Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Erik Loomis

rss feed

Visit Erik Loomis's Website

Today in the Sixth Extinction

[ 12 ] November 5, 2013 |

Good times in Hawaii:

This “odd animal sighting” could be bad news for Hawaii’s native wildlife: a five-foot long boa contrictor recently ended up as roadkill along Hawaii’s Pali Highway.

The thing that makes this odd is that it should be impossible to run over a snake in Hawaii, because there aren’t supposed to be any snakes there. As an isolated archipelago, the only way for wildlife species to get to the Hawaiian Islands is to fly or swim across the Pacific Ocean.

As a result, most of Hawaii’s native wildlife are birds, insects, and marine mammals. It has taken them hundreds of thousands of years to establish populations, evolve together, and create a balanced ecosystem. There is only one non-marine mammal native to Hawaii, the Hawaiian hoary bat. It is both endemic (found no where else on the planet) and endangered. There are no native snakes in Hawaii.

This makes native Hawaiian species in this once-isolated ecosystem extremely vulnearable to species from other parts of the world, particularly predatory species such as snakes, because they have no natural defense against them.

When such invasive exotic species are introduced by human activity–which is now happening in Hawaii at a rate thousands of times faster than it would otherwise naturally–native Hawaiian animals found nowhere else on the planet start going extinct.

Reverse Racism

[ 328 ] November 5, 2013 |

The comment thread on Edward Bland’s The Cry of Jazz was more contentious than I thought it would be, since several commenters basically called this early black nationalist a racist and even compared him (shockingly unfairly) to Leni Riefenstahl. When I read this Sara Luckey piece (published several months ago) on the myth of reverse racism, I immediately thought of that thread and the need for a lot of white people to learn more about the relationship between racism and power:

Racism exists when prejudice+power combine to form social constructs, legislation and widespread media bias that contribute to the oppression of the rights and liberties of a group of people. Racism is systemic, institutional, and far reaching. It is the prevalence of racism within social structures and institutional norms, along with implicit and explicit enforcement by members of a group, that allows racism to run rampant and unchecked. America is a country seeped in white privilege, and our social structure is built on colonization and forced slave labor that then turned into further systemic and ongoing oppression of PoC. We have a culture that presents whiteness as the norm and all else as ‘other’ or different. White is presented as the beauty ideal, the main face in the media (unless we’re talking about criminals, then PoC get unfairly misrepresented), the standard, the regular. It’s a structural problem that affects the perceptions of jurors in criminal cases, admissions to colleges, funding for public schools, welfare and food stamp programs, the redrawing of district lines that affect where we vote, who we see represented on T.V. and how, what schools people have access to, what neighborhoods people live in, an individual’s shopping experience, access to goods and services; it’s extensive and a part of the fabric that let’s whiteness remain dominant in American culture.

Not only was Edward Bland and other black nationalists not racist toward white people, they were responding directly to the racism they felt everyday, racism that white people in the United States simply cannot understand. It’s not racist for him say that white people suck at playing jazz, even if you completely disagree with the point, precisely because not only is Bland not saying that they shouldn’t be allowed to play jazz but because there is no power structure behind the statement. Black nationalism was a response to systemic racism. The Tea Partiers today who are claiming they experience racism because they hear Spanish at their favorite buffet restaurant/are forced to admit that black people can vote/whatever completely misunderstand what racism even is. Unfortunately, so do too many white liberals.

More from Luckey:

The situations in which you, fellow white person, were involved were unfortunate and inappropriate, this is true. But to claim that these experiences were ‘reverse racism’ both diminishes and minimalizes the real and actual experiences of PoC who really do encounter racism. There is no system of oppression in America that actively works to oppress and subjugate white people. Sorry to break it to you, but your individual suffering is just that, individual. The individuals acting against you do not have the institutionalized power to actively oppress you in every facet of your life, nor would their racism be upheld and supported by government, media, and legislation if they did. Because you’re white.

