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Category: General

El. Oh. El.

[ 36 ] November 28, 2015 |

After having seen Notre Dame being awarded a touchdown after an absolutely absurd decision by the replay official, only to have Stanford use the 35 seconds remaining after the “touchdown” to come back and win the game — whereas had the last Notre Dame offense play been called correctly they would have had first and goal from the 1 with the clock running — all I can say is



Making Up History

[ 28 ] November 28, 2015 |


Of course Donald Trump is making up historical stories to sell real estate.

Between the 14th hole and the 15th tee of one of the club’s two courses, Mr. Trump installed a flagpole on a stone pedestal overlooking the Potomac, to which he affixed a plaque purportedly designating “The River of Blood.”

“Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot,” the inscription reads. “The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as ‘The River of Blood.’ ”

The inscription, beneath his family crest and above Mr. Trump’s full name, concludes: “It is my great honor to have preserved this important section of the Potomac River!”

Like many of Mr. Trump’s claims, the inscription was evidently not fact-checked.

“No. Uh-uh. No way. Nothing like that ever happened there,” said Richard Gillespie, the executive director of the Mosby Heritage Area Association, a historical preservation and education group devoted to an 1,800-square-mile section of the Northern Virginia Piedmont, including the Lowes Island site.

“The only thing that was remotely close to that,” Mr. Gillespie said, was 11 miles up the river at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in 1861, a rout of Union forces in which several hundred were killed. “The River of Blood?” he added. “Nope, not there.”

In the larger picture of Trump’s crimes, I guess it’s not the worst. But it sure sums up the man. I for one can’t wait for new national history standards under President Trump.

In a phone interview, Mr. Trump called himself a “a big history fan” but deflected, played down and then simply disputed the local historians’ assertions of historical fact.

“That was a prime site for river crossings,” Mr. Trump said. “So, if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot — a lot of them.”

“How would they know that?” Mr. Trump asked when told that local historians had called his plaque a fiction. “Were they there?”

Oh, OK. That’s some iron-clad logic right there.

The Problems with the Trans Pacific Partnership

[ 7 ] November 28, 2015 |


Last week, the New York Times editorial board nailed the fundamental problem with the Trans Pacific Partnership on labor issues:

Obama administration officials say the T.P.P. goes further on labor standards than those earlier pacts. For example, the T.P.P.’s labor chapter requires all 12 countries to adopt minimum wage, working hour and occupational safety regulations. That is an improvement, but it could turn out to be mostly symbolic because the agreement does not specify how countries should set minimum wages. Nor does it establish any minimum standard for safety regulations.

Experts say the most important labor provisions are found in side agreements the Obama administration reached with Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei individually to address specific problems like barriers to union organizing and the treatment of immigrant workers from countries like Myanmar. These countries will have to change their labor laws in specific ways before they are allowed to export goods duty-free to the United States.

The agreement with Vietnam, a country run by a communist government, would require that workers be permitted to form independent unions that are not affiliated with the Communist Party and would have the right to bargain collectively and to strike. This should help workers who have been exploited to demand better pay and better working conditions.

American labor leaders are unconvinced these side deals and the labor provisions that apply to all countries will sufficiently improve union power. They have long worried that trade encourages a race to the bottom, hurting American workers. But offshoring to developing countries has been going on for years, and the T.P.P. is unlikely to change that. Labor leaders rightly point out that even under the pact, the Vietnamese government does not have to let new unions form federations to represent workers at the national level for up to five years after the agreement becomes effective, which is expected to happen in 2017 if it’s ratified by Congress.

By far the biggest concern, aside from the particulars of the side deals, is whether President Obama’s successor will actively enforce the T.P.P.’s provisions. The Obama administration has been slow to bring significant cases against countries like Guatemala when they violate existing trade agreements.

In 2008, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and Guatemalan workers’ organizations filed a complaint against the Guatemalan government for failure to enforce its own labor laws, as mandated by the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement. After years of negotiations with Guatemala, the Obama administration took that case to arbitration last year to force the country to prosecute abusive employers and make it easier for workers to form unions.

