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Tonight in Animated Soviet Propaganda

[ 19 ] March 25, 2013 |

“Plus Electrification” from 1972

Awesome stuff. On the other hand, propaganda about electrification was relevant in the Soviet Union in 1972.


[ 35 ] March 25, 2013 |

It is so fitting that Vladimir Lenin would be a huge proponent of the theremin. See here and here.

If there’s one thing Lenin loved, it was Good Vibrations.

Technically, the Beach Boys used an offshoot of the theremin called the electro-theremin, but we’re really splitting hairs here.

Cholera + Exploitation of Irish Labor = Tragedy

[ 80 ] March 25, 2013 |

This is a pretty amazing story of the discovery of a mass grave of Irish laborers who died in the 1832 cholera epidemic. Basically, the Irish found whatever jobs they could when they arrived in the United States. A lot of this was in the growing industry of building transportation infrastructure, mostly railroads but also canals. There were almost no safety precautions in construction at this time. Over 1000 workers died building the Erie Canal, a point rarely brought up. 1000! That’s a lot of dead people.

I want to focus on one piece of the story. During the epidemic, the Irish laborers were not allowed to leave their camp.:

Dr. Monge found signs of blunt head trauma in three more sets of remains, as well as a bullet hole in another. For the researchers, these forensic clues, coupled with contemporaneous news accounts, conjure a possible sequence of events in which a few workers escaped from an enforced quarantine, were subdued and killed, then returned in coffins to Duffy’s Cut, where the rest soon died of disease. Then all were buried in an anonymous grave.

“I actually think it was a massacre,” Dr. Monge said.

When the Irish sought to escape death in their makeshift concentration camp, they were murdered in cold blood.

The 1832 cholera epidemic was the first of the three great cholera epidemics to ravage the United States in the 19th century. And it was really scary. Cholera only came to Europe from India in the 1810s and 1832 was the first true year of the epidemic. So people didn’t know what was going on. When you combine that with the other epidemic of the early 19th century–racism against the Irish–you have the recipe for an even greater disaster. With Irish lives worth so little in the United States, shooting and beating them to death to keep them away from the non-infected was an all too easy decision for a lot of Americans.

The everyday violence of 19th century America is largely lost to us, which is one reason why I respected the show Deadwood so much–it was really only the second major cultural event to display the sheer ugliness of the 19th century (Gangs of New York being the first). For most of the 20th century, you really couldn’t honestly display that stuff and now it seems very distant. The lack of accessible media for the period doesn’t help; not only were there no photographs and recorded music and movies, but even the editorial cartoons of the time are completely opaque for the modern reader.

It wasn’t until Thomas Nast that this began to change. Not coincidentally, editorial cartoons are really only teachable beginning with Nast.

So this story made me really sad. But it also at least provides a window into a lost bit of American history, even if it is something we’d probably rather forget.

Clarifying an Argument

[ 312 ] March 25, 2013 |

Glenn Greenwald is a profoundly dishonest person.

In his article today, entitled “The Racism that Fuels the War on Terror,” Greenwald uses me as an example of someone who gives cover to the war on terror.

Here’s the actual article I wrote which Greenwald uses as his evidence.

Connor Friedersdorf writes the kind of political essay I can’t see anyone but a privileged white person writing. Going as far as to nearly (but not quite he says!) compare President Obama to an apologist for slavery, he can’t stomach voting for Obama because of his policies in Pakistan, drones, etc.

Instead, he says we should vote for Gary Johnson since there’s a candidate who won’t do those things.

In a sense I respect it when people care so much about one issue that they can’t vote for any candidate who disagrees. On the other hand, Friedersdorf doesn’t seem to care one iota about the horrible economic and social policies a Romney administration would enact. He doesn’t seem to care at all about labor, abortion rights, gay rights, environmental policy, etc., etc. It’s all about drones, civil liberties, and such. And Obama has indeed sucked on those issues.

