Friday, February 25, 2005

Ward Churchill

Ward Churchill may have said something incredibly stupid. He may be a blowhard. He may not even be an Indian. But nonetheless, it is of the utmost importance that academics and the rest of the progressive community defend his right of free speech protected, not under the Constitution, but under tenure. The right has taken over nearly every center of power in this country--the courts, the federal and state governments, school boards, churches, public schools, private schools, the media, etc. The university is one of the last bastions of liberal thought left. So far, academics have proven less than strident at defending this last piece of turf. A few years ago, when the research of historian Michael Bellsiles, who wrote a book challenging the Right's cherished view of the origin of the Second Amendment, came under question, the American Historical Association gave him up to the Right like a sacrificial lamb. In the same vein, they have not attacked conservative student campaigns to "expose the liberal bias" of faculty. This simply cannot continue to happen. We must fight for the right to say what we want to, when we want to, in the university setting. It's pretty much the only arena left in American life where we can effect change. To allow a cloud of McCarthyism to descend upon the university would be disastrous.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


I'm leaving for Mexico tomorrow for 10 days. Going to the Gulf of California, Copper Canyon, and Ciudad Chihuahua, which has the Museum of the Mexican Revolution including the car Villa was killed in. I imagine blogging will be limited if not nonexistent during this trip, though I may try to check my e-mail a time or two and I'll try to throw something together real quick.

Viva Nuevo Mexico (VI)

A story courtesy of my friend and sometime commenter to this blog, Elmer Alcon. In Ojo Caliente recently (about an hour north of Santa Fe), a 28 year old man who worked for the school district (perhaps a bus driver) and a 16 year old girl were found out having a relationship. While in most communities this is seen as statutory rape and just a disturbing act, not so in Ojo Caliente. The relationship, publicly known throughout the community, split the town as a large percentage of the residents found it perfectly appropriate for a 16 year old girl to have consensual relations with a 28 year old man.

Viva Nuevo Mexico (V)

A few weeks ago a strange creature was found on Albuquerque's West Mesa. It was truly strange and no one was sure at first what it was. I believe it turned out to be some sort of sea creature that someone had brought back to New Mexico. Anyway, it was taken to the New Mexico Wildlife Department offices in Albuquerque. A TV crew was called in and people who wandered into the office for various reasons were interviewed about it.

The common prediction as to what it was: Chupacabra. When the reporter asked if Chupacabras were real, one response was, "Yeah. I've seen it eat my chickens and goats."

Britain and Ohio

Perhaps you remember the British campaign before the election to influence Ohio voters. The Guardian, one of Britain's leading newspapers spearheaded a campaign to have British citizens send letters to Ohio voters to convince them to vote for Kerry. At the time, the media reported on this campaign quite negatively. The spin was that Americans don't like other countries interfering in our business and that this would probably effect the Democrats negatively. I guess I maybe believed that too. As it turns out though, Clark County, Ohio, where the British targeted voters, was the only county in Ohio that voted for Bush in 2000 to vote for Kerry in 2004. This according to the February issue of Harper's.

So I guess it worked. The lesson for me isn't so much that in 2008 citizens of the world should flood the US with letters convincing us to vote Democrat, not that I would oppose that. Rather, it's to be doubly aware of falling for right-wing claptrap through the media. We are bombarded with that so often, even the most vigilant can fall for it every now and then.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

New England Patriots and Israel

A quote from Patriots owner Robert Kraft:

"You get three out of four Super Bowls by subjugating the ego for the good of the whole. In Israel, this is in the fabric of the country, to create a democracy that thrives against the odds."

So if the Patriots are Israel, does that make the Colts Palestinians?

And to take this metaphor farther than good taste recommends, does that then make the Broncos suicide bomb victims?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Summers' Supporters

By now, I'm sure all of my readers have heard about the idiotic comments made by Harvard president and former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers about the possibility that it is genetics that keep women from succeeding in science. Absolutely stupid. Lots of bloggers have commented at length on this. What is amazing me is how many people have defended the plausibility of Summers' comments. Lots of people evidentially believe that genetics play a big role in the success of people at various tasks in life.