And let’s point out that while I’m glad Obama took the Guatemalan case to arbitration, this has been going on for 7 years now before even reaching this step which in itself does nothing for Guatemalan workers. A process this glacial is not one that is useful for workers. If this is the best we can do within these trade agreements, then the trade agreements are the enemy of workers in the developing world. Many of these workers know this, which is why they oppose the TPP. Without an independent enforcement power that workers themselves can access, without real and delineated punishments for nations who violate the labor provisions of trade agreements, and without consequences for wealthy nation companies who are complicit in these violations, these agreements simply will not work in workers’ favor.

Jessica Jones

[ 31 ] November 28, 2015 |

Literally in the dumps

Jessica Jones is a new Netflix series based on the Marvel comic of the same name. It’s really good. I like it a lot. It doesn’t inspire in me the same kind of reverence it seems to inspire in a corner of the ‘net I’ll call “Jessica Jones twitter,” but I get why people dig it and are affected by it. In particular, I think Jessica Jones is great at doing one thing: Making us experience Jessica’s isolation.

This is the aspect of the show that really resonates with me. It was difficult for me to watch when she was actually rather physically isolated, prowling the streets at night and drinking alone; it was depressing as hell. But as the series progressed Jessica reconnected with her longtime best friend, hooked up with a handsome bartender, helped her neighbor (now friend) detox, and developed a rapport (albeit a tense one) with flawed-but-good cop, Simpson and “I never know what’s going on in her head” high-powered lawyer, Hogarth. So, hey, she can stop all that sulking and cut back on the booze now, right? Wrong. Here’s the show’s strong point: it shows you–in excruciating detail–how a support system will never work if there’s someone  out there who can always circumvent it. It doesn’t matter how many friends or lovers Jessica has. Bad guy Kilgrave (a stalker, murderer and rapist) will always be in her head. Or he’ll be murdering people just outside her motley little circle of pals. Where’s the peace to be found there?

To me, this is the thing Jessica Jones does so adeptly. It shows how terrifying and soul-sucking it is be always be alone, even when you’re not alone.

In other news, here is my latest piece. I think it may be my best piece ever.

Wilson, Roosevelt, Jefferson: Debating America’s Racial Legacy

[ 72 ] November 28, 2015 |


Above: Theodore Roosevelt, Virulent Racist

The recent debates over which Americans to honor with statues, building names, and other monuments, is welcome. History should be debated. The present is not under any obligation to the past to keep something named after John C. Calhoun. Right now, the biggest flash point is around the memory of Woodrow Wilson. The 28th president was certainly an unreconstructed racist, although I do wonder how much of his bad reputation comes from his notorious approval of Birth of a Nation, which did not exactly separate him from the average Democrat in 1915. But as I’ve argued before, the relationship between symbols and protest is important and often hard to understand for those who don’t see protest as the primary mode for change. Those symbols are particularly salient at Princeton, where Wilson was president before becoming governor of New Jersey.

Wilson is known for many progressive policies and for idealistic views about the spread of democracy around the world. But historians have also noted that he was an unapologetic racist who took many actions as president of the United States that held back even minimal rights for black people. And while many argue against judging people from earlier generations by today’s standards, this essay by William Keylor, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, notes that Wilson moved federal policy on racial equality backward. He undid moves toward desegregation by federal agencies, and he defended segregation.

In an essay last month in The Daily Princetonian, the Black Justice League outlined its case for removing honors on campus for Wilson.

“We owe nothing to people who are deeply flawed,” the essay says. “There is an impulsive reaction to want to ignore uncomfortable or questionable legacies. However, what does it say about our society if we continue to glorify legacies without acknowledging — and at the very least caring about — the continuous promotion of unrectified inequalities and injustices? … By not recognizing the importance of this discourse, the university is telling its marginalized community and the outside world that it values its bleached-clean version of history over the prolonged discomfort and alienation of students of color. This erasure is especially dangerous in the present context of state-sanctioned violence against black people that prolongs this genocide.”