Reverse racism isn’t real because we live in a culture that supports and enforces whiteness as the norm and PoC as other. If you experience discrimination, prejudice, or bigotry, it’s valid to be upset about it and want to talk about it. It is not valid to claim that it is reverse racism, and certainly not valid to claim that it is racism on par with anything like the institutionalized racism that PoC will come into contact with. When a white person starts talking about reverse racism, what they’re really doing is derailing a conversation to make it about them. Their white privilege leads them to believe that what they say both matters and needs to be heard and is important and the conversation should stop to focus on their perceived ills. You know what? When somebody is talking about racism they have experienced, that conversation is not all about you, nor should you expect it to be, so stop with the derailing and just listen and learn.

When white people complain about experiencing reverse racism, what they’re really complaining about is losing out on or being denied their already existing privileges. And while it may feel bad to realize your privilege is crumbling and the things you’ve taken for granted can be taken away from you, it is unfair, untrue, and disingenuous to call that experience reverse racism.

People need to take the relationship between race and power seriously before taking about racism.

….Based on this comment thread, let me just say how hard it is being white when a few people of color might not like you because of the hundreds of years of systemic racism placed upon their people that you benefit from everyday. I guess we whites will just have to console ourselves knowing that we hold almost every position of power and authority in this nation’s political, economic, and judicial system, that prison sentences for whites are far less than for people of color, that whites have higher income and lower unemployment rates, etc., etc. But hey, that jazz guy in 1959 said that white people can’t understand the music and some people today demand you take history and power seriously before talking about racism, so let’s all call the whaaaambulance!

Pittsburgh First!

[ 60 ] November 5, 2013 |

The campaign poster of Pittsburgh City Council candidate Jim Wudarczyk:

The inspiration for this brilliance:

Really, it’s about time we saw Red Scare era political imagery become hip again. A new age of Harding, this.

Mrs. Lydia Pinkham’s Herbal Supplements

[ 157 ] November 5, 2013 |

What a surprise that the herbal supplement/alternative medicine industry is filled with hucksters, scam artists, and grifters, the likes of which American medicine hasn’t seen since the days of patent medicine before the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration in 1906

For the study, the researchers selected popular medicinal herbs, and then randomly bought different brands of those products from stores and outlets in Canada and the United States. To avoid singling out any company, they did not disclose any product names.

Among their findings were bottles of echinacea supplements, used by millions of Americans to prevent and treat colds, that contained ground up bitter weed, Parthenium hysterophorus, an invasive plant found in India and Australia that has been linked to rashes, nausea and flatulence.

Two bottles labeled as St. John’s wort, which studies have shown may treat mild depression, contained none of the medicinal herb. Instead, the pills in one bottle were made of nothing but rice, and another bottle contained only Alexandrian senna, an Egyptian yellow shrub that is a powerful laxative. Gingko biloba supplements, promoted as memory enhancers, were mixed with fillers and black walnut, a potentially deadly hazard for people with nut allergies.

Of 44 herbal supplements tested, one-third showed outright substitution, meaning there was no trace of the plant advertised on the bottle — only another plant in its place.

Many were adulterated with ingredients not listed on the label, like rice, soybean and wheat, which are used as fillers.

In some cases, these fillers were the only plant detected in the bottle — a health concern for people with allergies or those seeking gluten-free products, said the study’s lead author, Steven G. Newmaster, a biology professor and botanical director of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph.

Unfortunately, we live in a society of extreme individualist consumerism where the everyday person thinks they can make their own medical decisions based on whatever information then glean from the internet and Jenny McCarthy appearances on The View, ignoring the advice of real doctors, refusing to give vaccinations to their children, starting public health crises, etc. That there’s a market of corporations openly taking advantage of these people is hardly shocking. What would shocking is if people realized medicine should not be a consumer choice to be taken lightly.

Of course, if we had a well-funded FDA with greater power to investigate, inspect, enforce, and punish, these products would be safe, even if they didn’t do anything for you. But returning America to the Gilded Age means undermining the FDA and opening up new markets for those selling adulterated foods and medicines. Poisoning consumers is the definition of freedom for this world view.