But given that Friedersdorf probably doesn’t have to worry much about his next paycheck or be concerned about having an unwanted fetus in his body, it’s a luxury for him to be a one-issue voter on this particular issue. It’s all too typical of a lot of angry left-wing white men from Glenn Greenwald on down who live privileged enough lives that they can find the one issue where there really aren’t any differences on the two parties and instead suggest alternatives that completely ignore the poor in this country, whether being Paul-curious to not voting to voting for a whacko like Gary Johnson. That doesn’t solve any problems and it goes back to the worthlessness of politics to make a point I talked about last week.

Now, I regret that first sentence to some extent because it is too broad and generalizing. But let’s look at the actual argument, which is that a bunch of white males like Connor Friedersdorf and Glenn Greenwald writing articles with the specific goal in mind of telling progressives it is OK to vote for Gary Johnson or another 3rd party vanity candidate because of one issue where the 2 parties unfortunately hold similarly bad positions is real easy to do when the very real differences between those parties don’t affect you–i.e., abortion rights, racial issues, labor rights, environmental protections, etc. To make such an argument reflects both a naive understanding of how American politics work and, yes, can reflect white male privilege. It basically says, “I am willing to sacrifice the future of women having the right to an abortion in order to cast a meaningless vote on a candidate with no chance of winning so that I can make a point about how morally righteous and correct I am.”

No doubt Glenn will disagree with this characterization. But a shift to the far right in American life was the consequence of the Nader debacle in 2000. If I’m wrong about this, please provide evidence. If enough progressives voted for a 3rd party candidate to give Romney the election, the message would have been what exactly? And who would have sacrificed personally to make that message? Not the large majority of the people making those arguments.

Note the argument I made is not against opposing drones. And it doesn’t say that only privileged white dudes would have a reason for opposing drones. The argument I made specifically revolved around the 2012 elections. I completely support Greenwald’s critique of unchecked executive power on drones and other issues. Unlike Glenn, I opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, opposed Obama’s surge in Afghanistan and will almost certainly oppose future U.S. wars, whether started by Republicans or Democrats.

I mean, Glenn can throw around accusations of racism all he wants to. But he can only do in reference to my article if he chooses to intentionally misrepresent my points. Of course, he does choose to do that, even though he’s linked to that piece 100 times now.

It’d be nice if Glenn could characterize my arguments with a modicum of honesty. But that’s obviously too much to ask. I’ve been tempted to write this post about 10 times and haven’t done it. But being linked to in a post where he talks about the “racism that fuels the war on terror” is profoundly offensive and beyond the pale of acceptability. I must respond.

…..In the comments, someone asked to block quote the specific point in Greenwald’s article where my piece was linked. Here it is:

Amazingly, some Democratic partisans, in order to belittle these injustices, like to claim that only those who enjoy the luxury of racial and socioeconomic privilege would care so much about these issues. That claim is supremely ironic. It reverses reality. That type of privilege is not what leads one to care about and work against these injustices. To the contrary, it’s exactly that privilege that causes one to dismiss concerns over these injustices and mock and scorn those who work against them. The people who insist that these abuses are insignificant and get too much attention are not the ones affected by them, because they’re not Muslim, and thus do not care.

I am the Democratic partisan to which he refers. Which is weird because I don’t even like the Democratic Party. I vote for Democrats because I understand how American politics work, but those votes are usually with nose held closed to keep out the stench, Rhode Island’s excellent senators excluded.

I’ll let Chester Allman in comments respond to that paragraph:

Let’s see… “in order to belittle these injustices” is astoundingly dishonest – it suggests that Loomis’s goal is to “belittle” opposition to racism and drone strikes, when anyone with even a modicum of honesty or reading comprehension skills would understand that this is not Loomis’s purpose at all.

Again: “causes one to dismiss concerns over these injustices and mock and scorn those who work against them.” And yet Loomis does not dismiss these concerns, and does not “mock and scorn those who work against them” – he shares the concerns; he only opposes the idea of sacrificing the lives, health, and well-being of millions of people for the sake of a completely futile, symbolic gesture.

Friends of Coal Miners

[ 30 ] March 25, 2013 |

Who are the real friends of coal miners? Like in the timber wars of the 1980s, an exploitative industry and its lackey politicians have claimed that the industry looks out for the miners against those evil environmentalists, while at the same time engaging in land management and labor policies that make workers’ lives worse. Given a declining industry due to overexploitation of the resource and because of a lack of economic alternatives for scared workers, this political move has been very effective both in logging towns of the Northwest and Appalachian coal country.

