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Guy Clark, RIP

[ 30 ] May 17, 2016 |

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The great Guy Clark has died. One of the finest country-folk singers ever and a foundational figure in the alt-country genre, Clark had been sick for some time. He was not only good friends with Townes Van Zandt, but his partner in crazy living, as you can read about in this great late-life profile. Clark was a lot more emotionally stable than Van Zandt so he lived a lot longer, but he did not live a life that was going to reach 90 (although Ramblin’ Jack Elliott still lives so sometimes you can do that). Clark had the songwriting skills to become wealthy if he played the Nashville game. On the other hand, he was pure Texas. He split the difference, moving to Nashville in the early 70s (sort of the opposite of Willie Nelson here) to keep a hand in the business but remained fiercely independent his entire career. This plus his generous nature made him a mentor to a whole generation of young Texas musicians such as Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell.

Guy Clark’s albums themselves are something of a mixed bag. His first album, Old No. 1, contains a number of classics that were often covered by others. This includes the wonderful “L.A. Freeway,” “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “Texas, 1947.”

A lot of people love his second album, Texas Cookin’. I’m a bit more mixed on it, although it does have “The Last Gunfighter Ballad.”

The South Coast of Texas is one of the most underrated albums in all of music. This is basically a perfect country album, with each song revolving around some Texas story, from the Kentuckians getting ready to move to Texas in the 19th century in “New Cut Road” to the shrimpers and their ladies in “The South Coast of Texas” to the young man falling in love with an older waitress in the great closing track “Lone Star Motel.” I love this album tremendously.

He had a series of decent albums in the 80s and 90s, culminating in the pretty excellent 1999 album Cold Dog Soup. But probably the place I would start is with his live greatest hits plus some new ones album Keepers, from 1997. Good band, fun performances.

In the end, anyone who can write a song like “The Randall Knife” is worth remembering.

I only saw Guy Clark play once. It was in Santa Fe, maybe around 2004, a show with just him and his long-time guitarist Verlon Thompson. It showed the delicate nature of live performing. Mostly, it was great. But some drunk guy started shouting during the set and Clark walked off until someone kicked him out. Then, right in the middle of the powerful song “Let Him Roll” about a bum who dies still loving the prostitute he knew decades ago, someone’s damn cell phone rang. Totally ruined the moment. Such things happen in a live setting. In recent years, by most accounts, his shows had taken a turn for the worse with his physical health.

Guy Clark will be badly missed. He maybe wasn’t quite the level of titanic talent as people like Merle Haggard, David Bowie, and Prince, but in a regular year, the loss of Guy Clark would just about be the worst musical loss we could imagine.

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Amazon and Unions

[ 12 ] May 17, 2016 |

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If Uber is proving fertile ground for labor organizing, for Amazon, it’s been a lot harder, thanks in no small part to an already revved-up anti-union campaign that includes managers openly lying to workers and intimidating them in one-on-one meetings.

Nineteenth-Century Maritime Art

[ 24 ] May 17, 2016 |

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Being a big fan of both scrimshaw and of the New Bedford Whaling Museum (even though I was visiting that museum when the Great House Robbery of 2014 led to the theft of years of research that made up the primary sources of Empire of Timber), I thought this was extremely cool:

During the 19th century, travelers on whaling ships used art to record dramatic and sometimes gory events. In official logbooks and personal journals, sailors and passengers listed sea routes, weather conditions, whale-oil harvests, ship repairs and stops for provisions. In pen, pencil and watercolor, they added drawings of heaving whales in their death throes dragging boats, bleeding whale carcasses being torn apart and seamen’s coffins lowered into the ocean.

Michael P. Dyer, the senior maritime historian at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts, is tracking down these illustrations for a book, “The Art of the Yankee Whale Hunt: Manuscript Illustration in the Age of Sail.” Some journals contain just one meticulously detailed image because, Mr. Dyer said, “in the middle of the voyage, something extraordinary happened.”

