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Today in the Sixth Extinction

[ 80 ] April 4, 2016 |


White nose in bats found in the West, a 1300 mile jump from its previous known location.

The disease that’s wiped out at least 7 million bats in the East and Midwest has now jumped to the West. Hikers in Washington, 30 miles east of Seattle, found a sick little brown bat on March 11 and took it to a wildlife sanctuary, where it died a few days later. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center analyzed the remains and announced that it had white-nose syndrome, a fungal infection that irritates bats and rouses them from hibernation in the dead of winter. They leave their caves to forage, but soon starve from lack of insects. Once the infection gains a foothold in a bat colony, the mortality rate can reach 99 percent.

The deadly disease has jumped more than 1,300 miles from where it was last detected, in Nebraska and Minnesota. “This news is extremely disappointing and unnerving,” says Jeremy Coleman, national white-nose syndrome coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, adding that it’s probably been spreading in Washington, and perhaps other parts of the Northwest, for a while. “Researchers in Eastern caves have found that it can take a few years for fungal loads to build up to the point of causing disease in bats,” says Coleman, “so it may be that the fungus has been in the area for a few years already and is widespread.”

As to how white-nose syndrome reached Washington in the first place, the most likely explanation is that a caver visited an infected cave in the East, then carried spores on gear or clothing to the Cascades. The stricken bat seems to be a Western subspecies of little brown bat, Coleman says, so it probably wasn’t a bat from back East that somehow got translocated. Another possible, but unlikely, route for transmission could have been a shipping container from Asia or Europe that came into Seattle or Vancouver carrying an infected bat. State and federal researchers will be combing the area where the bat was found to try to locate other sick bats, and the public is also requested to notify the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife about any bats they find dead or see flying in the daytime — usually an indication of illness.

Someday, our children and grandchildren will wonder what bats were. We will say they were real. They will think bats are like unicorns.


The Prejudice Against Late Sleepers Is Superstition

[ 105 ] April 4, 2016 |

Science confirms what we night owls have always known:

A couple of weeks ago, I reported on the science of chronobiology, which finds we all have an internal clock that keeps us on a consistent sleep and wake cycle. But the key finding is that everyone’s clock is not the same. Most people fall in the middle, preferring to sleep around 11 pm to 7 am. But many — perhaps 40 percent of the population — don’t naturally fit in this schedule.

There are night owls among us — whose whole circadian schedules are shifted later — and morning larks, who are shifted earlier. (If you’re curious, you can assess your chronotype with this quiz here.) These traits are determined by genetics and are extremely hard to change. What’s more, the research is finding that if we fight our chronotypes, our health may suffer.

But most striking to me wasn’t the health implications of messing with your clock. It was the stigma late sleepers feel in a society ruled by early risers. Simply put: These late sleepers are tired of being judged for a behavior they cannot easily control. If they can’t change their sleep patterns, maybe society should become more accepting of them.

Saying No

[ 4 ] April 3, 2016 |

Tonight’s film is a genuinely useful PSA from 1982 about women taking control over their own bodies. Plus the biggest douche in the film has Larry Bird hair.


[ 10 ] April 3, 2016 |



If you are going to be at the OAH this week in Providence, drop me a line. Maybe we could do a get together or something. Not sure if Attewell is attending this year, but there’s never anything wrong with an LGM get together, even if it’s just with me.

Incidentally, I am participating in two historians talk off the cuff sessions roundtables. The first is on New Perspectives on American Socialism, which is the conference’s first slot on Thursday at 12. Then on Friday at 1:50, I am moderating a panel I organized titled “State of the Field: Intersections between Labor and Environmental History.” If anyone cares, come and say hi.

Profiles in Courage: Jay Inslee

[ 36 ] April 3, 2016 |

Jay Inslee, who campaigned against charter schools in his run for Governor in 2012, had the opportunity to prevent this drain on public schools. What did he do?

Gov. Jay Inslee took action on more than 150 bills this week, but not a measure to that aims to preserve the state’s system of charter schools.

On Sunday, the bill will become law anyway.

The measure, Senate Bill 6194, looks to solve constitutional issues with the state’s voter-approved charter-school law, which the Washington State Supreme Court struck down in September.

Inslee faced a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Saturday (April 2) to either sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

On Friday, he announced he had chosen the latter and the law will take effect Sunday.