Despite my hatred of the word “discourse,” the general point is of course correct. We do owe nothing to people whom we decide no longer represent our values. Wilson is largely vilified by progressives and the left today for a few reasons. First, it’s that he was influential to neoconservatives and the designers of the Iraq War. This is somewhat unfair. Second, it’s his approval of The Birth of a Nation. Third, it’s that he segregated the federal government in new ways. The last two are pretty bad. Does this make him uniquely racist for his time or even unusually racist? No, not really and I think Dylan Matthews actually does a disservice to us by claiming he was especially racist. The early 20th century was a horrible time for racial minorities of all kinds. Wilson represented them well, no question, but he represented preexisting desires for extreme segregation and racial violence. None of this is defending Wilson at all, but rather simply stating the reality and ubiquity of white supremacy at the time.

I also want to compare Wilson to Theodore Roosevelt. The latter is often compared favorably to Wilson but this is really letting the vastly overrated TR off the hook. Basically, Roosevelt’s racial moderate reputation relies on the sole incident of him eating dinner with Booker T. Washington. And fair enough, that’s certainly something Wilson would not have done. But outside of that Roosevelt was a hell of a racist. Roosevelt’s utterly vile conduct in the treatment of the Brownsville soldiers is appalling:

Although there was no trial, and the men were not given a hearing or the opportunity to confront their accusers, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered 167 black infantrymen discharged without honor because of their alleged conspiracy of silence. Some of the men dismissed had over twenty years of service and were only a short time away from retirement with pensions. All of this was taken away from them. Blacks were furious at Roosevelt’s action, and Booker T. Washington was anguished over the unjust action. Although he did not criticize the president publicly, he protested in private; still, Roosevelt dismissed his plea to reconsider. Even some whites criticized the President. A United States Senate committee investigated the episode in 1907-08 and upheld Roosevelt’s action.

This might not be a racist act quite on the level of Wilson’s segregationist policies, but it was an extraordinarily racist act that needs to be acknowledged.

I will also note once again that race in the United States is not just about the oppression of African-Americans, which is often forgotten about even today. Roosevelt was not only a believer in white supremacy, but an active player in genocidal politics against Native Americans. This is a man who said:

“I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indian is the dead Indian, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”

That’s certainly as awful as anything to ever come out of Wilson’s mouth. He also of course was the imperialist president and between 1901 and 1911 approximately 250,000 Filipinos died resisting an American imperialist expansion explicitly based upon ideas of racial superiority. Roosevelt was not only a eugenicist who freaked out about race suicide and the impact of immigrants upon American society, but he was also close friends and long-time associates with Madison Grant, author of the notorious 1915 book The Passing of the Great Race. And while one might argue it is unfair to taint people with their friends, in this case, there’s little to no evidence that Roosevelt disagreed with Grant’s racial assumption in any way. In fact, he wrote:

“This is a capital book–in purpose, I vision, in grasp of the facts our people must realizes it shows an extraordinary range of reading ad a wide scholarship. It shows a habit of singular seriousness thought on subjects of most commanding importance. It shows a fine fearlessness in assailing the popular and mischievous sentimentalities and attractive and corroding falsehoods which few men dare assail. It is the work of an American scholar and gentleman; and all Americans should be sincerely grateful to you for writing it.”

If we are going to go after Woodrow Wilson’s legacy, let’s do the same with Roosevelt.

We can also wonder how far this questioning of our past will go before even liberals push back on it. Thomas Jefferson represents an interesting case. Jefferson is a polarizing figure in modern America because he was a hypocrite. It’s impossible not to note that hypocrisy in a man who wrote some of the finest language about liberty ever written also refusing to free his slaves. Should we continue to name things after Jefferson? I don’t have a good answer to this. I just don’t know. Certainly there is a very good case to be made here.

At William & Mary, Jefferson’s alma mater, the notes on the statue just appeared, without an individual or group claiming responsibility or formally asking for the statue to be removed. Officials have noted that the protest has not actually damaged the statue, so they are not treating the incident like vandalism.

“A university setting is the very place where civil conversations about difficult and important issues should occur. Nondestructive sticky notes are a form of expression compatible with our tradition of free expression,” said a spokesperson via email.

Students have been debating the issues raised by the notes on social media and in columns in the student paper.