The last major study of the subject appeared in the 1980s. Illustrated whaling journals are now on display in the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s exhibition “Mapping Ahab’s ‘Storied Waves’ — Whaling and the Geography of ‘Moby-Dick,’” about cartographic resources that Herman Melville’s vengeful main character would have used to find the white behemoth that bit off his lower leg.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum owns 2,300 logbooks. About 100 are digitized and online, and more digitizing is in progress. The museum has been acquiring them, as gifts and purchases, for more than a century. (Heavily illustrated volumes can sell for tens of thousands of dollars each.) One-third of the collection’s logbooks contain some kind of drawing, including simple outlines of whales in the margins or tableaus detailed with ship rigging; portraits of particular American Indian and African-American crewmen; marine creatures’ fin and fluke silhouettes; and the animals’ wounds from gunshots, lances and harpoons.

The drawings at times reveal mishaps: broken tools and ropes, escaped whales and the untethered bodies of whales that sank. Each logbook could cover several trips around the world and contain writings and images from numerous shipmates. Sailors would share drawings onboard, they critiqued one another’s art, and they sometimes worked on commission for officers. A number of the identifiable artists, including Joseph Bogart Hersey and Joseph Washington Tuck, were based in Provincetown, Mass., where a culture of maritime sketching seems to have arisen. “To this day, Provincetown is an artists’ colony,” Mr. Dyer observed.

It’s of course not surprising that you’d have cool drawings like this, not to mention scrimshaw. After all, what else are you going to do on endless ocean voyages?

Non-Compete Agreements

[ 73 ] May 17, 2016 |

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I’ve talked about the injustice of non-compete agreements at the lower end of the labor market a few times before. It’s worth revisiting the point once again to note its ubiquity and the utter injustice of it.

A recent White House report found that 18% of American workers are currently restricted by non-compete clauses. If you’ve never signed one–or even if you have and had no idea what it was–a non-compete is a legal agreement that prevents an employee from leaving a job at one company and taking a similar one with a competing company, for a specified period of time.

Of the workers who have signed non-competes, fewer than half say they had access to trade secrets that a potential rival company could take advantage of. What’s more, 37% of workers say they have signed non-compete agreements at some point in their careers.

While engineering and computer/mathematical occupations have the highest prevalence of non-competes, the agreements aren’t exclusive to highly-skilled professions. For instance, 15% of workers without four-year college degrees are subject to non-competes, while 14% of employees earning less than $40,000 a year have signed a non-compete. That’s despite the fact that employees in both sectors are about half as likely to possess trade secrets than more highly educated and higher-earning counterparts in the work force.

Of course the most famous example of this is Jimmy John’s, which clearly is concerned about it’s $7.50 an hour employees revealing deep secrets when they go work for Subway later. Or, as is certainly the case, the point is to control workers and nothing more.

Tofu Power!

[ 71 ] May 16, 2016 |

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Tofu, is there anything you can’t do?

In a dark and steamy room in Indonesia’s tofu heartland three men sweat over bubbling cauldrons, churning creamy beancurd with wooden paddles before draining it by hand and slicing it into silky cubes.

Tofu has been cooked this way for generations but today, innovative villagers on Java island are producing something extra from the simple soybean – cheap, renewable energy, piped directly into their homes.

Around 150 small tofu businesses in Kalisari village, many run from the family home, are benefiting from a pioneering green scheme that converts wastewater from their production floors into a clean-burning biogas.

Where families once relied on sporadic deliveries of tanked gas or wood for stoves, tofu producers like Waroh can access this cleaner fuel anytime with the flick of a switch.

“The advantages are huge, because we produce the gas with waste,” Waroh, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP as he boiled tea over a steady blue flame coming from his kitchen stove.

Experts say harnessing power from unconventional sources like tofu holds enormous potential in Indonesia, a vast energy-hungry nation heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

There’s another benefit too because large-scale tofu production is pretty gross:

The Kalisari project has also helped to reduce damage caused to the local environment from tofu production.

Thousands of litres of waste water drained from raw tofu was once pumped daily from factories around the village into nearby rivers, befouling waterways and contaminating rice fields downstream.