In a letter explaining his decision, Inslee said he remains concerned about whether there will be adequate public oversight of charter schools, but said he doesn’t want to see the schools shut down.

It’s the procedural/political game he’s trying to play that really annoys me. If he made the case that the people had spoken (The bill is a legal fix for a charter school amendment that passed in 2012 but was ruled unconstitutional) and want this passed, and he’s not going to stand in the way and signed the damn thing, or if he determined he needs to do this to win re-election, I wouldn’t support his decision but I could, on some level, respect it. But trying to have it both ways with a procedural gimmick that does nothing is insulting and worthless. Inslee has also spent much of the last three years scolding the legislature for not fully funding public schools to comply with the McCleary ruling; it’s difficult to see why anyone should take him seriously if he continues to pretend to shed crocodile tears about how the legislature won’t properly fund public schools.

It’s very difficult to see how a Democrat could lose the Governor’s office in Washington in a presidential year that isn’t a Republican wave. I have a feeling Inslee’s going to make it annoyingly interesting.

Deficit Spending

[ 104 ] April 3, 2016 |


Yglesias is making a lot of sense here. With interest rates this low, the nation should just borrow the money to rebuild its infrastructure and not worry about some existential need to pay off the debt. Of course, that no one can say this in the political realm is a sign of just how drastically Republicans have changed the debate in the 40 years, to the point that even as our freeway overpasses are collapsing beneath us and subway systems shutting down, we can’t even begin to talk about these issues without detailed plans on paying back the big, bad, evil debt. Instead, we should just build it and figure it out later if necessary.

The debate we ought to be having about federal infrastructure spending right now is whether we have a way to channel money into useful projects — not how to “pay for” the spending.

America is not currently experiencing a shortfall of financing options. On the contrary, global financial markets are practically begging us to go borrow some more money. The interest rates available are so outlandishly low that virtually anything that was useful at all (i.e., not a mixed-traffic streetcar or a relocation of a bus terminal to a less convenient location) would have a rate of return higher than the cost of funds.

Under the circumstances, there’s no good reason to try to finance projects with taxes rather than debt. Doing so is only going to increase political opposition to your plan — no tax reform, no matter how cleverly designed, can fail to offend a powerful interest group or two — and make it less likely that the project will get done.

And global markets, again, are telling us not that America’s taxes are too low but that we’re not borrowing enough money. There’s a global shortage of American debt. Indeed, a 2014 International Monetary Fund analysis concluded that in rich countries like the US, “public investment that is financed by issuing debt has larger output effects than when it is financed by raising taxes or cutting other spending.”

It’s better, in other words, to just build the projects than to fuss about paying for them. We need a good dose of irresponsibility.

Red Lives Matter

[ 127 ] April 3, 2016 |

The Black Lives Matter movement has been great in basically all conceivable ways. But I think there is one exception to that, which is that, at least in my readings and observations, been fairly blind or downplaying that not only are the cops killing black people for any reason imaginable, but are doing the same to Latinos and Native Americans as well. I have no doubt that many BLM leaders are well aware of this and no doubt part of the problem is that the media, including large swaths of the leftist media, see racial problems in the United States still primarily in terms of African-Americans and whites. But the interruption of the Netroots Nation presidential candidate forum last year that was specifically discussing immigration and the oppression Latinos face by BLM protestors was lacking in the intersectionality one would hope for from such a movement, something which almost no one noted in the aftermath. On the community level of course, this all has different dynamics, since police murders of people of color naturally enough unite the people who are in that community and who of course then tend to be of the same racial and ethnic groups. But still, more attention to the fact that racial discrimination in this country is not exclusively against black people would be really useful. Because the cops are slaughtering Native Americans too, in this case shooting a woman 5 times accused of stealing.

“Loreal is a victim of discrimination, and we want justice,” Curley said. “We can all relate to this case because we have all been racially profiled by law enforcement. While we are saddened at (Loreal’s) death, we’re not surprised because we know that this is a systemic issue.”

Curley said the group supported the independent investigation into the shooting and asked the Navajo Nation to take a more active role in this case.

In a statement, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said, “We hear about these types of shootings happening across the country. If there is no legitimate justification for taking Tsingine’s life, then the Navajo Nation wants the fullest extent of the law to be taken in serving justice.”

