stop and frisk policing in Chicago. See, Chicago has a long history with this. It’s not a good history.

Legally constructed in the 1960s, stop-and-frisk was forged in a political moment that, much like our own, was governed by racial fears and anxieties, and against a backdrop deeply contoured by a black-led movement that demanded the radical transformation of America. In Chicago, this was an age of black in-migration to the city, white hostility to the new black presence, a vibrant local civil rights movement—including a nearly year-long open-housing campaign partly led by Martin Luther King, Jr.—and, ultimately, a blowback that saw many whites retrench into steely resentment.

Guiding the police force against that tumultuous backdrop was Chicago Police Department Superintendent Orlando Wilson. Already a renowned criminologist when he took over the department in 1960, Wilson was a thoughtful man and, at least overtly, a steady racial moderate. Nevertheless, as a progenitor of what’s called “preventive policing,” Wilson aggressively called for proactive rather than reactive policing. Under this model, police departments shifted from a focus on responding to crimes already committed, and toward eliminating potential crimes by confronting “suspicious persons” on the street. In so doing, Wilson and others enacted policies that usually ended up singling out black communities as problem areas, and that saddled them with unique forms of surveillance and control. Stop-and-frisk was the centerpiece of this.

The fault lines were immediate. Within a black community that was becoming increasingly mobilized in response to racism and inequality, people could not have known that Chicago’s violent crime rates would get significantly worse after implementation of stop-and-frisk, but they suspected that crime rates would not be significantly improved. Moreover, many of them correctly forecasted that it would be black people who would overwhelmingly face the effects of stop-and-frisk. Black Illinois House member and future Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, the ACLU and others cited a litany of reasons for this – not least because black people were uniquely vulnerable to CPD officers harboring anti-black racism. This assertion received the strongest possible stamp of affirmation in 1967 and 1968, when a Ku Klux Klan cell that included the Illinois Klan’s Grand Wizard was found operating within the CPD.

But those arguments against stop-and-frisk drowned in a sea of favorable white opinion. Although it would not become official policy until 1968, the real breakthrough for stop-and-frisk in Chicago came in 1965 when a number of political processes collided to give the issue a particular saliency.

Superintendent Wilson, continuing to see stop-and-frisk as necessary police policy, ramped up lobbying efforts to get it protected by the courts as a legitimate police prerogative. Tellingly, the political leaders who were quickest to offer their support were from Chicago’s white suburban ring, not the city proper. Republican politicians from Melrose Park, River Forest and other suburbs led the initial charge to see a stop-and-frisk bill introduced into the state legislature.

Perhaps the most important booster in the long term, though, was Democratic Mayor Richard Daley, whom Wilson successfully recruited to the stop-and-risk cause that same year. Daley refracted stop-and-frisk through his own racial lens and used it to his own ends. He’d been bleeding white voters and was electorally vulnerable, and so stop-and-frisk appeared at that juncture as a way to win the trust of white voters who thought that he hadn’t been tough enough on race and crime. The holder of famously tremendous political clout in Chicago, he joined with Wilson to work across the partisan aisle for the bill’s passage.

The bill failed to pass through in 1965 and was vetoed by Democratic Governor Otto Kerner in 1967, but the coalition and the dynamics that would see it succeed were set in place. By 1968, the same year that the United States Supreme Court enshrined it into law in Terry v. Ohio, stop-and-frisk’s supporters saw it become Illinois law. It has persisted as a profoundly controversial policy measure ever since.

Of course everything Trump said about race in his debate was calculated to scare white people. It’s as if his entire view of the inner city comes from repeated viewings of Colors and New Jack City. Which it might. And given the number of white people who are scared of black people, he might ride that vision straight into the Oval Office.

Privatization in the Age of Inequality

[ 32 ] September 28, 2016 |


Everyone should check out the report released today by In the Public Interest on how privatization increases inequality. Here are the five key findings:

Creation of new user fees: The creation of new user fees to fund public services disproportionately impacts the poor. As government budgets have declined, some jurisdictions have tried outsourcing services to private companies and allowing those companies to charge fees to the end-user to subsidize or completely fund the service. Many of the services that use this contracting and payment structure are those that poor individuals and families must use or are subject to through their interactions with the government.

Increase in existing user fees: Residents of jurisdictions that have privatized critical public services such as water or transit have experienced steep increases in their rates—such increases particularly harm low-income residents and those on fixed-incomes.

