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A Timeline of DDT and Rachel Carson

[ 16 ] April 22, 2015 |


Might as well mark Earth Day, that once meaningful day that now gives corporations an opportunity to pretend they care about the planet. Let’s note it a different way. American Scientist put together a useful timeline of the history of DDT and Rachel Carson, particularly how both have been discussed in the media. Quite worthy of a bit of your time.

Pyongyang’s Last Gamble?

[ 26 ] April 22, 2015 |

MiG-19 DPRK 1983.JPG

“MiG-19 DPRK 1983″ by 元諜報員 – 元諜報員. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

At the National Interest, I ruminate a bit about how a conflict might start on the Korean Peninsula, and how it might play out:

The general peace on the peninsula has more or less held since the 1950s. Still, while North Korea’s power has declined substantially relative to that of South Korea, the idea that Pyongyang might come to the conclusion that war could solve its problems still worries U.S. and South Korean planners.

If North Korea faced a situation in which it determined that war was the only solution, how might it seek to crush the ROK, and deter the United States and Japan?

History’s Greatest Monster in the History of History Itself May Escape Punishment For Horrible Crimes

[ 78 ] April 22, 2015 |


You may recall federal prosecutors wasting tens of millions of dollars prosecuting Barry Bonds. Bonds committed the Very Serious crime of breaking non-enforced non-rules threatening the sentimental fog of various narcissistic sportswriters, and hence was targeted in an indirect War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs prosecution. While prosecutors came up with a goose egg in their similarly asinine prosecution of History’s Other Greatest Monster Roger Clemens, they were able to secure a conviction against Barry Bonds. The conviction was on an obstruction of justice charge. What was the basis for the obstruction charge? Bonds was asked a question in court and gave a rambling non-answer to a question…that he answered directly in a follow-up question.

It’s as absurd as it sounds, and Bonds’s conviction was thrown out today by the 9th circuit. A superb use of taxpayer dollars!

I’ll give the final word to Judge Kozinski’s concurrence:

Making everyone who participates in our justice system a potential criminal defendant for conduct that is nothing more than the ordinary tug and pull of litigation risks chilling zealous advocacy. It also gives prosecutors the immense and unreviewable power to reward friends and punish enemies by prosecuting the latter and giving the former a pass. The perception that prosecutors have such a potent weapon in their arsenal, even if never used, may well dampen the fervor with which lawyers, particularly those representing criminal defendants, will discharge their duties. The amorphous nature of the statute is also at odds with the constitutional requirement that individuals have fair notice as to what conduct may be criminal.

Today in the History of Cannibalism

[ 77 ] April 22, 2015 |


Another reason I’m glad the U.S. broke free from these savages in 1776:

Some 14,700 years ago, in a cave in southwest England, humans were dining on the flesh of other humans and drinking from their skulls.

We know of these gory events because the Paleolithic inhabitants of this natural shelter—which is called Gough’s Cave today—left an enormous amount of fossil evidence of cannibalism, in addition to amassing a large cache of animal and human bones.

But wait, it gets creepier. According to a study published this week in the Journal of Human Evolution, the bulk of the disturbing remains were deposited within a short period of time, suggesting a sudden and brutal occupation.

Moreover, the authors of the study, led by paleontologist Silvia Bello of London’s Natural History Museum, identified new evidence of ritual bone modification from the cave.

“The human remains have been the subject of several studies,” Bello said in a statement. “In a previous analysis, we could determine that the cranial remains had been carefully modified to make skull-cups.”

“During this research, however, we’ve identified a far greater degree of human modification than recorded earlier,” she continued. “We’ve found evidence for defleshing, disarticulation, human chewing, crushing of spongy bone, and the cracking of bones to extract marrow.”

This of course would never happen in a civilized country like the United States.

Merry Krautmas!

[ 34 ] April 22, 2015 |

On a certain pundit’s permanent credibility problem, in the context of his accusing Obama of making Iran an economic and military hegemon:

This is a … remarkably un-self-aware … set of fulminations coming from a pundit who advocated invading Iraq as the second stage of a Grand Master Plan which would precipitate regime change in Iran by demonstrating “the fragility of dictatorship” next door. How exactly did that work out? Right. And I think we’ve already touched on Charles Krauthammer’s magisterial grasp of anti-proliferation issues – the man who confidently opined that we needed to go into Iraq, because Saddam “is working on nuclear weapons [and] … has every incentive to pass them on to terrorists who will use them against us,” should really just shut up. Forever. And not only shut up, but devote the rest of his life to doing whatever pathetically inadequate things he can to make up for the strategic and humanitarian catastrophe that he helped cheer-lead. Of course, Charles Krauthammer has no intention of shutting up. Which is why I’m marking this squalid anniversary yet again.