“The environment here was very polluted,” Kalisari local government head Aziz Masruri told AFP, gesturing to a river fringed by wooden tofu workshops. “It stank, and it was affecting our agriculture.”

Things have steadily improved since the cloudy, foul-smelling liquid was diverted from rivers to large blue tanks, where it’s transformed into biogas. Farmers have reported better rice yields, while the river is clearer and less smelly, Masruri said.

I suppose this doesn’t really deal with the long-term water depletion, but is certainly better in the short-term.

Also, tofu is just a great food. I swear, people who don’t like it think that it is just eaten plain. Do you eat plain pasta or rice? Unlikely. It’s really at its best paired with pork, but obviously it’s a great meat substitute too, though I think ideally paired with something else kind of meaty like eggplants or a hearty mushroom.

Chicago and the Civil War

[ 41 ] May 16, 2016 |

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It’s worth remembering that the Civil War transformed the entire nation, not just the South. From the tribes living in Montana to the slaves in Mississippi to Yankees in Vermont, no one in this nation was the same after 1865. That includes Chicago:

Some impacts, courtesy of Chicago History Museum and the Encyclopedia of Chicago:

• Boosted commerce: “The opening of the Union Stock Yard on Christmas Day, 1865, is symbolic of the Civil War’s impact on Chicago. The war directed the flow of vital food commodities away from Chicago’s most persistent urban rivals, which were too close to the front lines during the first two years of the war and were hurt by stoppages of trade on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.”

• Helped banking: “The Civil War also helped spur industrialization by bringing stable banking to Chicago for the first time. The First National Bank of Chicago was founded in July 1863, and by war’s end the city boasted 13 national banks, more than any other city in America.”

• Race riot: “In 1862 the city suffered its first race riot when white teamsters tried to prevent African-Americans from using the omnibus system. The Chicago City Council voted to segregate the public schools.”

• POW camp: Chicago was home to one of the largest Union Army prisoner-of-war camps for Confederate soldiers: Camp Douglas, near 35th Street and Martin Luther King Drive. Of the 10,000-plus Confederate soldiers at the camp, 4,457 died, mostly due to poor sanitary and medical facilities. The Chicago History Museum has several artifacts from the camp, including the bell that rang out to signify the end of the Civil War.

• Death toll: There were 22,436 soldiers from Cook County, and most came from Chicago. Almost 4,000 soldiers from the city died, and there are memorials in Grant Park, Lincoln Park and some city cemeteries.

“Thousands of Confederate soldiers are buried in Lincoln Park [formerly the city cemetery] and in Oak Wood Cemetery, which has a significant monument memorializing the rebel soldiers who perished at Camp Douglas,” Lewis said.

Wait, there’s a Confederate monument in Chicago?

Anyway, this is a nice overview of the basics.

This is a Pretty Good Fifth Columnist Effort to Undermine America

[ 122 ] May 16, 2016 |

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Above: Anheuser Busch-InBev CEO Carlos Brito

If you wanted to destroy young people’s idealistic vision of America, could you do a better job than Budweiser renaming itself “America” for the election season?

Budweiser has one-upped Donald Trump’s promise to make America great again by making America beer. Beginning later this month, the script that usually reads “Budweiser” on the brewing company’s cans and bottle labels will read “America”. The label change will stay in effect through to the election in November.

Budweiser regularly redesigns its logo along patriotic themes to coincide with major sporting events, often around Olympic Games hosted stateside, but this is the first time the company has effectively changed the name of its flagship product. In a press release, the brewery mentioned several upcoming events, notably the Olympics taking place elsewhere in the Americas this summer – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – and of course the deeply contentious US election itself.

The change is US-centric to the core, though. The label’s typeface will stay the same, but the words will change: “America” for “Budweiser,” “e pluribus unum” (out of many, one, the motto of the US) for “The King of Beers,” and where the lager’s label usually contains boilerplate extolling the virtues of its “exclusive Beechwood Aging”, the lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner.