Would these people be defending Summers if he said blacks may not have the genetic makeup to succeed at math and science. Because there's not a lot of blacks in science in this country. I ask this both to point out the obvious lack of mental integrity of Summers and his supporters as well as to say that these kinds of comments are on par with eugenics and scientific racism. Amazing that these observations are always made by white males who do succeed in their chosen professions. It must be because of our superior genetic makeup/racial background/catch phrase of the era.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

We progressives talk all the time about the problems of the world. As I've pointed out before, we don't spend enough time talking about how to solve them. The old socialist paradigm isn't really functional anymore. The fall of the Soviet Union, flawed as it so obviously was, at least gave us some kind of alternative to capitalism. That's gone and dead now and probably that's a good thing. But we need something else. And we need to start thinking about it now.

Here's a good example. Read this New York Times article on the struggles Latin American nations are having. In the 80s and 90s, many of these countries embraced privatization as the future. But privatization did not fit societies that were struggling with poverty and who believed that things like water should be human rights and not something to make a profit on. So over the last few years, many of these nations, particularly Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina, but also Bolivia, Uruguay, and to a lesser extent Chile have rejected privatization. But now that they've done it, they are really struggling economically. Investment has fallen at a rapid rate and economic problems rack the region.

They've rejected privatization but there's no real alternative for them to turn to. We as progressives around the world, need to start thinking beyond Marxism-Leninism and way beyond postmodernism about what these nations are supposed to do. What is the alternative to global capitalism? What is Bolivia supposed to do? What role should governments play in economic systems? Should the left-leaning South American nations form a European style federation to pool their limited economic resources?

I don't know what the answers are. But this my friends is where the rubber meets the road. We can bitch about how bad capitalism, Bush, the war, globalization, etc. is all we want to. But we need to come up with legitimate alternatives if we really want to change the world. And now's the time to start.

Viva Nuevo Mexico (IV)

New Mexico has a problem with car insurance. The problem is that like 1/3 of the drivers don't own any. How do they get away with this? Being New Mexico, we don't have a tracking system with a computer that would allow a cop to check this. So what people do is go to shady dealers to get a new temporary plate every month or so. It's easy to do because this is just a piece of paper that anyone could copy who has a decent scanner and it's cheaper than actually buying car insurance. What this ends up meaning is that the state has some of the nation's highest car insurance rates because so many drivers don't have it. You can always tell who they are because how many 1977 El Caminos really need temp tags?

So I'm thinking it was an insurance evader I saw today when the car in front of me in Santa Fe was about 20 years old and had temporary tags that expired on February 29, 2005.

Stick It, Froggie

In what passes for an intelligent op-ed piece in the New York Times these days, journalist Jessica Seigel tells Frenchie where to stick it. Rebuking the book French Women Don't Get Fat, she points out that this may be true, but they do smoke!!! You bastards!!! First you fall on your knees in front on the Nazis and now you dare say that we Americans shouldn't eat a pound of Cheetos a day. How dare you!!!

I'd like some freedom fries with my double quarter-pounder please.

Michael Fucking McDonald

I have no idea why Michael McDonald has made such a big comeback. What the fuck is the interest in this guy? I don't really care I guess, or at least I didn't until I turned the TV to Austin City Limits last night and he was on there. Yes, that's right Austin City Limits had the cheeseball singer from the fucking Doobie Brothers on. That's how far that show has fallen. Michael Fucking McDonald. I didn't keep it on long enough to see if we would be so fucking privileged to hear China Grove.