Dog Bites Man (But the Details are Worth Reading About)

[ 21 ] April 22, 2015 |

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that UC Berkeley conducted a survey of rates of depression and psychological well-being among its graduate students. They are high, which, the Chron says “surprised and alarmed” the experts when previous results came out. The suprise of the experts led others to wonder whether they were qualified to conduct the survey, since they had evidently never been in grad school themselves.

This current iteration finds that that 47% of Ph.D. students are depressed, and among the Ph.D. students, the highest rate of depression — 64% — was in the arts and humanities. These numbers are even more striking because they are current prevalence rates, not prevalence rates over the whole duration of their grad school tenure.

The full report reveals that career prospects was the variable second-most predictive of well-being, and the fifth-most predictive of depression. Because predictors for well-being and depression unsurprisingly overlap a great deal, in their summary they present these predictors together, with career prospects the most important variable. Other important predictors were overall health, living conditions, academic engagement, social support, financial confidence, academic progress and preparation, sleep, feeling valued and included, and adviser relationship.

A couple points. The first should be uncontroversial, and yet sometimes gets lost in the course of describing mental illess as a pathology of the individual, as I was arguing a couple of weeks ago. The onset and course of mental illness is heavily influenced by the context of the sufferer. Stressful, demanding working environments and extreme economic precarity cause depression, even if they are not sufficient, in and of themselves, to cause depression.

The second point: I’m a little rueful that the question this report needs to pose for itself, “Why do we care about well-being?”, is answered primarily in terms of the grad students’ productivity:

We care because we want to enable graduate students to do their best work andmake the most of their time here. Balanced, happy people are more productive, more creative, more collaborative, better at long-term goal pursuit, more likely to find employment, more physically and psychologically resilient, and more.

But if institutions need to think of their members as cogs in order to build structures to treat them as more than cogs, it’s better than nothing.

Journalism in the New Gilded Age

[ 47 ] April 22, 2015 |


This certainly makes one feel bad about the future of journalism.

One of today’s Pulitzer winners for local reporting isn’t actually a reporter anymore.

The Daily Breeze’s Rob Kuznia won the prize alongside Rebecca Kimitch for a series on corruption in the Torrance, California school district. Now the former reporter, who had more than 15 years’ experience covering local affairs, is celebrating the career high in his new job… as a publicist.

Apparently, as Kuznia co-reported the award-winning series, he was slowly getting squeezed out of the journalism racket.

Appended to the LA Observed’s coverage of the awards was the following bittersweet update:

We should note that Kuznia left the Breeze and journalism last year and is currently a publicist in the communications department of USC Shoah Foundation. I spoke with him this afternoon and he admitted to a twinge of regret at no longer being a journalist, but he said it was too difficult to make ends meet at the newspaper while renting in the LA area.

The effective elimination of the profession that is most likely to expose the problems of the present sure is a great way for corporations and politicians to protect their behavior. What I do isn’t exactly journalism but I can do it because I have a full-time job of a very specific kind. Those I know who are freelancing and trying to make ends meet without being the partner of someone rich is really hard to watch. Its just a constant struggle. Even the best journalists have to leave the profession in order to eat.

The Vacuous Cynicism of Florida Republicans Who Oppose the Medicaid Expansion

[ 43 ] April 22, 2015 |


Jon Cohn has a good piece on Florida Republicans painting themselves into a corner on the Medicaid expansion:

To put it another way, expanding Medicaid in Florida would likely require a net investment by state taxpayers that, over the course of a decade, would work out to less than a half-billion dollars a year. That’s without accounting for any additional growth and tax revenues that the huge infusion of federal dollars might provide. That’s also without accounting for the more than $1 billion a year in that, without expanding Medicaid, Florida would probably have to scrounge up in order to help hospitals defray the cost of charity care.

In short, if the numbers were lopsided in favor of expanding Medicaid before, they are even more lopsided now. And it’s not as if anybody is arguing seriously that those grants are a superior way of financing care for the poor. If anything, the opposite is true — and it’s one reason the editorial page of the Tampa Bay Times called Scott’s position “indefensible.” Other editorial pages, civic organizations, and business groups across the state have made similar statements.