Privatization of the social safety net: Programs that provide and deliver critical support to the poor are often the subject of privatization experiments, many times with tragic results. Because these programs assist those who have little to no political power, these programs are low hanging fruit for privatization.

Decreased wages and benefits: Privatization increases income inequality through the decline of contracted workers’ wages and benefits. When governments directly provide a service, they often provide living wages and decent benefits to workers. When private companies take control, they often slash wages and benefits in an attempt to cut labor costs, replacing stable, middle class jobs with poverty-level jobs.

Increased socioeconomic and racial segregation: The introduction of private interests into public goods and services can radically impact access for certain groups. In some cases, as the public park example in Section 5 shows, privatization can create parallel systems in which one system propped up by private interests typically serves higher-income people, while another lesser quality system serves lower-income people. In other cases, the creation of a private system, such as charter schools in a school district, siphons funding away from the public system meant to serve everyone. In some situations, poor individuals and families can lose access to the public good completely.

The report as a whole is highly disturbing and alarming. Whether we are talking about charter schools or hiring private agencies to manage funds for foster children or bringing in private contractors for any number of social services, privatization of our public services is a universally awful idea that centers profit in the hands of the few who make that profit on reducing wages and benefits, avoiding unions, hiring recent college graduates to replace long-term workers, and other strategies that have contributed to the broader crises of inequality and a lack of quality jobs in the economy. Yet the mania for privatization continues. Grover Norquist wins.

Trade, Trump, and the Debate

[ 440 ] September 27, 2016 |


Overall, Hillary Clinton embarrassed Donald Trump last night. But let’s not kid ourselves, Trump absolutely crushed her on trade in the early part of the debate. I found it highly disturbing to realize that if I didn’t know that Trump didn’t actually care about this issue and certainly doesn’t care about the workers of the world, I would find myself agreeing with him. NAFTA is indeed the worst trade deal in history. It was a complete disaster for the working class of the United States and it was a complete disaster for the working class of Mexico.

Trump also did a great job of connecting recent issues of capital mobility to his statements. The Carrier closure became a national issue because the announcement was filmed. And then the recent announcement of Ford that it was closing its unionized American factories that make its small cars like the Focus (guess I will be buying a different car next time I am on the market) and moving them to Mexico is basically Ford giving Trump the biggest possible assist it could. If all the jobs are moving overseas, why wouldn’t the white working class vote for Trump? What good reason do they have for not doing so? I know why the black and Latino working class won’t–because of the racism of the Trump campaign. But if you have no hope except for being white, why not vote for your racial dominance? That’s what Trump offers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know very well that Donald Trump does not care about this issue. He will do nothing to solve this problem. If he has an allegiance, it’s to his business interests and to the business interests of other capitalists. He will do nothing to hurt them. And of course I know all the other ways that Hillary Clinton is actually better for the working class than Trump. But you can’t expect the average low-information voter to know that. And certainly Hillary Clinton can’t expect them to know that.

But Trump’s lies are not really the point. The point is that he has one great issue upon which he may well be elected. Hillary Clinton has no good answer because she ultimately is a supporter of free trade and has not really thought through the real hardships that the working-class faces when they lose their jobs because of capital mobility. The other point is that American policymakers have failed and continue to completely fail to take capital mobility and working-class unemployment seriously. From the beginning of the modern era of capital mobility in 1965, both Republican and Democratic policymakers have largely supported widescale corporate flight overseas in the name of profits. But they have never had good ideas for what those workers are going to do. They might give cheap bromides about education. They might vote to fund retraining programs for jobs that if they exist at all will pay far lower than the union jobs the workers lost. They talk dreamily about the creative economy and disruption creating new jobs. But new jobs for who? At what price? With what power for workers?

We are seeing this all over again in the mania for driverless vehicles. Let’s be very clear–the driverless vehicle fad may have some safety benefits. But it exists for precisely one reason: so that companies can profit on not employing truck drivers or taxi drivers. If driverless vehicles really become a real thing, 3.5 million truck drivers are going to lose their jobs. Overall, there is 8.7 million people employed by the trucking industry. The Obama administration is already creating a regulatory framework to ease these driverless vehicles on the road. But it, like all the administrations before it, have absolutely no answer or even any real beginnings of a vague plan on what those 3.5 million workers (if not closer to 8.7 million) are going to do.