Dengue Fever

[ 12 ] November 5, 2013 |

So I hear Dengue Fever is coming to my town and I hope it is this:

Unfortunately, it is this:

This past summer, Aedes aegypti—the invasive African mosquito best known for carrying the potentially deadly diseases dengue and yellow fever—made its unexpected debut in California, squirming up from Madera to Clovis to Fresno and the Bay Area.

For a blood-sucking nightmare, Aedes aegypti is surprisingly attractive: Its dark skin and bright white polka-dots make it hard to miss. Unfortunately, it is also notoriously difficult to control. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Aedes aegypti can lay its eggs in less than a teaspoon of liquid and survive without water for months.

Climate change studies predict that dengue—which infects as many as 100 million people a year—will expose an additional 2 billion by 2080. In 2009, the mosquito kicked off a Florida outbreak of dengue in a state that hadn’t seen the disease in more than 70 years, and Thailand is currently undergoing its worst dengue epidemic in more than 20 years.

Suicides and Plant Closures

[ 53 ] November 4, 2013 |

Reuters has an interesting piece on how Volkswagen’s previous attempt to operate a union factory in the U.S. failed and how this relates to its attempts to institute a German-like workers’ council through the United Auto Workers. One major challenge I think this attempt faces going forward is the strong hostility toward organized labor by the American managerial class that will be dealing with the UAW on a daily basis. The Germans are going to have to mandate serious cooperation with the union if their goal of a workers council will come to fruition.

But that’s not why I linked to this. It’s to reiterate the real and often deadly cost of job loss:

While the landscape is very different from 25 years ago, the legacy of the older plant’s failure is part of the troubled history the UAW will have to overcome as it tries to represent VW workers again — this time in Tennessee, where the automaker employs 2,500 people building Passat sedans.

After the 1988 closure of VW’s plant in southwestern Pennsylvania, Ron Dinsmore kept a grisly toll of the pain: the number of suicides of former workers. He stopped counting at 19.

“I used to go to every funeral home,” said Dinsmore, 71. “I quit doing it. It got morbid.”

Minimum of 19 suicides out of a 2500 person workforce. That’s a huge number. You saw the same thing in Oregon and Washington and northern California when the timber industry laid everyone off in the 1980s. I have one story in my research of a pastor in northern California who had to counsel a couple not to commit suicide, which they were considering because they couldn’t provide for their children and had an insurance policy that could. This is the cost of unemployment and factory closure. Way too often, even in the progressive blogosphere, this is abstracted to thinking about economic policy and decisions in Washington. That’s fine of course, but it’s also easier than reckoning with the real human costs. Sad, sad stuff.

Today in the Sixth Extinction

[ 35 ] November 4, 2013 |

Goodbye to the western black rhino.

The People We Need to Stop From Voting

[ 76 ] November 4, 2013 |

Who is having trouble registering to vote under the new Texas voter ID law? None other than former Speaker of the House Jim Wright. Now 90, he doesn’t have a valid driver’s license. So his voter registration attempt was denied. He’ll work it out because he’s Jim Wright. But what about all the older people will less political power, the poor, college students, brown people? In other words, the Texas law is working precisely how its writers hoped it would. But hey, at least Jim Wright’s political career has a nice cycle to it.

We want to make sure that every eligible Texan who wants to cast a ballot can,” Pierce said. “We want to help any Texan who needs additional information.”

Wright, who said he has voted in every election since 1944, lamented that such help is called for.

“From my youth I have tried to expand the elections,” Wright said. “I pushed to abolish the poll tax. I was the first to come out for lowering the voting age to 18.”

Began in an age of voter suppression. Ends in an age of voter suppression.

‘Merica

[ 63 ] November 4, 2013 |

In the face of Texas A&M painting its team name in the end zone red, white, and blue, Northwestern has upped the ante, going with full on flag uniforms. Clearly proving that Northwestern loves America while Ohio State and Michigan are affiliates of Al-Qaeda.

