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How Florida Gulf Coast University Was Created

[ 28 ] March 29, 2013 |

Florida Gulf Coast University has come to the nation’s attention in the last week due to its 2 unlikely upsets in the NCAA Tournament. This attention has also caught the attention of reporters and environmental organizations, who have explored the sordid tale of its creation. Both Miles Grant at the National Wildlife Foundation and Tim Murphy at Mother Jones have the story.

Essentially, Florida politicians and a rich developer with ties to both agribusiness and real estate wanted to build a new university outside of Fort Myers that would spur development and make a small group of people very rich. The problem–it is a swamp with critical habitat for the disappearing Florida panther. When environmental restrictions looked like they might get in the way, Senator Connie Mack got on the phone and started yelling at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get the project approved.

Basically, the rich and powerful get what they want. Environmental sustainability is easy to swat out of the way.


[ 107 ] March 29, 2013 |

Turns out that if you industrialize an animal and then expose them to tremendous amounts of chemical pesticides, terrible things can happen.

I know that the Green Revolution and our faith in technology has worked in the short term to feed a lot of people. But without some pretty significant changes, the most important link in the chain of vegetables, fruits, and nuts is about to break. Colony collapse disorder is a major threat to the world’s food supply. We’ve known about it for years and the likely connection between the disorder and pesticides has been suggested for almost as long. Yet we have done nothing to limit our pesticide use. After all, powerful chemical companies say they can’t be the problem! Now the bees are dying faster than ever.

Movin’ On Up

[ 55 ] March 27, 2013 |

I know everyone is getting excited about the new season of Mad Men. The Onion’s AV Club has a great article about 10 episodes that get to the depth of a character or theme. There’s one paragraph to note particularly:

Where other shows attack the character arc as a linear progression, both Mad Men and The Sopranos consider it a thing that happens in dribs and drabs. People don’t change, until they abruptly decide to, then just as abruptly decide to reverse it. A storyline may seem to have ended until it abruptly resurrects itself. Characters may retreat to mostly supporting roles for long stretches of the season, then abruptly be revealed as hugely important to whatever story happens to be most pressing at that moment. In addition to these other similarities, Mad Men has a similarly inventive tone to its filmmaking. It uses the gorgeousness of its production design as an asset, and is filled with shots that lay out the characters’ relationships and power dynamics with a pleasing simplicity that nonetheless has incredible levels of depth.

Note that link. It leads you to the work of some character known around here as “SEK.” Who is now better than the rest of us with a link like that.

Vanishing Montana

[ 51 ] March 27, 2013 |

A great photo gallery of the vanishing towns of Montana, where just a few people hold on in isolated places. Or sometimes they disappear from the map entirely. The American West is full of these places. Driving around the West, you see isolated homes in the middle of nowhere and you just ask why. Why would someone settle here? There are of course concrete reasons–the Homestead Act, railroad land grants, the wheat boom of World War I. But many of them failed in the face of drought, social isolation, and poverty. The ruins still exist. Sometimes so do the memories.

Digital Sharecropping

[ 217 ] March 27, 2013 |

Jonathan Rees on how MOOCs allow egocentric professors to drive others out of business while producing lower quality education and the corporate profits that drive the whole thing.

In other words, while a few already well-paid superprofessors get their egos stroked conducting experiments that are doomed to fail, “second- and third-tier universities and colleges, and community colleges” risk closing because Coursera and its ilk have sent higher education price expectations through the floor and systematically devalued everybody else’s work. And they get to do all this while dispensing a produuct that they know is inferior! Jay Gould would be proud.

In the meantime, thanks for nothing, superprofessors. I may not work with a bunch of assholes on my campus, but MOOCmania is starting to look like a pretty good test of whether Academia in general has enough assholes in it in order to destroy itself.

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is probably yes. Or put more charitably, that there’s enough professors clueless about how their actions affect others and an overall missing class consciousness among the professor class.

National Monuments

[ 67 ] March 26, 2013 |

I am very happy to see that President Obama named five new national monuments yesterday. Two are dedicated to preserving public lands–the San Juan Islands in Washington and the Rio Grande Del Norte in New Mexico. Obama’s public lands policy has not been very good. His ratio of protecting versus developing the public lands is far lower than the average president since World War II. Frankly, Obama doesn’t care much about these issues. Where he does have a stronger environmental agenda is around climate. That’s fine because it’s more important. It’s also really hard to get anything concrete done on that issue. So hopefully he will seek to create a stronger environmental legacy in areas he can control.

There are also three new historical parks. One is the First State National Monument in Delaware, which is largely Joe Biden’s move to establish the first national park site in Delaware, which was the last state without one. Perhaps more significantly are two new parks that highlight African-American history, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland and the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio. The National Park Service has done a fantastic job of creating new sites around African-American history and including African-American history in existing parks. I look forward to visiting all of these places someday.

It used to be that historical parks were designated as a National Historic Site. But that takes an congressional bill. With Republicans opposed to adding anything to the park system, Obama has to use his power under the Antiquities Act to create new parks. This gives him the power to create as many new parks as he wants and hopefully he will use that power in his second administration more than he did in the first.

In a more rational country, the federal government could step in and create interesting historical sites within the park system. Take for instance, the Northern Dispensary in Greenwich Village. Due to complex legal issues, this 1831 building has sat vacant on incredibly valuable property for 20 years. What would be great is if the government bought the building and turned it into a national park on the history of medicine and 19th century New York. The building seems large enough to do this (there are smaller buildings in the system for sure. See the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia. Or the JFK birth home. It’d be a great addition, it’s a historic building, and could tell some fantastic stories.

Alas, we do not live in a rational country.

Coal Companies Destroying Workers’ Healthcare and Lives

[ 34 ] March 26, 2013 |

Mike Elk has a very disturbing story about Patriot Coal, a spinoff of industry giant Peabody Coal, going to bankruptcy court to divest itself of the pension and healthcare obligations guaranteed to workers in contracts Peabody signed with the United Mine Workers of America.

There’s exactly one reason for Patriot to do this–to maximize profit on the backs of the poor. Peabody created Patriot in order to manufacture a bankruptcy crisis; by giving the new company more retirees than active workers, it set the stage for bankruptcy relief of contractual obligations.

But in the UMWA’s eyes, Peabody is the real villain. According to union estimates, 90 percent of Patriot’s retirees are former Peabody miners who “never worked a day in their life” for Patriot. The UMWA charges that Peabody created Patriot as a vehicle to shed its retiree obligations. As evidence, the union cites the fact that when Peabody spun off Patriot Coal in 2007, it handed Patriot three times as many retirees as active workers and $557 million in retiree healthcare obligations. Within five years, Patriot had filed for bankruptcy.

We’ve already seen a disturbing decline in pensions around the country in the public sector. Eliminating hard-fought pension gains in the private sector, not even for the future but for already retired workers, will push working-class retirees into poverty. Slashing healthcare is an even bigger deal in the mining industry. The specter of black-lung disease haunts underground miners, including those working today. What are these people supposed to do?

On a related note, read Dave Jamieson’s piece on how the Senate’s kneecapping of the National Labor Relations Board has hurt the lives of workers. Once again focusing on the coal industry (coal companies really are the worst), Jamieson shows how the lack of a functioning NLRB allows companies to do almost anything they want to workers with no realistic legal recourse that will be resolved in less than a decade. Once again, what are these workers supposed to do?

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.

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