But in both places, activists have pushed back against the false choices of industry versus environment. Here is an outstanding letter from retired UMWA organizer Carl Shoupe about the lies of the coal industry to the people of Kentucky.

Since I’ve been around coal all my life, I guess I should be pleased when our “leaders” say they are Friends of Coal. But lately, I’ve been wondering, which part of coal they’re friends with.

Peabody Energy and its new company, Patriot Coal, are trying to weasel out of paying health and pension benefits promised to thousands of retired UMWA miners. Have you heard any objection from these Friends of Coal in our marble palaces in Frankfort? Those miners earned their benefits with their sweat and their blood, but now Peabody wants to dump them like they’re just more overburden.

These politicians may be friends of coal, but they’re not friends of coal miners and their families. These miners and their families are being robbed of their retirement and benefits.

My friend Truman recently spent a week hooked up to a hospital ventilator. Like thousands of others, he suffers with black lung, caused by working in underground mines filled with coal dust. Today, the number of severe black lung cases is on the rise again, affecting workers on strip mines and below ground. And yet Congressman Hal Rogers has led efforts in Congress to block rules designed to protect miners from that awful disease.

Another friend of mine had to move with his daughter away from the homeplace where his family has lived for over 200 years. Toxic runoff from mountaintop removal was poisoning him and his family.

But his state representative, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, stood up at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing about water pollution and insisted that anyone who wants to save the mountains should just “go buy one.”

The speaker may be a friend of the coal companies, but he’s no friend of coalfield families threatened by mountaintop mining and poisoned water.

Coal companies and politicians of both parties who are beholden to coal money are not the friends of workers. At the very least, political progressives should be aware that environmentalists are not the enemies of coal miners. The enemy is the employer who has zero concern for the aftermath of coal mining and the long-term effects of coal dependency on Appalachia.

The Yankees Problems Are Solved!

[ 83 ] March 24, 2013 |

Now this is a Yankees move I can approve!

The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels are closing in on a trade that would send outfielder Vernon Wells and a large amount of cash to the Bronx, sources told Yahoo! Sports on Sunday.

While Wells has a no-trade clause, he informed the teams he would accept a deal to the Yankees, one source told Y! Sports.

The 34-year-old likely would play left field and move into the Yankees’ injury-battered everyday lineup. They are expected to start the season with Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter on the disabled list.

Someone get Brian Cashman on the phone. Chone Figgins is also available and he’ll definitely keep the Yankees under the luxury tax line!

George Washington’s Abolitionism

[ 38 ] March 24, 2013 |

Christopher Cameron has an interesting post at the U.S. Intellectual History blog about George Washington’s growing abolitionism. Historians ignored this side of Washington for a very long time, but in recent years, they have paid increasing attention to it. Washington certainly benefited from slavery and signed the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law, a weak law compared the notorious Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, but one that still nonetheless gave slaveowners the right to reclaim their human property from free states. He freed his own slaves after his death (though this did not apply to Martha’s slaves, whose ancestors came into the marriage with her), something that Jefferson quite pointedly did not do, despite his public statements of discomfort with slavery.

Anyway, Cameron points us toward looking at historians of the book to help gain a window into Washington’s evolving thoughts on abolition. It’s hard to pin Washington down sometimes. He was not an easily knowable figure, not as literate or profound as his revolutionary colleagues, and was the ultimate early Republic patrician.

One thing this made me wonder was whether Washington’s growing identification with Federalism and northern capital influenced his growing abolitionism. As he saw the nation’s future tied to business and money rather than Jeffersonian agrarianism, perhaps he began to view slavery as an anachronism that should be phased out. This is pure speculation on my part and I am not a historian of the revolutionary period. But I think it’s a good question.


[ 11 ] March 24, 2013 |

If you haven’t read Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita’s Times editorial in support of gay marriage, do so. It’s another of the growing examples of professional athletes pushing back against the homophobia that marks American sports culture. This kind of leadership does a lot to open doors for gay athletes.