At Missouri, the Jefferson statue became an issue last month as tensions were rising over a range of issues raised by black students, who cited incidents of racial harassment as well as campus culture issues, such as the prominence given to a Jefferson statue.

A petition is circulating calling for the statue to be removed. The petition notes the history of Jefferson’s involvement with slavery. “Thomas Jefferson’s statue sends a clear nonverbal message that his values and beliefs are supported by the University of Missouri. Jefferson’s statue perpetuates a sexist-racist atmosphere that continues to reside on campus,” the petition says.

I don’t know that a Jefferson statue actually perpetuates a sexist-racist atmosphere on campus, but maybe it does. What about George Washington, although at least he freed his slaves on his death? James Madison? Should we rename those universities entirely?

Again, I don’t know. But as a historian, I strongly welcome these conversations over the meanings of our venerated figures of the past. History lives and rather than remain the repository of right-wing ideology and mythology, it’s great that we are having public conversations about the actual actions of these people. The more grounded they are in real historical scholarship, the better. So far, I am not disappointed in this aspect of the conversations.

Can we call it terrorism yet? [May speak to motive update]

[ 134 ] November 27, 2015 |

UPDATE IV “No more baby parts” & probably Obama’s fault too (Courtesy of Chris J)

In one statement, made after the suspect was taken in for questioning, Dear said “no more baby parts” in reference to Planned Parenthood, according to two law enforcement sources with knowledge of the case.

But the sources stressed that Dear said many things to law enforcement and the extent to which the “baby parts” remark played into any decision to target the Planned Parenthood office was not yet clear. He also mentioned President Barack Obama in statements.

So here we are again, in post-another-mass-shooting mode (the second for this city in less than a month), and everyone could sit down and outline what’s going to be said about this event from today until the next mass shooting. We’re pros at this.

There will be a lot of discussion about mental illness and guns, even if Mr. Dear turns out to be as sane as the next person. At least one pseud-psychologist will say “Only a crazy person would do such a thing, therefore he can’t be sane,” that will be that.

But one thing I feel certain will not be discussed, at least with any Seriousness, is why this so-called civilization keeps producing large numbers of men who feel murder is a valid form of self-expression.

UPDATE III Extremism in the defense of extremism is no vice, AKA the shape of days to come (Brietbart)

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) criticized the “very premature” assigning of motivation for the shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, adding that if the shooter did target Planned Parenthood ” he has taken a legitimate disagreement with the practice, and turned it into an evil response” on CNN on Friday.

Kinzinger said that the statement Planned Parenthood’s regional director that mentioned “extremists” creating “a poisonous environment that creates domestic terrorism” “was very premature. We may find out that this person was targeting Planned Parenthood. If we find out that he was not targeting Planned Parenthood, I would fully expect an apology from the Planned Parenthood director for saying that.

Cowart’s entire statement is here, if you want to see how carefully Kinzinger had to pick his cherries.

Oy. I don’t know about the rest of youns, but I’m going to play with the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad cats.

UPDATE II suspect surrenders, 3 victims have died:

The suspected gunman is Robert Lewis Dear, 59, a law enforcement official told CNN. The official did not provide additional information.

Police captured him, but they’re still working to pinpoint his motive — and make sure he didn’t leave any explosives inside or outside the Colorado Springs building.

Mind Equal Status With Matter

[ 15 ] November 27, 2015 |

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I endorse every word of George Makari’s New York Times op-ed, written in response to reporting on a trial of integrated care for first-episode psychosis. Integrated care included personalized medication management, family education; resilience-focused individual therapy (I am not 100% sure what “resilience-focused” means specifically), and support for vocational rehabilitation. The study found substantial benefits to the integrated care program over community care that were visible not just to clinicians, but to patients and families, especially for patients with shorter duration of untreated psychosis before they entered the study. Its primary outcome was a measure of overall quality of life, and it also included a symptom severity measure as a secondary outcome; both measures showed strong effects.