Vice President Jonathan Nez posted the following statement on Facebook: “The Navajo Nation sends our condolences to her family during this tragedy. Significant numbers of Navajo citizens have expressed public outcry over this violence. We will continue to investigate.”

Tsingine’s family admitted she had some mental health issues, but they didn’t go into detail.

Organizers of a vigil scheduled for Saturday demanded that the name of the officer involved in the shooting be released and that their concerns on police brutality against Native Americans be taken seriously.

Of course, where this is happening is in Arizona, in New Mexico, in South Dakota, in Oklahoma–in other words, far away from the eastern media and where those journalists come from and pay attention to, including the leftist publications. That should change. Discrimination against Native Americans is widespread. They get slaughtered by cops all the time. We need an anti-police violence, anti-racist movement that is about all the oppressed races in the United States. Our racist past allows us to forget marginalized groups all too often. Our anti-racist organizations shouldn’t do the same.

Sunday Links

[ 72 ] April 3, 2016 |

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 26

[ 1 ] April 3, 2016 |

This is the grave of Howard Zahniser:


Howard Zahniser was the long-time head of the Wilderness Society and the architect of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which he dedicated his professional life to getting passed. Zahniser grew up in small-town western Pennsylvania, which he always loved and considered home. He began exploring the forests of his home state as a child. In the 1930s, he worked for USDA Bureau of Biological Survey (the precursor to the modern Fish and Wildlife Service) and during World War II worked for the Bureau of Plant Industry, Soils, and Agricultural Engineering. During this period, he started writing for nascent environmental journals and magazines. He then became Executive Secretary of the Wilderness Society in 1945, turning it into an overtly political organization with the agenda of making federally-designated wilderness a real thing.

Zahniser led the fight against the Echo Park Dam, beginning in 1949, that would have flooded a major portion of Dinosaur National Monument as part of the larger Colorado River Project. Along with people such as the Sierra Club’s David Brower, Zahniser managed to squash that project, a huge early victory for environmentalists. This also gave momentum to a wilderness campaign that would preserve swaths of land from any development such as dams, logging, and mining. The bill slowly gained momentum through Zahniser indefatigable work lobbying for it, building relationships with Congress, working with recalcitrant developmentalist legislators, and dedicating his life to this single goal.

Unfortunately, Zahniser also had a bad heart. Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act of 1964 into law on September 3, 1964, designating 9.1 million acres of public land as wilderness. But Zahniser had died on May 5, 1964.

Howard Zahniser is buried in the Pennsylvania woods and hills he loved. His grave is at Riverside Cemetery, Tionesta, Pennsylvania.

Overdue Debts

[ 85 ] April 3, 2016 |

Some thank-yous are postmature:

  • Thanks to Denverite for his HISTORICALLY GREAT gift of the latest Dylan Bootleg Series set. As I am not the first to observe, the Blonde on Blonde material revved up to Highway 61 speed is the prize. But the rest of the alternate takes are worth hearing, and the fact that the intakes were generally better is its own fascination in comparison with Volumes 1-3, where the mysteries included how he could have left “Series of Dreams” off Oh Mercy or “Blind Willie McTell” off Infidels. The remaining mystery is why they’ve done a Self-Portrait outtakes set while the Blood on the Tracks sessions — the most tantalizing part of the first series — remain in the can.
  • Thanks to an anonymous reader Howard for Made In Chicago — excellent stuff as always from the people involved.
  • And thanks to Most Valuable Commenter Howard for the amazing Amina Claudine Myers playlist he sent me for the holidays. Unerring choices as always.

Remember, you too can have the eternal honor of a commendation on one of the most prestigious political blogs founded in 2004 and named after a Zevon song by sending something from my wishlist or from one of the ones from my colleagues accessible above!

Today in the Republican War on Women

[ 218 ] April 3, 2016 |


Louie Gohmert, saying the quiet parts loud again.

Texas Representative Louie Gohmert has just established himself as public enemy number one for women by publicly opposing H.R.4742, a new bill that would increase federal support for entrepreneurial programs for women in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math.

A satirical site creates an explanation for Gohmert, which unfortunately was picked up in the original link as being real, as was pointed out in comments. But really, given current Republican rhetoric, it would hardly be surprising that Gohmert actually believes this.