Could ACL fall any farther? I think I've said before on this blog that I'm saddened a bit that it's chosen to play a lot of rock acts at the expense of the Texas musicians that they did so much to promote from the 70s through the 90s. But at least The Shins and The Flaming Lips are acts with integrity. I don't mind seeing them on the show. But Michael fucking McDonald? Why the fuck would you schedule this guy for Austin City Limits? It's an insult to Townes Van Zandt, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Taylor, Guy Clark, Fats Domino, Tom Waits, Alejandro Escovedo, Richard Thompson, Del McCoury, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Joe Ely, Roger Miller, Marty Robbins, Larry Sparks, Flaco Jimenez, Willie Nelson, Leonard Cohen, Steve Forbert, Emmylou Harris, Kevin Welch, Danny Gatton, Texas Tornadoes, Kelly Willis, Carl Perkins, Waylon Jennings, Buck Owens, Rodney Crowell, Loudon Wainwright III, The Whites, Steve Earle, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Stephen Fromholz, Neil Young, Tammy Wynette, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eliza Gilkyson, Roy Orbison, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, David Olney, Bill Monroe, Charley Pride, Gatemouth Brown, Jerry Jeff Walker, Elizabeth Cotten, Lightning Hopkins, Doc Watson, John Hartford, Earl Scruggs, Willis Alan Ramsey, Dave Alvin, Gillian Welch, Ralph Stanley, Ernest Tubb, Lyle Lovett, Hank Thompson, Los Lobos, Butch Hancock, and the hundreds of other artists who have graced that stage.

If there's any justice in this world, Austin City Limits will personally apologize to these artists for placing Michael fucking McDonald where they once stood. And if the artists have passed on, they'll apologize to their next of kin.

Saturday, February 19, 2005


In less than a week I am going to Mexico for about 9 days. It's not easy to remain a vegetarian when traveling outside of the US. People don't understand why you don't eat meat and options are limited. It's rude to turn down meat when a poor family offers it to you since it's a honor to eat it. In any case, options are limited. So I've been preparing myself to eat meat, something which happens very rarely.

Last night my wife and I were shopping and we were hungry and didn't want to cook so we stopped at the Denny's on the way home. I chose this because I can get a veggie burger there that's not too bad. My wife likes breakfast food so it's all good. But she makes the mistake of trying to order a meat-filled dish without the meat. The waiter spoke less than perfect English and so didn't really understand what she was trying to say, which in New Mexico is always an issue when dealing with any aspect of service industries. So what ends up happening is that the ham in the dish is replaced with bacon and sausage.

Knowing that we will certainly have to eat meat to some extent in Mexico--and on the Sea of Cortez I can't justify not eating a fish taco or two--we decide to eat a bit of it that was in the dish. I tried a piece of sausage, which I found fairly disgusting. I then tried a bit of bacon.

I don't get it. I know a lot of people who find bacon a sublime food. I didn't remember thinking all that much of it when I ate meat. I thought that might have been because good food was unknown in my household growing up and so I hadn't been exposed to good bacon. Now I'm not saying that Denny's bacon is great, but I can't imagine that the greatest bacon would be that good. I just don't get it. It's this crunchy thing that kind of falls apart in your mouth and leaves something of an aftertaste.

So what's the deal with bacon? Can anyone explain to me why people like it so much? Because I am at a complete loss.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Korea and Reunification

I follow stories about Korea fairly closely, mostly because I lived there for a year in the 1990s. Of course Korea's been in the news a lot lately because of North Korea admitting they have a nuclear program. I won't discuss that right now. But what I will talk about is the issue of South Korea and reunification. Over the last few months, the Asia Times has published several stories about this issue. If you don't read Asia Times, I suggest it highly. They often have very interesting stories that are not always related to Asia.

South Korea has some interesting issues to work out concerning the eventuality of reunification with the North. For one thing, they have some constraints that they don't always like. For instance, Korean culture considers all people with the same last name related. As there are literally millions of people with the last name of "Kim", you have very large families on both sides of the border. Even without the last name issues, like any civil war the Korean War split many families apart. Second, the Korean constitution guarantees citizenship to any North Korean who gets to the South because the South claims they are the rulers of all Korea. For a long time this wasn't much a problem because so few North Koreans got to the South. But as the North sinks deeper and deeper into desperation, more North Koreans are trying to get to the South, via China.