That’s a gigantic policy failure on the part of every president from Johnson to Obama. It won’t get any better under either Clinton or Trump. Those who claim that ultimately this capital mobility and automation and disruption is a good thing have to live in the country this creates. That country may well vote Donald Trump into the Oval Office. Not taking unemployment and working-class despair in the face of millions and millions of lost union or otherwise high-paying jobs is part of the reason why. And if we don’t figure out how to fix it, with very real, concrete plans for these workers, no matter their color or political leanings, the political instability we are seeing in 2016 will continue and deepen, no matter who wins in November.

This Day in Labor History: September 27, 2002

[ 21 ] September 27, 2016 |


On September 27, 2002, 29 ports on the West Coast closed when the Pacific Maritime Association, a industry group of shippers, decided to lock out their workers affiliated with the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU). The lockout, which halted the United States’ international trade continued for 11 days until President George W. Bush invokes the Taft-Hartley Act to end the lockout and call for a cooling down period. This struggle eventually led to a major victory for the ILWU.

The ILWU had been a thorn in the side of west coast shippers for decades. Once led by the radical Harry Bridges, the ILWU slowly lost its aggressive edge as Bridges aged, but it remained a strong and independent union. After a bitter strike in 1971, the ILWU and the shippers had fairly decent relations for three decades. But in 2002, employers decided to push the union hard to take back much of what they had given away. Employers wanted to introduce new technology that would track the goods as they moved. The union opposed this because it would automate out of work many of its members. The PMA wanted to severely cut back on medical benefits for employees. The ILWU rejected that entirely and wanted higher wages as well. As 2002 wound on, short contract extensions kept negotiations going but on September 27, the employers decided to shut down the ports, putting over 10,000 workers out of a job.

The PMA claimed that they had no choice because ILWU members had engaged in a work-to-rule slowdown that was costing employers profits. Work-to-rule is when employees follow rules to the precise letter of the law and nothing more. In this case, the PMA accused the union of not breaking dock speed limits and following the safety rules. The horror! The ILWU denied it and said the PMA wanted to divert attention away from its refusal to negotiate. While a couple of employers bucked the lockout and made agreements with the ILWU, the vast majority of west coast trade ended.

George W. Bush was no friend to organized labor, that is for sure. Neither were American corporations. But this was different. The lockout had the potential to shut down the rest of the economy in a way that perhaps no labor dispute had since at least the PATCO strike in 1981 and probably the 1959 steel strike. The shipping industry’s intransigence threatened the rest of American business and while they may have shared a mutual disdain for organized labor, it wasn’t enough to allow their own businesses to lose money. That businesses were preparing for the holiday season made this an even greater threat. Even with the short period of the lockout, the joint Toyota-GM NUMMI plant in Fremont, California closed, briefly laying off 5000 workers.

So the rest of American business urged Bush to use Taft-Hartley to bring the companies to heel, not the unions. No president had tried to use the Taft-Hartley Act to end the dispute and force an 80-day return to work since Jimmy Carter in 1978 and even then the courts refused the necessary injunction. The last time a president had successfully invoked it was the 1971 ILWU strike. But Bush fell in line with the rest of the business community. He issued the order and the courts granted the injunction. Said Tracy Mullin, president of the National Retail Federation, “Taft-Hartley is not the best option, but it appears to be the only option at this point.” In addition, it seems clear in hindsight that with the Bush administration preparing to invade Iraq, it viewed this labor dispute as a highly unfortunate distraction that undermined American preparedness. When Bush invoked Taft-Hartley, he called the operation of the ports “vital to our economy and the military” and he openly worried about how this would affect the movement of military supplies. Dianne Feinstein used similar language to encourage Bush to take this action. The lockout ended on October 8. Some economists projected that the 10-day lockout had already taken $10 billion out of the economy. It also took some weeks for ILWU members to unload the huge backlog of products waiting to move.

Unions were nervous about this. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka was strongly opposed, fearing the Bush administration was trying to bust the ILWU. He stated “If every employer thinks the federal government will step in, why should they negotiate and let the natural bargaining process play out?” Teamsters spokesman Bret Caldwell expressed similar misgivings: “The whole strategy of locking out the workers and urging the president to invoke Taft-Hartley was clearly an employer strategy to get around negotiating a contract with these workers. It’s a bad precedent. It gives management the upper hand.”