This finding attracted a degree of popular attention that read as surprise, presumably because for schizophrenia, and perhaps for no mental illness more than schizophrenia, in the popular imagination its causes are genetic and immutable, or amenable to change only by a compulsory medication regimen. The only part of that it is necessarily true is that its causes are partly genetic. But these ideas about cause, course, and treatment reflect decades of efforts by psychiatry, and increasingly, psychology, to call mental illness a “brain disease.” As Makari says:

After the emergence of Prozac and the newer antipsychotic drugs like Risperidone some two decades ago, there was a sustained effort by academic research leaders in American psychiatry to promote these successes, and to fight the stigmatization of the mentally ill by forgoing the complexities of the biopsychosocial model for a simpler, more authoritative claim: Mental illness is a brain disease.

Inherent to this proposition is the implication that psychological and social events somehow are not also brain events. Acknowledgment of any nonexplicitly neural factors is seen as opening the door to those who dismiss mental illness as metaphysical, fake or the result of a moral failing. By these lights, meaningful interventions for those struggling with mental illness must be biochemical or anatomical.

If I were to quibble with any part of the op-ed, I might say that much as I shared his chagrin at the directive that every study that received NIMH funding must include a biological measure of some sort, I’m not sure that it would in practice prevent a large-scale study from occurring, it would just force the grant-seekers to cobble together some BS biomarker. A fully sequenced genome isn’t even that expensive at this point, and someone out there would probably take that data of their hands and analyze it. It was still a wasteful and wrongheaded message from NIMH, and that message isn’t even good for biologically-based research. For instance, there is plenty of brain imaging research that would benefit from clearer understanding of how people behave, what psychology and neuroscience experiments are actually measuring, and how our words and categories map on to people’s behavior and experience. The ambiguity between motivation and capacity to perform a task is just one example of the many circumstances in which an observed behavior might not mean what it seems to at first glance, and behavioral neuroscientists need psychologists to do programmatic work to put their house in order in this and many other ways. It is unfortunate that NIMH decided to tell psychologists it wasn’t interested in that work.

Regarding the idea that mental illness is “a brain disease,” no lens on mental illness is objective. They are all human ways of conceptualizing human variation, and this variation can only be understood as illness because it is violating social norms. For that reason every lens should be evaluated for its utility (I first wrote “for people who suffer from mental illness,” but I dislike the construction of categories in which “the mentally ill” are a separate group from anyone else). The “brain disease” lens has been powerful and helpful in many ways, not least by providing psychotropic drugs to those who need them, but it also fails at some of the things it’s supposed to offer. First of all, as Makari notes, it can suck resources and attention from researching an integrated approach to care (or trying to understand how further upstream, weaknesses in family or community lead to illness). Part of its promise was that it might reduce stigma, but in fact, there’s reason to believe the opposite is true — that people see a “brain disease” as more permanent than a condition arising from psychological and social causes.

A framing in which a mental illness is a relationship between a person and their environment, a contortion in the adaptation process that can be as much about the environment as the person, allows for the possibility of the world and the person moving into more harmonious agreement. Because it’s a little easier to change a person than everything around them, that will usually mean the person changing, but it also helps to maintain in our language the idea that the world could change, and we could ask it to. Much of the reporting on the Kane et al. study has emphasized therapy, but another way to look at integrative care is as a fusion of medical care and community support. It is creating a functioning community around a vulnerable individual (whose illness may have been in part due to weaknesses in the community in the first place; stress increases the risk for developing psychosis). Our way of thinking about mental illness has the possibility to teach us that the person is more likely to get and stay well when their network is well, and we all share responsibility as a part of that network. Or it has the possibility to teach us that mental illness is just an individual’s disease, enclosed within a skull, or maybe generously inside a sack of skin. I know which one I choose.

Randall Kennedy on race and racism at Harvard Law School (and elsewhere)

[ 141 ] November 27, 2015 |


HLS professor Randall Kennedy has an excellent piece on the current controversies at Harvard and elsewhere (A few days ago, some unknown person(s) for unknown reasons put strips of black tape, across the portraits of tenured black professors that are displayed, along with the portraits of all tenured HLS professors, in one of the school’s buildings). I don’t like to excerpt it, since it seems to me a model of balance and good sense that really should be read in its entirety, but here is part of his argument:

Substantial numbers of onlookers believe that this episode is by no means isolated, that it offers a revealing glimpse into the soul of Harvard Law School.