Book Review: Jeffrey Pilcher, Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food

[ 152 ] March 24, 2013 |

Jeffrey Pilcher, the noted historian of food in Mexico, has a new book placing Mexican food in a global context. When thinking of a nation’s food, particularly one as laden with importance and history within the United States as Mexican food, the term that inevitably comes up is “authenticity.” What does this even mean? Is anything truly authentic? That’s an overarching point in a book with too many points to discuss in a relatively brief review. Let me just list a few.

1. What is Mexico? It’s worth thinking about this question. Mexico is a constructed nation-state that even today does not really incorporate all the people who live within its borders. Given the size of the nation’s indigenous population, a lot of the nation’s residents have little invested in the nation-state. Various peoples, particularly in the Yucatan, reject the sheer idea of being Mexican. Moreover, half the nation is now part of the United States and those peoples have their own cuisines that have changed over time. Is Mexico also its migrants in the United States, in Portland and Providence and Queens, as well as San Antonio and Los Angeles?

2. What is Mexican food? Pilcher places Mexican food within a 500-year trend of globalization. Most famously, the corn, chocolate, and chile that make up key elements of Mexican food traveled to Europe while pork, beef, and chicken all came from Europe to Mexico. But that’s hardly the end of the global Mexican story. For instance, tacos al pastor, a fundamental food of Mexico and now the taco culture in the U.S., go all the way to ye olden days of the 1950s and 1960s when Middle Eastern immigrants took pork cooked shwarma style and put it on a corn tortilla, maybe with a slice of pineapple. There’s also the large Chinese immigrant population that brought their own ideas to Mexican food. A related question is whether the Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex food of the United States is truly Mexican? Or for that matter, Taco Bell? Of course in a sense it all is. Given that the United States stole half of Mexico in a naked attempt by the Polk Administration to expand slavery, we shouldn’t think about Mexican food without bringing in the indigenous cuisines of New Mexico, California, and Texas, as well as their hybrid and fusion descendants.

A related but key point is that as Mexican food has slowly spread to other parts of the world, it is seen globally as American food. Much of its original spread was to serve American soldiers near military bases abroad. Its association with American culture for much of the world, not to mention a very real ignorance about Mexico, reinforces these ideas. In most of the world, Mexican food means getting very drunk on tequila American tourist-style. American hippies helped establish a more legitimate Mexican food experience in parts of Europe, but that just reinforced its deep Americanness in the minds of Europeans. The reasons for are pretty obvious–because Mexicans migrate to the United States instead of Europe, there was never an ethnic community established in Europe that would make Mexican food part of the European foodscape.

3. The connection between race, class, and food within the Mexican food tradition is fascinating and multifaceted. The Spanish brought a food hierarchy with them in 1519 based upon the supposed superiority of their own culture. Wine, olive oil, and wheat good. Corn and chile bad. This makes sense on one level since any immigrant group wants the food they grew up with. But because of the conquest and its long aftermath, the idea that Mexican food was somehow lesser than European food was replicated within Mexican society. Elite Mexicans, particularly during the European-looking Porifirato, looked toward remaking their society with European modernism, which meant food as much as it meant creating Haussmann-esque urbanism in Mexico City.

Perhaps more unexpected is how these distinctions became integrated into American culture as well. Why exactly do we think that French food is somehow elite high-class food and Mexican food is best consumed out of a taco truck? What is intrinsically better about French food? I’d argue nothing; I prefer Mexican food to French food. When Mexican food was brought into the highest end of American restaurants, such at the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, it was cooked in a French style. In one 2002 cookbook Pilcher cites by 3 major chefs of American food, suggestions included “blue corn with rabbit, foie gras and pineapple mole, and elote with black truffles.” Nothing wrong with fusion food, but this is also making Mexican food a legitimate food on the international scene by drowning it in French styles and techniques. This is why Rick Bayless is so refreshing. There’s just a lot more respect for what Mexican food is and its potential without pretending it is something it is not.