But with the shipping industry’s gambit undermined, they had to negotiate for real with the ILWU. Both sides agreed to mediation. Trumka became personally involved in settling the conflict while Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service chief Peter Hurtgen took the lead in the negotiations. Both sides won a bit in the final contract. The companies did get to implement their cargo tracking technology. They also got a 6-year contract, providing labor stability and some changes to the arbitration procedures. In return, the shippers agreed to pay workers a whole lot of money. Full-time wages would rise to $85,000 a year by the end of the contract, with the possibility of going into six figures with overtime. The shippers also agreed to increase their pension contributions by 58 percent. In addition, while union leaders expected that the automation would eliminate about 400 jobs from the ports, all current workers in those positions were allowed to keep their jobs until they wanted to retire. Finally, non-union jobs in the port became part of the ILWU bargaining unit, extending the union’s control over employment. The members agreed to the contract with around 90 percent voting to affirm.

Ultimately, this was one of the biggest victories of the early 21st century for a union. Odd that George W. Bush played an important role in it.

This is the 194th post in this series. Previous posts are archive here.

American Morons, or, An Open Thread on the Debate

[ 323 ] September 26, 2016 |


Against my better judgment I am going to watch the damn debate. I will hate every second of it. Trump’s moronic supporters including American Genius Mike Ditka, most recently giving a very important hot take on Colin Kaepernick telling him to get out of the country. I made fun of this on Twitter and was thus sited by one of our nation’s finest journalists as a supporter of Mike Ditka. Christ. I recognize Twitter doesn’t recognize irony well, but really. In any case, here’s an open thread for whatever the hell is going to happen.

Debate Pre-Thread

[ 290 ] September 26, 2016 |

I confess that I have great foreboding about the debate. I have a sinking feeling that Trump is going to lie and lie again, Hillary won’t effectively respond, the moderator won’t call him out (or will quickly cower under his bluster if he pushes back at all), and even more white people will see him as the embodiment of their resentments and fears.

This does not help me feel better.

Reading in Prison

[ 85 ] September 25, 2016 |


Above: A man too dangerous for Texas prisoners

The U.S. prison system is primarily designed to lock up people of color, control their labor, and humiliate them. There is very little about justice in the criminal injustice system. Anything that potentially empowers prisoners is something to be eliminated. In Texas especially, that includes reading anything that might possibly inspire prisoners.

Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of Prison Legal News, says Texas has 15,000 banned books but the list “is growing exponentially. Once a book goes on it never comes off.”

The Texas list is not just long but diverse. It includes former Senator Bob Dole’s World War II: An Illustrated History of Crisis and Courage; Jenna Bush’s Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope; Jon Stewart’s America; A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction; and 101 Best Family Card Games. Then there are books banned for what TDCJ calls “racial content,” such as The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, the Texas football classic Friday Night Lights, Flannery O’Conner Everything That Rises Must Converge, and Lisa Belkin’s Show Me a Hero, which depicts the struggle to desegregate housing in Yonkers, New York in the face of institutional racism.

But don’t worry: Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, David Duke’s Jewish Supremacism, and the Nazi Aryan Youth Primer are all kosher. (Clark would not directly respond regarding this issue.)

Teaching The Battle of Algiers

[ 62 ] September 25, 2016 |


This is a really interesting essay about how the military establishment teaches The Battle of Algiers and how it usually draws poor lessons from it.

Since 2003, counterinsurgency training has become an important field of professional military education, with centers and programs springing up at institutions like the US Military academy at West Point, the National Defense University, and the Naval War College. A search of these institutions’ websites indicates that The Battle of Algiers is a fixture of these courses. At West Point, it’s shown regularly in the French and Arabic programs. A flier for an upcoming screening explained that the film is of interest because it uses “language in a political and military context” and because “the issues faced by the French in Algeria are many of the same issues currently faced by the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.” It’s also shown in courses offered at USMA’s Combating Terrorism Center. Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Price told me that he uses the film to illustrate methods such as sector-by-sector containment and the impact of decapitating a movement’s leadership, and as a case study of what works and what doesn’t.