The problem stems from the fact that the South Koreans don't actually want North Koreans in their country. These are not people who are real big on social welfare and they have to do a lot to help North Koreans adjust to the South, a task that is extremely difficult. Recently, they cut the subsidies to defectors but considering what North Koreans are used to, poverty in the South is probably still going to look pretty good to them. South Koreans considered their northern brethren second class citizens and do not treat them well when they meet. Honestly, I am having some trouble wrapping my head around this one. I'm not sure if this status is based on poverty or perhaps the fact that they think the northerners should be working to overthrow that government. I suspect that North Koreans remind South Koreans of the poverty that they so recently (20 years at the most for most people) escaped. They don't want to be reminded of their peasant past. So they resent the North for this. Strictly a theory, but one that may have some truth in it.

When I was there, the big concern South Koreans had about reunification was the effect it would have on their economy. They watched what happened to the German economy after the West and East reunified and they did not want that to happen to them. This is probably pretty smart because they were quite aware that their economy could not match Germany and thus in becoming responsible for an indigent North, the whole peninsula could collapse. But it also seems awfully coldhearted.

Meanwhile the one silver lining to the 52 years since the war continues--that of the DMZ being a nature preserve that is protecting the last habitat on the peninsula for several species, including some large cranes. Both Koreas are among the worst nations in the world in environmental policy. Once the DMZ goes, who knows what will happen to these species. There are South Korean developers who want to turn it into a series of golf courses, presumably once all the mines are cleaned out. Or maybe not since it would certainly make for some interesting playing. South Koreans love hiking and nature, even as they destroy it (once of the paradoxes of Buddhist nations I have found) so there might be significant sentiment for turning a lot of it into national parks. What I fear though is that whenever the North collapses, thousands upon thousands of starving and desperate North Korean refugees will flood the DMZ in search of food and shelter and wipe out the remaining animals.

God Bless California

You have to love California. Here's a story from Mendocino County about an effort to get the county's marijuana users certified organic. May favorite quote from the story:

``We regulate wine grape growers and pear growers and everybody else, so why shouldn't we also regulate pot growers?'' said Tony Linegar, assistant agricultural commissioner for Mendocino County. ``It's really an agricultural crop. In our estimate, it should be subject to a lot of the same laws and regulations as commercial agriculture.''

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Left and Historical Knowledge

One of my frustrations for a very long time is the lack of historical knowledge on the left. Those who have gone on for advanced degrees have avoided this problem generally, but for the most part the majority of progressives I have known have a scary lack of historical knowledge. The reason this is scary is that we try so often to couch our arguments in historical terms, even if they are as vague as "blacks have always been oppressed in this country" or "I don't want to go back to the days of coathanger abortions." At best, many progressives have only read Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States. That's a fine book in it's own way. Just one problem--it's not very good history at this point. It's extremely dated for one thing. Even though it's updated, almost all of the scholarship Zinn based his history on is well over 30 years old and the updates are really just discussions of his thoughts on recent administrations and major events. In addition, it's a very simplistic book that offers simplistic explanations for the inequalities of the American past.

What is particularly frustrating is the argument you always hear from people who have read the book who say, "This is history they don't teach in school." That is just patently untrue. Maybe into the 1970s you didn't hear a lot about gender, race, and class in the classroom but that's just not true today. If I had to guess, I would say that 80% of professors under the age of 50 are teaching history from a left of center perspective with a great deal of emphasis on traditionally oppressed peoples, power structures in America, etc. And probably 60% of professors over the age of 50 are doing the same thing. A lot of high school teachers are too.

So yes, this history is being taught. Problem is, most people are probably too hung over from going out the night before or too busy textmessaging in class to pay attention.

The reason I am so concerned about this lack of knowledge is that we need to use history to bolster our arguments. The right uses a form of history for their arguments that has little or no basis in scholarship and a lot of basis in falsehood and mythology invented for their points. But it seems effective. We need to know more about environmental destruction, the ways capitalism works, what the framers of the Constitution wanted to do and how and why the Constitution has changed over time, and the ways that women and racial minorities have been oppressed in America and how they have fought back in order for us to fight back today against forces that aim to oppress us.

Zinn's a fine start I guess for people on the left interested in American history but it's only a start and people need to follow up with a lot of additional readings. To some extent this is me as a historian talking, but I think it's also an important point outside of that. Progressives simply must get a better grasp on history in order to bolster their points. In this spirit, let me suggest 12 books that I find particularly excellent and that I would suggest for anyone looking to expand their historical knowledge of America.

1. Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America. I think we all know that America has screwed over Latin America. People might read some kind of biography of Che to get their knowledge about this. No doubt there is knowledge to be gained there. But if you want to know the shit, this is where you find it.

2. Gordon Wood, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. Something of a classic work in American history. Did you ever wonder why slavery started? This book gives a provocative opinion as to that process and it doesn't have a whole lot to do with racism. Read it to find out why not. You may also find it interesting to know about forced labor of whites in early America.

3. George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. I can't say enough for how cool this book is. Among the things you'll find out is how the meanings of gay sex and being homosexual have changed over time and a little about what it was like to be gay 100 years ago.

4. Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West. Worster thinks hard about water use in the arid West and places it in a global perspective. People have tried to disagree with his analysis, but it's damned hard to come up with a convincing counterargument. A key book for understanding America's overuse of resources and destruction of ecosystems in order to have cheap lettuce in February.

5. Jefferson Cowie, Capital Moves: RCA's Seventy-Year Quest for Cheap Labor. If you think the phenomenon of companies moving around the world and screwing people over for joining unions is a new thing, guess again. A devastating critique of one powerful company's frequent moves to cut labor costs. Very important for understanding the background of globalization.

6. Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. What relevant thing can you learn from a book about a time so long ago? A hell of a lot. See how not all whites treated Native Americans the way the United States did. See how Indians worked not only in wartime, but in peace, to further their interests and how they did so successfully for over 100 years. A long book but a wonderful one.

7. Sara Evans, Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left. Really borderline history as it came out in 1980 and was talking about the 60s and 70s. Nonetheless, it shows both how men in the social movements of the 60s were shockingly sexist but also how women constructed the feminist movement in the face of direct hostility from male activists.

8. Rickie Solinger, Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race before Roe v. Wade. A really interesting book about how single pregnant women received very different treatment depending on their race. It also shows how this society has valued certain bodies more than others and how those values affect social policy.

9. Thomas Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. An amazing work of history. A depressing story too as Sugrue explores how cities fell apart after WWII because of the racism of white residents of these cities and government indifference to racial harmony and keeping cities alive.

10. William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. This is perhaps the best book of environmental history written as of this date. Cronon explores how the burgeoning capitalist system of America transformed how Americans viewed the products they consumed and how in order to keep up with these rates of consumption, radical intensive uses of the environment became necessary. This is only a very brief and perfunctory description of a complex and wonderful book that is a necessary read for understanding the history of capitalism and our historical use of the environment. Absolutely my favorite American history book.

11. William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and Rise of a New American Culture. A very provocative look at the rise of consumer capitalism in post-Civil War America as well as how advertising began to play an important role in American culture. Some criticize Leach for not giving people enough agency in resisting the bells and whistles of capitalist culture but it's hard for me to accept this as, well, how many people are truly immune to advertising?

12. Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War. Many in the Republican party today claim that they are the true civil rights party because they freed the slaves. If you plan on countering this argument, an understanding of the ideology behind the early Republican party is a must and this is where you are going to get it.

This is only a short list. I notice I have almost nothing on slavery or civil rights and very little on pre-Civil War America. I may from time to time suggest a few books to fill this list out. In any case, reading a few of these books will take your mind to a level beyond a reading of Zinn will. It will also prepare you to argue against Republican ideas in a much more convincing and effective fashion.

I should finish my saying that I certainly have nothing against Howard Zinn. He is a good historian and has done more for the human race than most people ever will. He was a hero of the Civil Rights movement and People's History has taught a lot of people a lot of things that they didn't know before about America. The book is just very dated is all and I think we need to move on to newer books to teach us about American history. Incidentally, I had an interaction with Zinn once and he was very kind. I sent him an e-mail out of the blue inviting him to a labor conference I was helping to organize. He couldn't come but he sent a very nice e-mail back to me suggesting some other people to invite to speak, some of which did come. To say I was happy that he would even respond to me is a huge understatement.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Post Civil War America

Not infrequently, whether on blogs or in other arenas where people discuss political history, the immediate post-Civil War period comes up. People are interested in the period right after the war, say late 1865 and 1866, before Reconstruction policy had fully formed. People often wonder whether other alternatives to the disaster of Reconstruction were possible. See for example the recent post on Lawyers Guns Money about the possible hanging of Confederate leaders like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. I think it might be useful to think about what the possibilities for post-Civil War America looked like given the political and social climate of the time.