No, the level of hostility to Obamacare makes very little sense — unless it’s about something beyond the policy particulars. It could be the fact that Democrats finally accomplished something big, for the first time in several decades, thereby expanding the welfare state at a time when conservatives thought they were on their way to shrinking it. Or it could be the idea that, on net, the Affordable Care Act transfers resources away from richer, whiter people to poorer, darker people. Or it could be the fact that “Obamacare” contains the word “Obama,” whose legitimacy as president at least some conservatives just can’t accept.

Who knows? The only thing certain is that, in Florida, turning down Medicaid has even weaker logic than it did before — except for officials obsessed with Obamacare or determined to please the people who are. Rick Scott may belong in either category and he might just belong in both.

Greg Sargent observes that one anti-Medicaid-expansion Florida rep “chanted ‘liberty’ as he walked past reporters camped in the hallway.” Poor people suffering and dying because they lack access to health care is not a “liberty” that should be valued very highly. But, as Sargent says, the rather obvious problem here is that there isn’t even any such principle involved. Scott and his allies aren’t opposed in principle to the federal government giving Florida money to cover health care for poor people. They’re opposed to the federal government giving Florida money to cover health care for poor people if it’s done via “Obamacare.” It’s pretty hard to argue that there’s some sort of major liberty interest involved when you’re literally making (idiotic) arguments that the state of Florida is constitutionality entitled to federal health care grants.

Evidently, exposing the empty, posturing mendacity of the Florida Republicans who oppose the Medicaid expansion won’t be much consolation to the poor people who will be denied health care in the short term. But eventually (particularly after Obama leaves office), more and more states are going to start taking the money.

Speaking of which, it looks like despite the barrage of money from the lavishly taxpayer-subsidized Koch brothers Montana will be taking the Medicaid expansion. Not in an ideal form, but still a major improvement on the status quo. Every state counts.

Admit it — you’re surprised I didn’t end up getting shot

[ 84 ] April 22, 2015 |

SEK wanders out of THE BAR after saying many fond farewells one of his oldest friends only to find THE COP hunched over the side of his car in what appears to be a puking position.

SEK: Are you all right?

THE COP: Fine, fine — just had a bad Sprite.

SEK: I don’t think that’s a thing.

THE COP: Must have been bad.

SEK: Are you sure you’re alright?

THE COP: (grabbing his side) Yeah sure — you can just — I can —

SEK: Bad Sprite’s not a thing. When my wife grabbed her side like that she had to have her appendix re —

THE COP: I’ll be — I’m — just you —

SEK: I’m calling 911. (calls 911) I’m with a police officer and he’s in a lot of pain —

911 DISPATCHER: Where are you located?

SEK: I’m at [location]

THE COP’S CAR: Officer [In Extremis] are you OK?

THE COP: (moans)

911 DISPATCHER: Is the officer OK?

SEK: He doesn’t seem to be. Should I tell the person in the car that?


SEK: He’s not. Don’t listen to him.

911 DISPATCHER: Keep him still — help is coming.

SEK looks at THE COP, who is now moaning on the ground in pain not borne of bad Sprite.

SEK: I’m — on it?

911 DISPATCHER: This is on you now. Keep him talking.

SEK: So tell me more about this bad Sprite…

Walmart Union Busting

[ 35 ] April 22, 2015 |

615 walmart12

Oh Walmart. You are so evil.

Wal-Mart suddenly closed five stores in four states on Monday for alleged plumbing problems.

The closures could last up to six months and affect roughly 2,200 workers in Texas, California, Oklahoma, and Florida, CNN Money reports.

Wal-Mart employees say they were completely blindsided by the news, having been notified only a couple hours before the stores closed at 7 p.m. Monday.

“Everybody just panicked and started crying,” Venanzi Luna, a manager at a store in Pico Rivera, California, told CNN Money.

All workers will receive paid leave for two months. After that, full-time workers could become eligible for severance, according to CNN Money. But part-time workers will be on their own.

Local officials and employees have questioned Wal-Mart’s reasoning for the closures.

Why were these stores closed? Because they had activist employees.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) said it planned to seek an injunction from the National Labor Relations Board on Monday compelling retailer Wal-Mart to rehire 2,200 employees at five recently closed stores.

The UFCW claims that Wal-Mart Stores closed its Pico Rivera location — one of the five stores — in the Los Angeles area in retaliation for protests by workers there in recent years seeking higher pay and benefits.