4. When thinking about “authenticity,” a concept that is always pretty hard to defend in principle, although gray areas exist, it’s worth noting that Mexican food was not created whole cloth in 1675 or something and then remained in place for Americans to discover it. Rather, it was a series of food traditions that often, for one reason or another, became a “national cuisine.” Tacos are a Mexico City invention that didn’t much spread out of that region until after the Mexican Revolution; when they did, they took on the regional innovations that define them today. Perhaps the most controversial food within the Mexican food world is the burrito, often not eaten in much of Mexico. But burritos do go back to at least the 19th century in northern Mexico and became part of California Mexican because they were popular along the modern US-Mexico border. What is truly Anglo about them is the determination that they must be in wheat tortillas, when the available evidence suggests they were eaten with both wheat and corn tortillas. Oaxaca’s moles became standardized with the rise of restaurants that wanted to create dinner specials for different nights of the week and thus took dishes from various villages and made them “Oaxacan.” And sometimes the modernization of food technology and distribution could create nostalgia that then created its own food looking backward to lost times, such as the carne asada that came out of Sonora when processed foods began infiltrating the regional diet.

I could certainly go on. But you get the point. First, it’s a really interesting book. Second, it brings up a lot of valuable points in thinking about not only Mexican food, but how we think about food more broadly.


[ 51 ] March 23, 2013 |

I know you all, like myself, are celebrating Oregon’s dominating victory over St. Louis to advance to the Sweet 16 where they will no doubt crush Louisville.* So if you haven’t seen this NPR piece on Oregon forward and rebounding machine Arsalan Kazemi, I recommend it. The first Iranian born player in NCAA basketball, Kasemi played at Rice but transferred, along with several other players, due to some kind of racial discrimination that he won’t talk about. At Oregon for his senior season, he has led the Ducks to their best season since 2007 and is really just a great player to watch. Earlier this season, I saw Bill Walton call a game between Oregon and Arizona. When Kazemi stopped at the free throw line on a fast break and threw a perfect bounce pass to a teammate for a layup, I thought Walton was going to have a heart attack. Walton went on and on about Kazemi’s old-school fundamentals for like a full minute before going back to discussing Ken Kesey and the Dead shows he attended in Eugene.

* I am not putting money on this

This Day in Labor History: March 23, 1974

[ 5 ] March 23, 2013 |

On March 23, 1974, the Coalition of Labor Union Women formed. A nonprofit organization within the AFL-CIO, the CLUW seeks to improve the standing of women within the union movement, as well as to organize more women into unions and promote union and legislative policies that help working-class women.

The labor movement has made a lot of progress in terms of gender equality. Women make up a large portion of organizing staffs, a growing percentage of executive boards and international presidents like Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers. On the other hand, a male chauvnist culture still dominates unionism as a whole. Any unionist who pays attention to these things knows its true. I’ve overheard too many conversations where someone has started talking about the women in the room like it’s a high school locker room. Some of this is class culture. Feminist language is far more accepted within the academy than the industrial workplace; for someone like me, it’s really jarring to hear inappropriate remarks about women when they may or may not be out of earshot.

This was all way worse in the 1970s. Women throughout American society were struggling for recognition of their rights and issues, including at the workplace. The feminist movement was peaking, challenging sexist notions throughout society. In the labor movement, it was nearly impossible for women to get their concerns voiced. They had no positions within the highest reaches of the AFL-CIO or in nearly any international. Sexism was entrenched in many union workplaces and union representatives often ignored the anger of women against bad treatment, including sexual harassment, wage disparities, and lack of promotion opportunities at the workplace and within unions. The problem was even worse for women of color. Some unions were better than others thought; the United Auto Workers was the first union to come out in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment, in 1970.

The CLUW was created in June 1973 under the leadership of Olga Madar, Vice-President of the United Auto Workers and Addie Wyatt of the United Food and Commercial Workers. Madar had risen through the UAW from her start with the union in 1941. She was most famous for spearheading the fight to desegregate the nation’s largest bowling organizations in 1952. She also led the UAW’s Conservation Department in the 1960s, lining up union support for environmental legislation and land protection. Wyatt was the first African-American woman to hold an executive position within an American union, as VP of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union before moving to the UFCW. Wyatt was a major player in labor’s support for the Civil Rights Movement. She was also named, along with Barbara Jordan, Time’s Woman of the Year in 1975.