They believe that the defacement is but an outcropping of shrouded, denied, but pervasive bigotry abetted by an unwillingness to redress subtle vestiges of historical racial injustice. The aggrievement felt by substantial numbers of smart, knowledgeable and capable students is evident. Their accusations warrant close examination and may well justify further reforms. There are exceedingly few, if any, major institutions in America that can be presumed to be racism free.

Activists who are demanding that universities do more to advance racial justice ought to be encouraged by what has transpired in recent weeks. On account of their interventions, difficult but earnest and probing conversations have blossomed. At Harvard, the dozen or so strips of black tape that prompted the crisis have been replaced by hundreds of brightly colored stickers expressing respect and appreciation, and rejecting bigotry.

Around the country, any administrator in higher education who neglects to take seriously plausible accusations of racism proceeds at his or her peril. Activists have succeeded in shoving to the top of the higher-education policy agenda the claims, dissatisfactions and aspirations of African-American students.

Successes, however, can generate or exacerbate destructive tendencies. I worry about two in particular. One involves exaggerating the scope of the racism that the activists oppose and fear. The other involves minimizing their own strength and the victories that they and their forebears have already achieved. . .

While some of [the activists’] complaints have a ring of validity, several are dubious. A decision by a professor to focus on a seemingly dry, technical issue rather than a more accessible, volatile subject involving race might well reflect a justifiable pedagogical strategy. Opposition to racial affirmative action can stem from a wide range of sources other than prejudice. Racism and its kindred pathologies are already big foes; there is no sustained payoff in exaggerating their presence, thus making them more formidable than they actually are.

Disturbing, too, is a related tendency to indulge in self-diminishment by displaying an excessive vulnerability to perceived and actual slights and insults. Some activists seem to have learned that invoking the rhetoric of trauma is an effective way of hooking into the consciences of solicitous authorities. Perhaps it is useful for purposes of eliciting certain short-term gains.

In the long run, though, reformers harm themselves by nurturing an inflated sense of victimization.

One reaction to this kind of an argument is that it plays into the hands of right-wingers, who are categorizing the various protests at Yale, Missouri, Princeton, Harvard, etc., as nothing more than the manifestations of a combination of illiberal “political correctness” and hyper-sensitive whining by over-privileged children of the helicopter parent generation. Another reaction is that the former reaction itself plays into the hands of those who want to wrongly minimize the continuing salience of race and racism in American society, by refusing to consider making distinctions between valid, less valid, and spurious complaints.

These are difficult and important questions, and Kennedy’s willingness to engage with them in a nuanced way is admirable.

Why Would You Make Turkey Any Other Way?

[ 39 ] November 27, 2015 |

The other day  my mother in law messaged me saying she’d had some turkey breast braised in apple cider; she said it was tender and delicious. Knowing I was not going to be cooking for an army I thought that sounded like something I might want to try. Here’s how I made my Thanksgiving Cider-Braised Turkey Breast:


  • 1 split turkey breast (mine was 2.34 pounds)
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 2-3 cups good quality apple cider (mine was the kind with apple bits floating around in it)
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh sage (dried would certainly work, too–just use less)


  1. Generously salt and pepper the breast. Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a big dutch oven.
  2. When it’s rippling add the breast and brown the skin. Remove the breast to a plate.
  3. Sauté the shallots and sage in the drippings and oil ’til shallots are slightly softened, adding a bit of salt and pepper. Add the cider.
  4. Put the breast in the braising liquid, skin side down.
  5. Put the cover on the dutch oven and put in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.
  6. Remove cover and turn the breast skin side up. Continue cooking for another 30 minutes.
  7. Remove breast to a plate and let rest for a few minutes. Pour braising liquid over the breast and slice to serve.

It couldn’t be simpler. And it was, without a doubt, some of the most tender, flavorful turkey I’ve ever had.

NOTE: This fed 4 people (one who filled up on ham) and there were leftovers. For more than 4 people, to be safe I would double this recipe.