All of the defense professionals whom I spoke with tied their interest in the film to their advocacy of counterinsurgency strategies that emphasize political solutions and reject tactics such as torture. David Ucko, an associate professor at the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University, said that he encourages foreign security personnel who are engaged in combating terrorism to focus on establishing political legitimacy. In his eyes, the inescapable lesson of The Battle of Algiers is that if you act as the French did in Algeria, you’re going to lose.

Somewhat contrary to my expectations, these conversations didn’t leave me with the impression that military educators’ approach to teaching The Battle of Algiers is particularly doctrinaire. Price told me that he encourages students to interrogate the concept of terrorism and the definition of a terrorist. He also said that while most cadets identify with the French, some end up taking the side of the Algerian insurgents. Ucko similarly noted that the film helps his students to humanize the enemy.

But if the teaching of The Battle of Algiers in policy and military contexts isn’t closed-minded, it does raise some other questions. To hold that it’s better to win people over with values and ideas rather than by force is good in principle, but it assumes that there are social and political principles that could unite all parties. This seems highly questionable in a situation such as Iraq, where the objectives of the US presence have been far less straightforward than those of the French in Algeria, and where “insurgency” has become increasingly protean.

Another issue is the apparent lack of attention paid to the film as a film — to the questions of storytelling and cinematography that preoccupy cultural scholars. The film seems to be taught in military colleges as a mirror of history, while history is approached as a reservoir of examples from which lessons can be drawn. Ben Nickels, an associate professor at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, observed that this approach is somewhat symptomatic of the field of military history as a whole. Over the last 30 years, military history has all but vanished from the academic mainstream, flourishing only in professional military education, where it has been sheltered from historiographical practices that focus on primary documents as contingent representations.

That is fundamentally true about military history within the academy. As its’ become more isolated, it’s hardly surprising that it would fall further and further behind the rest of the field conceptually. Also, I taught Battle of Algiers in my summer film course a couple of years ago and one of the students, who was an ex-Marine who had gone to Lebanon just after the barracks were blown up, said they watched it back then to understand what was happening in the Middle East. I mean, I think there are things one can learn from films, but it worries me that the leading document to understand the contemporary Middle East within the military establishment is a fifty-year old film made by an Italian Marxist about a secular, nationalist revolutionary movement.

Shorter STEM Experts: Please Invest in the Humanities!

[ 151 ] September 25, 2016 |


It sure would be nice if politicians and university administrations actually listened to people in the STEM fields and invested heavily in the humanities and social sciences. The editorial board of Scientific American makes this point powerfully.

Kentucky governor Matt Bevin wants students majoring in electrical engineering to receive state subsidies for their education but doesn’t want to support those who study subjects such as French literature. Bevin is not alone in trying to nudge higher education toward course work that promotes better future job prospects. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a former presidential candidate, put it bluntly last year by calling for more welders and fewer philosophers.

Promoting science and technology education to the exclusion of the humanities may seem like a good idea, but it is deeply misguided. Scientific American has always been an ardent supporter of teaching STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But studying the interaction of genes or engaging in a graduate-level project to develop software for self-driving cars should not edge out majoring in the classics or art history.

The need to teach both music theory and string theory is a necessity for the U.S. economy to continue as the preeminent leader in technological innovation. The unparalleled dynamism of Silicon Valley and Hollywood requires intimate ties that unite what scientist and novelist C. P. Snow called the “two cultures” of the arts and sciences.

Steve Jobs, who reigned for decades as a tech hero, was neither a coder nor a hardware engineer. He stood out among the tech elite because he brought an artistic sensibility to the redesign of clunky mobile phones and desktop computers. Jobs once declared: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

A seeming link between innovation and the liberal arts now intrigues countries where broad-based education is less prevalent. In most of the world, university curricula still emphasize learning skills oriented toward a specific profession or trade. The ebullience of the U.S. economy, which boasted in 2014 the highest percentage of high-tech outfits among all its public companies—has spurred countries such as Singapore to create schools fashioned after the U.S. liberal arts model.

But hey, bullying students to avoid majoring in theater or Spanish is fun! And really, what would the knowledge of a foreign language or the ability to write effectively add to a employer?

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 50

[ 9 ] September 25, 2016 |

This is the grave of William Paterson.