Lyrics to Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land and text from the Pledge of Allegiance also appear on the can.

Will the Guthrie lines about ignoring private property be on the can? One can only hope.

Maybe this is some sort of long game by the Kaiser and his forces to win World War I a century on. It’s the best reason I can think of. Talk about a good plan to destroy American patriotism. Kultur indeed.

First Step toward Unionizing Uber?

[ 18 ] May 16, 2016 |

George, 35, protests with other commercial drivers with the app-based, ride-sharing company Uber against working conditions outside the company's office in Santa Monica, California June 24, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT TRANSPORT CIVIL UNREST) - RTR3VKJ9

Since we’ve been talking about SEIU’s now failed deal with Airbnb, this is also very interesting:

Uber announced an agreement on Tuesday with a prominent union to create an association for drivers in New York that would establish a forum for regular dialogue and afford them some limited benefits and protections — but that would stop short of unionization.

The association, which will be known as the Independent Drivers Guild and will be affiliated with a regional branch of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, is the first of its kind that Uber has officially blessed, although Uber drivers have formed a number of unsanctioned groups in cities across the country.

“We’re happy to announce that we’ve successfully come to agreement with Uber to represent the 35,000 drivers using Uber in New York City to enhance their earning ability and benefits,” said James Conigliaro Jr., the guild founder and assistant director and general counsel at the International Association of Machinists District 15, which represents workers in the Northeast.

The agreement is Uber’s latest attempt to assuage mounting concerns from regulators and drivers’ groups about the company’s labor model, which treats drivers as independent contractors. That model helps Uber keep its labor costs low, but it excludes drivers from coverage by most labor and employment laws, such as those that require a minimum wage and overtime.

That has spurred public disagreements, and many drivers have organized in unofficial groups to gain more rights. The prospect of unionization has loomed at times; lawmakers in Seattle voted last year to approve a bill allowing drivers for Uber and other ride-hailing apps to form unions.

In response, Uber, which is based in San Francisco, has been striking deals to tamp down the problems — with the proviso that the company be able to continue classifying its drivers as contractors and stop short of allowing drivers to unionize.

No doubt some will accuse the Machinists of selling workers short:

The machinists union has also indicated that for the duration of the five-year agreement, it will refrain from trying to unionize drivers, from encouraging them to strike and from waging campaigns to have them recognized as employees rather than independent contractors.

“It’s important to have immediate assistance in the industry and this is the structure that provides that,” said Mr. Conigliaro.

He emphasized, however, that drivers did not waive any labor rights by joining the guild, and that if Uber drivers were found to be employees at any point during the agreement, the union could try to unionize the drivers at their request.

Sounds pretty unstable to me. I think this is probably a good first step toward eventual unionization, even if it takes 5 years. In any case, the sharing economy is not going to go away. I’d rather move toward unionizing those workers than not.

Game Changer!

[ 83 ] May 16, 2016 |

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OMG, how did we miss this? I don’t see how Trump loses now!

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on Thursday endorsed Donald Trump and left the door open to becoming the Republican vice presidential nominee.

“He is not a perfect man. But what I do believe is that he loves this country and he will surround himself with capable, experienced people and he will listen to them,” Perry told CNN. “He wasn’t my first choice, wasn’t my second choice, but he is the people’s choice.”

Perry had harsh criticism for Trump early on in the presidential race while the Texas governor was still a presidential candidate. He blasted Trump’s “toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense” in July.

But on Thursday, Perry praised Trump and his presidential bid.

“He is one of the most talented people who has ever run for the president I have ever seen,” Perry told CNN.

When asked whether he would consider being Trump’s running mate, the former Texas governor did not rule it out.

“I am going to be open to any way I can help. I am not going to say no,” Perry said. “We can’t afford the policies and the character of Hillary Clinton.”

A Trump-Perry ticket would truly be unbeatable. As a Democrat, I am very scared. I’d invest heavily in Tito’s and Ambien stock right now. That’s a hot stock tip from your LGM money managers!