Black Friday

[ 48 ] November 27, 2015 |

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. If you’re voluntarily taking part in the Black Friday Shoppernalia remember that biting, scratching and hitting below the belt are strictly forbidden.

If you’re an involuntary participant (i.e. you have to work in some retail house o’ horrors) then it’s whatever you can get away with, so far as I’m concerned. Been there, done that, think cattle prods and coshes should be part of every retail workers’ ensemble.

If you’re not working or shopping, my favorite cash drain has some ideas for how you can spend the day.

Related – Never been to a state park? Have a household of humans who need to burn off the excess energy from a breakfast of pumpecapple piecake? Parks in several states say ‘Come on up and see me.’ (Maryland, you disappoint me.)

Or, you could go back to sleep.

Underdeveloped Nations and the Left

[ 137 ] November 26, 2015 |


Above: Gamal Abdel Nassar

I’ve long thought Jacobin is at its best when it is moving the conversation on what it means to be a leftist ahead in the post-Soviet era, as opposed to commenting on the issues of the day. It’s certainly my long-standing contention that the way to a viable left in the 21st century is not romanticizing the left of the 20th century and instead figuring out what they did wrong, either adjusting or rejecting those mistakes entirely, and rethinking what a more egalitarian and democratic future might look like. Only when that happens can an articulate, meaningful, powerful, and long-standing challenge to capitalism can exist.

I was reminded of this when reading Bhaskar Sunkara’s excellent interview with sociologist Vivek Chibber, much of which had to do with two fundamental mistakes on the left in the late 20th century and today. The first was the widespread belief that newly developed states would ally with local capitalists. The problem of course was that Brazilian and Indian and Mexican capitalists are as evil as those of the United States and Britain and France. Capitalists exist strictly to profit. In other words, the idea of the globally brown nations uniting against the globally white nations failed because it did not take into account the fact that class would trump race. The second is the belief in top-down national development as the ultimate solution in a post-imperialist world. The problem with this of course is that these frequently abused the power, engaged in wholesale corruption, and otherwise did not do much if anything to improve the lives of the population as a whole. An excerpt:

Q: This calls for a project driven by workers — something radically different than many of the postcolonial projects of the twentieth century. And yet, there is this kind of nostalgia of academics like Vijay Prashad and others who pose that those newly independent nations, the “darker nations,” formed a new bloc with some sort of emancipatory potential.

A: I think that’s a distorted view of the era. There’s something to it in that there was something called a Non-Aligned Movement, and they did try to rest some degree of autonomy for developing countries in the global economy. Nevertheless, we have to be careful about calling it a “project” as Prashad does.

The implication there is that things like the Bandung Conference had some kind of mass support, and there was a vision that differed in some important way from the vision of its domestic ruling classes, and that description, I think, is wrong.

First of all, this Non-Aligned Movement, the effort to bring together developing countries through things like the Bandung Conference, was essentially an elite project. It was really something that catered to particular designs that local industrialists had and went down to some parts of the intelligentsia and the middle classes. It wasn’t something that resonated with most workers and peasants, so to characterize it as a movement is misleading.

Secondly, because of its narrow base, it was something that was entirely servant to, and constrained by the visions of, the domestic elites. And so it was right from the start very limited in its ability to project an alternative project to what postwar capitalism globally was representing.

I think it rests on a very romanticized view of the national bourgeoisie. It attributes to it a broader vision and progressive intention that it didn’t have. What it was trying to do was to carve out a bigger space for its interests in the global economy, not anything that we might call national interests, much less the interests of working people.

Q: There are others who seem to even resist the idea that Brazilian capitalists can be just as bad as American capitalists and Indian capitalists just as bad as Canadian ones.

A: I think the problem goes even deeper. On the intellectual left, in the United States over the past fifteen years, there’s a very pronounced discomfort in thinking in class terms at all. And this kind of romanticism about the Third World and the Third World nations is actually not the first time we’ve seen it.

It actually was first around in the 1970s in a certain part of the Left, and it was called Third Worldism. At the time, the critics of Third Worldism were mostly Marxists.