Gohmert’s explanation for opposing this bill is that it discriminates against boys. In his own words, “this program is designed to discriminate against that young, poverty-stricken boy and to encourage the girl. Forget the boy. Encourage the girl.” In addition to this backwards argument, he continued on, launching into a ridiculous tirade about how this is also the wrong way to treat women. Naturally, he also had to bring in God and God’s intentions for women.

‘And, you know, that’s just not the way God intended us to be treating women. I know that everybody is today talking about equality and we’ve got groups that are trying to make us believe that women are equal to men. However, that’s just not the case. God didn’t make us equal. It is ourselves, we have created this illusion of equality. And you want to know what the most powerful evidence of that there is? Simple biology. We have parts they don’t and vice versa. So right then and there you’ve got proof of God’s master plan.’

‘Women were created for one thing and one thing alone. We are insulting the Lord by allowing women to act like men. Women are beautiful creatures, no doubt about that. We marry them, we look after them, we provide for them and we love them, but that does not mean they are the same as us. It is the job of a woman to stay at home, to maintain the household, to bear children and look after them after they’re born. Nowhere in the scriptures does it say that women should be chasing after fancy titles and knowledge. The only knowledge they need is the one we men allow them to have.’

Louie Gohmert may be an idiot. But this is really pretty close to the belief system of many Republicans. I guess affirmative action is for women after all too and that has to stop just like it does for people of color stealing the white man’s jobs! We all know that God intended for all good jobs to be held by white men. Why is the gov’ment getting in the way of Jesus?

On a more serious note, I will say that I strongly oppose special STEM-promoting bills or lower tuition for STEM students or the like because a) they largely are nothing more than job training programs for the jobs available in 2016 as opposed to providing larger skills that will allow students to be able to transition through jobs in life, b) they are short-sighted in terms of thinking about the relationship between students and jobs, and c) they are part of the open war on the humanities going on across the country.

Abortion and Punishment

[ 63 ] April 3, 2016 |

Katha Pollitt is, as usual, making sense:

DONALD J. TRUMP gave his primary opponents a gift when he said this week that if abortion is outlawed, “there has to be some form of punishment” for the woman. He let them look as if they cared about women.

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio responded to Mr. Trump’s comments by saying, “Of course women shouldn’t be punished.” Like his fellow Republican presidential candidate Mr. Trump, Mr. Kasich opposes legal abortion except in cases of rape and incest and to save the woman’s life. Mr. Kasich has signed 17 anti-abortion measures into law since he took office in 2011. Half the clinics in Ohio in operation at the beginning of his tenure have closed or stopped performing abortions.

In a statement, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said, “Being pro-life is not simply about the unborn child, it’s also about the mother.” He would permit legal abortion only to save the woman’s life — no exception for rape and incest victims — and tried to shut down the government in his effort to defund Planned Parenthood. Virtually every anti-abortion group in the country quickly disavowed the notion of punishing women, many using words like compassion, love and healing. The movement’s hashtag is #lovethemboth.

Within hours, Mr. Trump retracted his “punishment” statement, saying that only the doctor or person who performed the abortion would be held legally responsible. That is the standard anti-abortion line, but face it, punishing the woman is logical.

If abortion is murder, as abortion opponents are always claiming it is, how can society let the woman off the hook? We take murder pretty seriously in this country, especially the murder of children, which is what the anti-abortion movement deems fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses to be. True, punishing women sounds cruel and misogynist. But if ending a pregnancy is murder, how can we not treat it as such?

Abortion opponents answer this question by insisting that the woman is a victim, too — “broken and wounded,” in the words of Penny Nance, the president of Concerned Women for America. The woman is desperate, confused and alone. Someone pushed her into it — her parents, her boyfriend or husband, the “culture of death” that tells her an embryo is just a clump of cells, Planned Parenthood. Yes, somehow, the mere existence of a clinic forces her to enter its doors, even if she has to drive all day to get there, sleep in her car to fulfill a 24-, 48- or 72-hour waiting period, listen to a script full of anti-abortion propaganda and pay a month’s wages for the procedure.

If you consider how determined a woman has to be to get an abortion in much of the country these days and how much energy states expend trying to dissuade her, it’s hard to see her as a frail flower. If abortion is murder, the woman is less like a victim and more like someone who hires a hit man. In law, both parties are culpable.

Abortion opponents know full well that the public would not abide putting women in prison en masse.

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