The voice of a worker at the Pico Rivera store:

“This is a new low, even for Walmart,” said Venanzi Luna, an eight-year Walmart worker and long-time OUR Walmart member. “It’s just so heartless to put thousands of your employees out of a job with no clear explanation on just a few hours’ notice. We know that Walmart is scared of all we have accomplished as members of OUR Walmart so they’re targeting us. Through OUR Walmart, we’re going to keep fighting back until the company gives us our jobs back. It’s unfortunate that Walmart has chosen to hurt the lives of so many people, just to try to conceal their real motives of silencing workers just like they’ve always done.”

Interestingly, this comes at the same time that the UFCW is pulling back its commitment for the expensive and rather unproductive Walmart campaign is has funded.

I suspect there will be more details about these Walmart closings coming out in subsequent days.

Something I’ve Been Wanting to Get off My Chest for Awhile

[ 150 ] April 22, 2015 |

Dear digital artists and photographers,

Nazi imagery is not an aesthetic; it’s symbolic of one of the ugliest chapters in human history. It is not like an edgy  version of steampunk. It’s symbolic of genocide. It is not your brush to paint with.

Anyone else haaaaaaaaate the tired and disturbingly cliched use of Nazi imagery in art? When did we decide this was ok?

The Graduate Program

[ 64 ] April 22, 2015 |


Should people in History Ph.D. programs stop taking students because of the job crisis? American Historical Association president Vicki Ruiz is making that decision:

I remain hopeful that our efforts will widen opportunities for current Ph.D.’s. However, this optimism is tempered when I reflect on the job prospects for my recent doctoral graduates. Out of four accomplished junior historians (with seven prestigious research prizes and fellowships among them), only one has secured that elusive tenure-track position. Of the others, one has retreated from view, while the rest remain freeway flyers and/or part-time administrators. Trite as it may sound, it breaks my heart to watch them struggle.

With an additional four mentees in the pipeline, I have placed a personal moratorium on Ph.D. recruitment. I respect and support colleagues who desire to guide a new generation, but my priority remains on the career paths — inside and outside the academy — of people with whom I have a longstanding mentoring relationship. My personal moratorium embodies my hope that the association’s Career Diversity project will stimulate the retooling of graduate programs to prepare our students for wider opportunities. That will take time. In the interim, some of us are likely to slow the pump of history Ph.D.’s into the overflowing adjunct pool.

I have complex feelings about this. A couple of notes. First, I am somewhat associated with the American Historical Association pilot project Ruiz mentions to get programs to rethink graduate training because I am an alum of the University of New Mexico, one of the included schools because it punches way over its weight when it comes to placing PhDs in both academic and nonacademic positions. In February, I went back to UNM to talk about some of the things I do, joining a group of fellow alumni and a few others discussing their experiences. I really don’t know if it was helpful for current Ph.D. students there, but I hope it was. I do have to say that I took verbal exception to what AHA head Jim Grossman had to say and didn’t say at this event, which was basically to a) ignore the fundamental reasons why there are no jobs (the disappearance of history lines and adjunctification) and b) to tell every history PhD to basically be a business major and learn how to read a spreadsheet and learn to budget (a worthy enough skill, but no answer to the problem). On the other hand, it is absolutely vital that we assume that PhD students will not get an academic job, whether at Harvard, New Mexico, or South Carolina. This should be the assumption of every PhD advisor and every PhD student. Sometimes the student will strike it rich and win the lottery from any of these schools! I did and I know some people from all these schools who have in recent years. But usually they won’t. To me, that’s the first step advisors must take. What are students being trained for? Can advisors or other mentors offer skills that will get students actual jobs?

But even outside of that, I think the assumption that we shouldn’t take PhD students is a bit more problematic. Not that I disagree with Ruiz per se, as she takes an obviously defensible position. But the reality is that there aren’t good jobs anywhere in this economy outside of select fields. And some of us–myself included–are very smart in some ways, but not in the ways that this capitalist economy values. So the moral question around accepting PhD students I think revolves around whether they are funded or not. I would not be comfortable accepting students that are not funded. But if they are funded, at least they aren’t going into debt, or much anyway. To me, this is the fundamental difference between the PhD and law school. If the student is just delaying their income earning potential, such as it is in this stage of American capitalism, then that’s one decision and a potentially defensible one. If they are going into debt for that PhD, that’s a horrible idea. I find that a compelling dividing line.

But then I don’t know. There aren’t good answers. And the balance between giving students the opportunity to pursue their intellectual dreams and career goals versus placing them at a disadvantage in their lives going forward is not an easy one to maintain. I figure many of you will have thoughts on this.

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