Brazil’s Cabinet

[ 53 ] May 16, 2016 |

Brazil's Chief of Staff Minister Eliseu Padilha, interim President Michel Temer, Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles are seen during the first ministerial meeting at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, May 13, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino - RTX2E6L4

So Dilma Rousseff was finally evicted from the Brazilian presidency by her right-wing opponents. What does the new cabinet look like? Oh dear.

Brazil’s interim President Michel Temer has pledged to build a “bridge to the future,” but the 75-year old lawyer has shocked much of the country by assembling a Cabinet that appears to have emerged from a previous century.

Of the 22 members of his new conservative Cabinet, 22 are white men. In a country of more than 200 million people, more than half of Brazilians identify as black or dark-skinned, and over half are women. This is the first executive government since the fall of Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1980s to not have a woman in the Cabinet.

For whatever Dilma did, her opponents are old-school hard rightists: This should be very worrying to those who do not want the oppression of the 1970s to return to South America.

Doctors Without Borders

[ 30 ] May 15, 2016 |

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A nice and depressing post for Sunday night.

Doctors Without Borders announced that it will not be participating in the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit, calling it a mere “fig-leaf of good intentions” that will not actually hold states accountable for their failure to address the humanitarian crisis in the world today.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon previously called on world leaders to attend the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), which will be held in Istanbul later this month, in order to send a message to the world that “we will not accept the erosion of humanity which we see in the world today.” The summit aims to help countries, U.N. agencies, and international organizations like Doctors Without Borders prepare and respond to crises.

But news that Doctors Without Borders will not be attending the summit reveals how little faith some international aid organizations have that the summit will bring about true change.

“We no longer have any hope that the WHS will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations,” Doctors Without Borders announced in a statement on Wednesday. “As shocking violations of international humanitarian law and refugee rights continue on a daily basis, WHS participants will be pressed to a consensus on non-specific, good intentions to ‘uphold norms’ and ‘end needs.’ The summit has become a fig-leaf of good intentions, allowing these systematic violations, by states above all, to be ignored.”

The announcement comes mere days after a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital in Aleppo, Syria was attacked, killing at least 50 people, including one of the last pediatricians in the city. It also follows recent news that 16 U.S. military personnel involved in the horrific bombing of a Doctors Without Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan in October 2015 received “disciplinary measures,” but no criminal charges were made. These cases are not new. According to the organization, 75 hospitals managed or supported by Doctors Without Borders were bombed last year.

Not sure what to say except that the world is terrible sometimes.

How Victorians Eroticized Mormons

[ 112 ] May 15, 2016 |

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This is super fascinating:

The appeal of this kind of story, and the public prudishness we often associate with Victorian society, didn’t come out of nowhere. The era, with its widespread industrialization and accompanying growth of big cities, left people worried that the social fabric created by small-town life was disappearing. Clergy and reformers responded by publishing self-help literature stressing religion and clean living. And yet, Victorians were also enjoying a big expansion of the arts, particularly English-language fiction, which was just emerging as a popular form.

Foster writes that one socially acceptable form of semi-pornographic media in the Victorian era was moralizing fiction. Descriptions of sex acts were acceptable so long as they condemned the sinful behavior. The stories were often told in first person, featuring an exotic, sexually powerful villain and a victim who usually dies in the end. Foster notes this plot point functions by “not only heightening the pathos and stressing her passivity but tidying up any loose ends quickly.”

Some anti-Mormon tracts followed this formula, describing innocent women dragged into plural marriages. Authors imagined salacious temple ceremonies, incest, torture, and murder. Stories emphasized the “sexual magnetism of the Mormon male, the hypnotized passivity of his innocent victim.” The tracts might feature rape, but often the men were portrayed as being in league with Satan, “using evil arts” to deceive and seduce their victims. The women in the stories were “generally both attracted to and repelled by these ‘demon-lovers.’”

The combination of attraction and repulsion, of course, could also describe Victorians’ attitudes to these stories—not to mention our own modern relationship with porn.

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