Q: Though much of this Third Worldism had Maoist roots.

A: Sure, it came out of Maoism, but the critics of that were also Marxists. Why is it resurfacing now? Certainly not because Maoists have suddenly become dominant on the Left. It’s part of an inclination, a desire, to think of the world in racial terms and national terms rather than in class terms.

And that’s why it makes it easy to think in terms of nations of darker people in the South versus the white North, rather than acknowledging and recognizing that those nations themselves are racked with class divisions where their ruling classes are as vicious as the ones in the North.

Q: And that’s why you get narratives where people like Nehru are champions of progress.

A: Yes, I’ve seen Nehru and Nasser represented as visionaries of social justice and national self-determination. Nehru, under whom India unfolded one of the longest military occupations of the postwar era, in the northeast states of India; Nehru who went back on every promise he made to the Kashmiris for local autonomy, and whose daughter and grandson imposed a brutal military occupation there; Nasser, who was virulently and unrelentingly anti-communist and hostile to the Left, and had expansionist plans of his own in the Middle East.

These are basically representatives of local ruling classes who had some progressive thrusts, not because they had a different vision, but because in all these countries, workers and peasants had some real strength, which created a more forward-looking ethos within the ruling classes for a brief period, which was reflected, and had echoes, in conferences like Bandung.

But we must understand that the agenda of people like these leaders was to contain and to roll back the power of the laboring classes, not to represent them in some way. And nostalgia towards that is, I think, entirely misplaced.

Forgive the length of the excerpt, but I thought it highly instructive and valuable. Read the whole thing if you are avoiding family and watching the Eagles-Lions. Now back to tending my roasted vegetables.

Trump, Rubio and Cruz (an unlimited liability partnership)

[ 73 ] November 26, 2015 |

cruz coloring book

Ezra Klein interviews political scientist Alan Abramowitz:

I certainly don’t think [Trump is] a strong favorite, but there’s no way of really coming up with an accurate prediction of these things. Forecasting nomination contests is a fool’s game, I think. I saw what Nate Silver posted on FiveThirtyEight, and what he’s saying is reasonable based on the history of these presidential nominations, but there are a couple things I think are different this year.

Silver makes the case that the polls at this point don’t necessarily mean much, and you can get big swings in voter preferences in relatively short periods of time. And that’s true. What I think is different is Republicans are tuned in to a much greater degree than they were at this point in previous nomination contests. You can see that in polling when you ask whether voters are paying attention, and you can see that in ratings for the debates. The idea that voters aren’t tuned in yet and won’t make up their minds till January or later may not prove as true as it has in the past.

Because of the higher level of interest and attention this year, these early polls may be more predictive of what’s likely to happen.

The second point is Trump isn’t only leading in national polling. He’s leading in every state poll I’ve seen. He seems to be ahead in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina, Nevada.

Voters say he’s a strong leader who will shake up Washington, and that’s what they want. He’s the leader on big issues like immigration, terrorism, the economy. And the Washington Post/ABC News poll found a plurality — even more voters than actually support him — think he’s the candidate with the best chance of winning in November.

If Trump does start to fade out, the good news, from the standpoint of Republican leaders and strategists, is that Ben Carson seems to be beginning to fade in support. The bad news is that the guy who is really well-positioned to pick up Carson and even Trump supporters is Ted Cruz. And Cruz right now is right on Trump’s heels in Iowa. He has a very strong organization there, and it’s an electorate he could do very well with.

So, to me right now, it looks like there are three potential Republican nominees, and that would be Trump, Cruz, and Rubio.

Klein acknowledges that a lot of pundits, including himself, “have a sort of Underpants Gnomes theory of Marco Rubio’s chances. Step one is Rubio is the only acceptable nominee to Republican elites. Step two is … something. And step three is Rubio wins the nomination.”

The impending conclusion of the Ben Carson Griftathon has cemented Cruz as the other anti-establishment alternative to Rubio, thereby complicating things further. Right now I’d say it’s difficult to predict which of these three candidates will win, but I think it’s fair to say that all three have a very real shot, including Der Donald.

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