My feelings are that it is highly unlikely that a profoundly different result would have occurred even if Andrew Johnson was not president and an aggressive Reconstruction policy had been immediately implemented in the South. Let's exam what I believe to be a best case scenario. Let's say that Lincoln doesn't name Johnson VP in 1864. But remember, Lincoln almost lost that election. Nearly 1/2 of the North voted for Democrat George McClellan and his policy of a peaceful settlement with the South that would let them go on their way. He named Johnson because he wanted to project an image of national unity and reconciliation. So even if he doesn't name Johnson, he still would have named at the best a fairly conservative Republican, probably from a border state like Kentucky or Maryland. It is unlikely I suppose that such VP X when he becomes President X, would have been as obstructionist to the Congress as Johnson was or have allowed the Confederate states back in so easily that Georgia could send Confederate VP Alexander Stephens to the Senate immediately after the war. Evidence suggests that the South was willing to capitulate to northern demands immediately after the war. So perhaps the Black Codes would never have been implemented, nor the KKK formed. Maybe the freed slaves really do get their 40 acres and a mule. Maybe large numbers are even moved to the Great Plains, perhaps west Texas, Kansas, or even the Indian Territory, what later became Oklahoma.

But remember that there was tremendous hostility to blacks in the North. There were states that had laws before the Civil War that barred free blacks from living there. There was tremendous and often violent hostility among the white working class to black competition for jobs. Even the Republican Party, which worked so hard to free the slaves, did so more out of a free labor ideology than compassion for the plight of blacks in America. These were the same people who soon after the war subscribed to ideas of Social Darwinism and opposition to any government intervention to help immigrant labor in northern factories. With the exception of some of the radicals, Republicans opposed slavery because they believed that labor should be freely contracted with employers as opposed to coerced. Thus once the slaves were free, they were on their own and the government had only a minimal duty to assist them. In addition, Abraham Lincoln had to repeatedly stress that he did not believe in social integration and mixing, something that I do not believe was lip service. The vast majority of northerners wanted nothing to do with blacks, even as they fought for the freedom of slaves.

So by the 1880s and 1890s, I don't think that conditions for African-Americans in this country would have turned out all that differently if Johnson had not become president. It's still unlikely that the South would not have started implementing Jim Crow legislation. There's no evidence suggesting that a different course in the first years of Reconstruction would have changed the opinion of the white working class toward blacks. Early trade unions had strict racial segregation and this remained until after World War II. Even if the KKK had not started, plenty of anti-black violence still would have occurred. The KKK was torn apart by arrests of its leaders by 1871 and that certainly didn't stop lynchings. There's not much reason to feel that stronger implementation of Reconstruction immediately after the war would have made much difference here either.

One might disagree with this assessment and it is quite negative. But given the political and social realities of the time, I just have trouble believing that the historical struggles of African-Americans would have turned out any different with a more vigorous implementation of Reconstruction after the war.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Tourism, Culture, and Environment

I'm always very interested to see what people have to say about tourism. Yesterday I heard two stories on the BBC about tourism (Thank you, Sirius). The first was about a guy who visited as many of the world's major sites and cultures as he could in 5 months. He discussed the major threats to cultural sites and indigenous peoples, including how tourism changes people by giving them access to western culture and thereby threatening traditional values. The interviewer asked whether he was engaging in cultural imperialism through saying that these cultures shouldn't change (would you ever see an American ask this question). He readily answered yes. I think this exchange brings up some important points. First of all, it most definitely is cultural imperialism to romanticize and fetishize traditional cultures and deny them the right to change when they discover western technologies and values. Many westerners seem to believe that people develop a culture in a certain way because they like it that way. They like shooting game with poison darts instead of guns. They like making clay pots instead of buying prefabricated pots. They would rather wear traditional clothes that are difficult to make than wear western clothes.