A Bum Deal

[ 12 ] November 3, 2013 |

Why do I spend my time watching French cigarette commercials from the 30s? I do it for you of course.

Mitt Romney is a Nice Man

[ 222 ] November 3, 2013 |

I should avoid the crack of the excerpts from Halperin and Heilemann’s new book about the presidential campaign. Such books bring out the worst in the political class–the gossip, the insider knowledge, the focus on personalities over issues. But as I have low character, I can’t help myself. So what do we learn?

1. Mitt Romney is a massive asshole who likes to make fun of fat people as if he were an insecure 14 year old boy desperate to prove he’s better than others. Oh wait, that accurately describes Mitt Romney.

2. Romney picked Paul Ryan in no small part because he reminded him of the young go-getters at Bain, showing that Romney actually did conceive of himself as a venture capitalist CEO ready to bring those insights to the White House. Boy, running the nation like that would have been awesome.

3. Bill Frist was a semi-finalist for vice-president? Was Howard Baker too fresh and relevant for Romney?

4. Of the 11 semi-finalists, there were 9 white men, Marco Rubio, and Kelly Ayotte. Given how irrelevant the VP actually is, you’d have thought Romney would at least thought about the optics and considered Susana Martinez or Nikki Haley or even a moron like Bobby Jindal. But of course not.

5. Chris Christie has just a slight corruption problem. Along with his own asshole problem.

6. Obama rightfully saw the pick of Ryan as incredibly stupid.

Now I realize that it’s way too early to being thinking seriously about the presidential campaign in 2016. But Rob’s post on Cruz and Paul yesterday brings home just how damaged every major Republican possibility is. Cruz and Paul are insane and couldn’t win a general election barring some sort of monstrous catastrophe that makes the Democratic brand toxic. Christie can’t win the primary and even if he could, there’s the corruption and his awful personality that won’t play in most of the nation. Jeb Bush is a has-been. Rubio is probably finished as a serious contender. Ryan’s views are so unpopular that I don’t think he gained a single thing by being the VP candidate. I’m interested in how much his media presence has declined in the last year. Scott Walker is probably the candidate that scares me the most, but he also has major corruption problems that will haunt him in a general election. I suppose that leaves the plain vanilla conservatives like Pawlenty or Portman or Daniels, but color me skeptical that’s the kind of person who wins this thing.

I’m not Nate Silver or Dave Brockington, but I have trouble seeing a generic Democratic candidate with less than a 75-80% chance to win in 2016 simply because every single major Republican candidate has such glaring problems. It’s going to be crazy.

The War on Workers

[ 10 ] November 3, 2013 |

Mike Konczal usefully summarizes Gordon Lafer’s new report on the Tea Party’s class warfare. Although the media and most blogs have focused on Tea Party legislators’ work to undermine voting rights and reproductive rights, typically their work undermining employee rights has gone underreported. An excerpt:

Crucially, as Lafer emphasizes, this isn’t about what we colloquially refer to as “conservative values.” Rather than rolling back the state, tea party Republicans are calling for extensive observation and disciplining of unemployed people.

Tennessee conservatives and business interests, for instance, are pushing “the Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act of 2012 [which] would add scenarios that disqualify a worker from receiving unemployment in the first place [and] call for audits of 1,000 claimants weekly.” So much for smaller government and more privacy.

And for all the conservative talk about making programs as local as possible, what is often referred to as “subsidiarity” or “devolution,” that principle is ignored when it comes to repealing labor protections. Many conservative states have pushed laws designed to override localities that seek to create or increase their minimum wages, prevailing wages, living wages or mandatory sick days. Given that many states have big cities where more extensive labor protections exist, this matters for many people.

Effectively, the purpose of the Republican war on workers is to recreate the Gilded Age, a project going quite smoothly for the plutocrats, even if they are having trouble controlling the electoral implications of the angry people they’ve unleashed.