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The Weight

[ 25 ] March 20, 2013 |

An outstanding article about the greatness of “The Weight” and The Band more generally.

Light Pollution

[ 29 ] March 20, 2013 |

This piece on Hong Kong’s out of control light pollution is a good reminder of one of the least controlled means of pollution. While maybe it isn’t as damaging as water or air pollution, humans have made evolutionary adjustments for night and constant light could potentially have long-term damage on human health. In the short-term, the absence of night can be devastating for many animals, as we may well be seeing in the Hong Kong area with fireflies and other insects.

Michigan Republican Hypocrisy

[ 50 ] March 20, 2013 |

Michigan Republicans are very special. After passing right to work legislation in at best a marginally legal manner, they are seeking to punish universities who are negotiating new contracts with faculty that would delay the legislation until the end of the contract. Specifically, they are seeking to reduce appropriations to the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, that great bastion of unionism, by 15% as a punitive action for not kowtowing to their extremist anti-labor agenda.


[ 104 ] March 20, 2013 |

Luis Feliz and the immigration advocates trying to eliminate the word “illegal” from our discourse on immigration are absolutely right–the word demonizes human beings and is deeply hurtful and damaging. Describing human beings as “illegal” should be eliminated from the lexicon and seen as we see other racial epithets that are unacceptable in respectable conversation.


[ 71 ] March 20, 2013 |

I certainly believe that Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is a deeply flawed book. It’s way too simplistic and polemical. Zinn was not much of a scholar and wrote his book for the explicit point of countering dominant narratives of American history without much of a concern for nuance. This doesn’t bother me all that much because it serves an audience that may not read much history in their lifetimes. Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America serves the same useful function for Latin American history. There’s room for this kind of book in our society, even though I would not call it a good history book.

However, David Greenberg’s hatchet job of Zinn is kind of awful. Other than red-baiting Zinn in a classic Cold War liberal way, Greenberg completely misrepresents left-leaning history and modern historiography. As a historian, this bothers me a lot more than the bog-standard red-baiting:

While excellent work is done by self-identified leftists, too much academic work today assumes such dubious premises as (to name but a few) the superiority of socialism to a mixed economy, the inherent malignancy of American intervention abroad, and the signal virtue of the left itself. Franklin Roosevelt’s rescue of capitalism is routinely treated as a disappointment because he did not go all the way to socialism. Truman’s suspicion of Stalin is treated as short-sightedness or war-mongering. Anti-Communism of even the most discerning sort is lumped in with McCarthyism as an expression of mass paranoia. Labor’s mid-century decisions to work with management to secure good wages and benefits are seen as selling out. And too seldom is it acknowledged that throughout its history the left has operated from low motives as well as high ones, and has caused social harm as well as social improvement, and has destroyed as well as created.

Um, citations please? What recent work of history has said that FDR is disappointing because he didn’t embrace socialism? Instead, I think of nuanced recent works on the New Deal like Jennifer Klein’s For All These Rights, Lizabeth Cohen’s 1990 masterpiece Making a New Deal or Neil Maher’s Nature’s New Deal. All of these books, and so many more, have deepened our understanding of the New Deal from a left-leaning perspective (broadly defined) in useful ways and none of them argue anything close to Greenberg’s characterization of New Deal historiography.

What respectable book on the early Cold War says that Truman’s suspicions of Stalin were misguided. It’s one thing to say that Truman’s belligerence didn’t help matters. Historians do say that. The historiography I am most familiar with is of course that of labor’s mid-20th century shift to business unionism. But Greenberg typically misrepresents these arguments. Some radical historians might call labor’s decisions to work with management a “sell-out” but the real criticism is that it turned out to be disastrous in the long-run for labor. These contracts absolutely secured short-term gains for working-class people that cannot be ignored. However, the shunning of communist organizers and embrace of business unionism also created a staid movement that could not then adjust when corporations began eliminating union jobs through capital mobility in the 1960s. Business leaders knew this and took advantage of it. This is all far more complicated than Greenberg describes.

The real crux of this is Greenberg’s discussion of anti-communism throughout the essay. Essentially, that’s Greenberg’s real interest here. Zinn was a Red and needs to be shunned. Why Greenberg has this axe to grind in 2013 and not, say, 1984, I do not know. But his own intellectual blinders are just as powerful as Zinn’s. A little self-recognition of that would go a long way here.

I’m fine with a critique of Howard Zinn that accuses him of misrepresenting the past. However, such a critique should not then misrepresent Zinn’s influence and the state of the historical profession.

….Rebuttals from radical historians Jesse Lemisch, Staughton Lynd, and Robert Cohen.