After a few smaller organizing conferences around the country, 3200 women met in Chicago on March 23 and March 24, 1974 for the CLUW’s foundational meeting. The meeting took a challenging tone to the chauvinistic attitudes of organized labor. Said Myra Wolfgang of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders Union, “You can call Mr. Meany and tell him there are 3000 women in Chicago and they didn’t come here to swap recipes!” The meeting set aside time for women to voice openly the problems they faced as trade union women. Like many moments in the feminist movement, the CLUW helped isolated women around the country realize there were many others who faced their predicament. It gave them a collective power not unlike the consciousness-raising meetings that marked the feminism of the early 70s. The CLUW announced its solidarity with Gloria Steinem and the National Organization of Women; in fact, Steinem was there as a representative of American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. In doing so, the CLUW leadership set the organization as a close ally of mainstream feminism, which alienated radical women to some extent, but probably made political sense in a climate where labor’s leadership was not particularly supportive of its existence.

Organized labor’s immediate response to all of this? The UAW sent a message of support. AFL-CIO President George Meany said nothing at all, as did most internationals.

The CLUW’s creation was an important moment and symbol. But we shouldn’t overestimate its ultimate importance. First, the organization never had a clear mission with tangible goals. Was it primarily a women’s organization or a labor organization? Second, there were a lot of generational tensions within the CLUW between the somewhat older women who led its founding and had pioneered roles for women within organized labor and younger women who demanded more radical positions, including signing up poor women who were not union members. It also tended to replicate the bureaucratic union structure it evolved from rather than embrace the worker democracy union reformers of the period called for. Madar and Wyatt had a strong committment to working within the established labor movement rather than challenging it from the outside. In fact, most of the highest ranking women union officials were extremely concerned about the CLUW saying anything or passing any resolutions that were openly critical of established union leadership. This same dynamic often hurts union reform efforts today. Women from the Teamsters threatened to walk out if the CLUW supported the United Farm Workers (the Teamsters were trying to beat out of the UFW–often literally–for jurisdiction to represent agricultural labor). So in many ways, the CLUW reflected the complexities of the labor movement as a whole in the mid-1970s.

On the other hand, the CLUW has been important in making sexual harassment an issue organized labor had to take seriously while pressing unions to fight for wage equality. Pay disparities actually grew during the 1960s. In 1960, women made 63.9 cents for every dollar earned by men. In 1970, it was 59.4 cents. By the end of 1974, there were 24 local CLUW chapters with 2500 dues-paying members. But this number was disappointing for CLUW activists; even worse was a decline in 1975. The CLUW eventually turned into a relatively small but still useful organization of labor union women pressing labor issues within the AFL-CIO. If it failed to revolutionize women’s roles within organized labor, well, that was hardly its goal in the first place.

Possibly the biggest victory for the CLUW was the election of Linda Chavez-Thompson to be Vice-President of the AFL-CIO under John Sweeney in 1995. However, the VP job is more symbolic than anything. What really matters in the power structure is the Secretary-Treasurer, who happened to be one Richard Trumka of the United Mine Workers, the heir apparent from the moment Sweeney took the job. Today, Elizabeth Shuler has that position. Trumka is young enough though that there’s little talk of his eventual replacement so it’s hard to know what her potential to be the first female president of the AFL-CIO really is.

The Coalition of Labor Union Women continues today, pushing for such recent victories as the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, with the expanded protections Republicans fought to exclude from the bill. The organization also continues to hold meetings across the country to rally unionist women to push for both labor and gender equality.

This is the 55th post in this series. Other posts are archived here.

Our Sexclusionary Immigration Debate

[ 8 ] March 22, 2013 |

Pramila Jayapal makes a compelling case for the inherent sexism of the debate on immigration with very real consequences for immigrant women. There are a lot of undocumented women working as well and their concerns are just as important. She calls for crafting immigration legislation that explicitly centers the needs of women, something with which I hope we can all agree.

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