William Paterson was born in Ireland in 1745. His family immigrated to the American colonies in 1747 and settled in New Jersey. He started at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) at the age of 14 and was admitted to the bar in 1768. He rose rapidly in New Jersey politics during the American Revolution and was one of the state’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. There, he pushed for a unicameral legislature, which helped lead to the compromise that created the United States’ bicameral system. He became a Federalist and was named to the Senate in 1789. He then became the first senator to resign from office in 1790 to become governor of New Jersey. In 1793, George Washington named Paterson to the Supreme Court where he served until his death in 1806. He died near Albany, New York while visiting his daughter, who had married into New York’s powerful Van Rensselaer family.

William Paterson is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York.

Music Notes

[ 34 ] September 24, 2016 |


Here’s an interview with Laura Ballance, Superchunk bassist and CEO of Merge Records. Question for you. Is Merge the greatest label in rock history? I have to say that it is. In my view, it’s up with the greatest labels of all time like Atlantic and Motown. They’ve never put out a lot of albums and that’s because they make sure product is first rate. You can’t argue with the results.

Here’s a New York Review of Books essay on Miles Davis. I haven’t seen the Don Cheadle film, but the essay is pretty good, particularly as it focuses on his electric period. For me, that is far and away the greatest period of Miles’ career, a career that was unparalleled in American music history (outside of the 80s, which, well….). The period between In a Silent Way and his retirement is simply an incredible musical achievement, not only because it was great music but because with each album, he was moving music forward by leaps and bounds.

Bomba Estéreo’s new video has received a ton of buzz for its inclusive message and that’s awesome, but regardless, it’s worth noting what a great band this is.

Leonard Cohen turned 82 this week. To celebrate, he released the title track to his upcoming album. And yeah, it’s pretty awesome.

And now to the album reviews. Been lucky that most of the new albums I’ve listened to the last couple of weeks have been really good.

Andrew Norman and Boston Modern Orchestral Project, Play

This is an outstanding recording of a composer whose music hits you in the face. I’m not going to try and fool you all: although I enjoy orchestral music, I really suck at writing about it. So let me quote The New Yorker’s Alex Ross, from his own personal blog:

Will Robin has gone so far as to declare that Play “might be the best orchestral work that the 21st century has seen thus far” — an announcement that spurred a lively Twitter discussion of other candidates for that accolade, with emphasis on purely orchestral works more than half an hour long. I seconded Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s nomination of Adès’s Totentanz and Czernowin’s MAIM, but, having listened to Play at least a dozen times, I won’t dismiss Will’s suggestion out of hand.

A must purchase for me.


Dilly Dally, Sore

This is an excellent young rock band from Toronto with a vocalist named Katie Monks who has a great screamer voice. Will she be able to sing when she’s 40 with vocals like these? Don’t know. Doubt she cares. Good lyrics worth actually trying to understand are a bonus.


Mount Moriah, Miracle Temple

My favorite album from this year so far is Mount Moriah’s How to Dance and I’m really excited to see them in November. It wasn’t on the first listen, but it’s become my go-to album recently, slightly over the Margo Price album. Heather McEntire just has an astounding voice. So I picked up Mount Moriah’s 2014 album Miracle Temple. This is a good album, but not as good as How to Dance because it lacks that one great song like “Baby Blue” or “Calavander.” What you have is a very solid set of tunes and great singing. And who is going to complain about that.


James Vincent McMorrow, Post Tropical

At first I found this a little annoying. McMorrow sings not unlike quite a few indie singers these days with what feels to me like an affectation where prettiness is valued over expression, to the point where the voice almost disappears. He also sings in a very high falsetto that doesn’t quite work for me. But this 2014 release is more interesting than it first seems because despite this indie folk core, the album goes in places you don’t expect because he engages in his love of hip-hop and electronic music, both of which he integrates in unexpected ways in an album where he played every instrument. I don’t love this, but it is worth a listen.


Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood, and the Rajasthan Express, Junun

In the spring of 2015, the Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead, and the Rajasthan Express, a 15-member Indian band all hung out togehter in India and made music. Paul Thomas Anderson filmed it and released it as a documentary. I have not seen the film. But I can say that the soundtrack is outstanding. The Rajastahn Express is the real star here, dominating the proceedings with this really great somewhat droning music that comes out of the Qawwali tradition. I believe Tzur wrote the tracks. Greenwood doesn’t really do much that stands out, not that this matters. He’s just part of the band. This is just fine music.


As always, this is an open thread about music.

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