The Real Story Behind Abigail Fisher

[ 162 ] March 19, 2013 |

This is a good expose of the real story behind Abigail Fisher, the lead plaintiff in the case attempting to destroy the remnants of affirmative action in higher education admissions. In short, Fisher was a respectable but hardly exceptional student who simply did not have the grades or SAT scores to get into the University of Texas. Most of the students who got into UT with lower grades for special reasons were also white. Basically, the white supremacists behind the destruction of affirmative action saw Fisher as a perfect person to fight any system that considers race at all for admissions, but the case itself is exceptionally weak.

Not that its weakness will stop at least 4 Supreme Court justices from ruling in her favor.

Wise Words

[ 27 ] March 19, 2013 |

I thought it useful to reprint part of Senator Gaylord Nelson’s speech from the first Earth Day, in 1970:

I congratulate you, who by your presence here today demonstrate your concern and commitment to an issue that is more than just a matter of survival. How we survive is the critical question.

Earth Day is dramatic evidence of a broad new national concern that cuts across generations and ideaologies. It may be symbolic of a new communication between young and old about our values and priorities.

Take advantage of this broad new agreement. Don’t drop out of it. Pull together a new national coalition whose objective it is to put Gross National Quality on par with Gross National Product.

Campaign nationwide to elect an “Ecology Congress” as the 92nd Congress–a Congress that will build bridges between our citizens and between man and nature’s systems, instead of building more highways and dams and new weapons systems that escalate the arms race.

Earth Day can–and it must–lend a new urgency and a new support to solving the problems that still threaten to tear the fabric of this society….the problems of race, of war, of poverty, of modern-day institutions.

Ecology is a big science, a big concept–not a copout. It is concerned with the total eco-system–not just with how we dispose of our tin cans, bottles, and sewage.

Environment is all of America and its problems. It is rats in the ghetto. It is a hungry child in a land of affluence. It is housing that is not worthy of the name; neighborhoods not fit to inhabit.

Environment is a problem perpetuated by the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars a year on the Vietnam War, instead on our decaying, crowded, polluted urban areas that are inhuman traps for millions of people.

If our cities don’t work, America won’t work. And the battle to save them and the end the divisiveness that still splits this country won’t be won in Vietnam.

Winning the environmental war is a whole lot tougher challenge by far than winning any other war in the history of Man. It will take $20 to $25 billions more a year in federal money than we are spending or asking for now.

Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality, and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.

Our goal is a new American ethic that sets new standards for progress, emphasizing human dignity and well being rather than an endless parade of technology that produces more gadgets, more waste, more pollution.

Are we able to meet the challenge? Yes. We have the technology and the resources.

Are we willing? That is the unanswered question.

Establishing quality on par with quantity is going to require new national policies that quite frankly will interfere with what many have considered their right to use and abuse the air, the water, the land, just because that is what we have always done.

I reprint this because it so encapsulates what environmentalism should be and what it has been in the past. Notice the sheer humanism of this speech. The focus is not just on wilderness but on people–on engaging the poorest of American citizens in the fight for a better environment. At its height, environmentalism was a movement about the air we all breathe and the water we all drink, as well as the wilderness that only some of us get to and the animals that most of us don’t see. There’s lots of reasons why the people-oriented side of environmentalism fell apart ten years after Earth Day–the two biggest being that Reagan shut off federal access to environmentalists and generational changes that emphasized the consumption of public lands through recreation over the war on poverty. We still suffer for this today, in a world where many Americans don’t see climate change as a major threat, or at least something they have to worry much about.

Of course, there are advocates working on an environmentalism of the poor, especially in the environmental justice movement, but there’s also real separation between that version of environmentalism and what most of us think of when we think of environmentalism. That’s a problem that everyone knows exists but no one has much of an idea how to fix.

Not One Dime for Labor

[ 120 ] March 19, 2013 |

Worth remembering in this week of March Madness that the labor, i.e,, the players, receive not one dime of the millions in revenue that the NCAA and schools pull in.

Soylent Drink. I Swear It’s Not People.

[ 72 ] March 18, 2013 |

Today in lunatic food faddism: Why eat at all? Just subscribe to my tasteless liquid diet and all your nightmares of tasting food will come to an end.

Via Russell Saunders and h/t to Lindsay Beyerstein for bringing this to my attention.

The United States’ Most Morally Abhorrent Organization

[ 109 ] March 18, 2013 |

That’s right, the National Rifle Association.

And it isn’t even close.

The Academic Future

[ 86 ] March 16, 2013 |

With MOOCs, the future is clearly what happened to the French Department at Southeastern Louisiana University. Fire all the tenure track professors, replace them with adjuncts, and continue offering the minor (or major as the case may be). Dare the professors to do something about it.

Of course SELU did this without MOOCs, but technology just facilitates the elimination of faculty.

Sequester Whiners

[ 39 ] March 15, 2013 |

Poor Republicans are all sad that sequestration actually affects their districts. In the same phenomenon Scott describes below with Rob Portman now caring about gay marriage because it affects his family, these Republicans think that their district deserves a special dispensation but the rest of the country can rot.

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