There is no evidence to support any of these points. Of course many indigenous peoples have fought against incursions onto their land. But that's often what these fights are about--land. Culture plays a secondary role. Indigenous peoples might resent alcohol or disease that are introduced, but to the best of my knowledge there has never been a complete rejection by a people of western culture, though Tecumseh based much of his program around trying to do this. People like guns, horses, Disneyland, etc. And they have every right to like it.

Is it sad that traditional cultures change? Well, maybe. The loss of languages is extremely unfortunate as is the loss of traditional customs. I've seen this first hand in Indonesia and it's kind of a bummer and very weird to witness first hand. But if women gain more rights within societies, is it a bad thing? Would we deny women the right to control their own bodies in order to keep a romanticized view of culture intact? Perhaps many would, but I would not.

Much of the literature on tourism and culture change talks about a homogenizing world culture based on western, and particularly, American values. But it's not that simple. People will integrate the western cultural artifacts that they choose to adopt into their own cultures. Alcohol was quickly adapted in Native American ceremonies for example. Just because the world sees Mickey Mouse and Michael Jordan doesn't mean that they will interpret them in the same way that we in America do. Just because they see highlights of Jordan or Shaq doesn't mean that they will reject their culture. Perhaps basketball will become integrated into their traditional culture. Native Americans today live in a mix of traditional and western culture and there's little reason to believe that this will happen differently in other places.

I think the most important point here is that we shouldn't see cultural change as a bad thing. People choose to change and there is no way we can deny them that right. If, as has happened with an indigenous group in southern Mexico, people want to integrate Pepsi into their religious rituals, so be it so long as it is their choice. To deny them that choice is a form of imperialism on par with those actively advertising Coke and Disney in Guatemala.

One of the other threats to our cultural relics and indigenous peoples is environmental change and this often is exacerbated by tourism. There's no question this is true. How many beaches in Thailand or Mexico have been completely overrun by developments that serve to destroy what their guests came to love? All too many. The second story on the BBC was how the rampant building of golf courses in the Algarve of southern Portugal use an insane amount of water that is now not available to farmers who desperately need it as the area is suffering through a severe drought. Portuguese officials see tourism as the key to economic growth in the southern part of their country and their probably right. This brings up many difficult questions including if what farmers are growing in the Algarve is a unique product that could not be produced cheaper elsewhere, issues of local farming and local food products versus global food production, and whether a government should subsidize farming in a place where the resources are not there to sustain them through droughts. There is no easy answer to any of these questions. Tourism is used as a double-edged sword when it comes to the environment. While tourism is blamed for causing many environmental problems as in the example above, it is also blamed for keeping people from using the land through environmental protections that local people don't want.

How many national parks are established in developing nations to cater to ecotourism and then local people go in and invade them because they want the land? Hundreds. These are nations with serious problems, including too many people living off the land, government and global policies that help ensure poverty, poor agricultural practices, etc. While I often support the rights of local people over their governments and the forces that oppress them, in the case of tropical forests, there are greater global concerns. We need these trees to process the immense amount of carbon dioxide we have put into the atmosphere. With such weak and indifferent governments, ecotourism may be the only way to save a small percentage of this rain forest. One example that I know fairly well is Pico Bonito National Park on the Atlantic Coast of Honduras. People have made incursions in many parts of the park as they desperately search for land. But enough ecotourism is happening there that a great deal of the park will not be deforested anytime in the near future. This park is becoming the last refuge in the area for many animals, including the wild parrots and toucans that we saw. Take away the ecotourism and you take away the only incentive for the boundaries of these parks to be respected and for these forests to be saved.

Oh The Irony

I suppose I should't find joy in Alan Keyes' daughter publicly announcing that she's a lesbian, but I do anyway. I wonder if Alan accused her of being a selfish hedonist.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Dean, Hillary, JFK, and the Democratic Party

Now that Howard Dean is the head of the DNC, I'd like to express my frustration. Not because I hate Dean. Nor because I am convinced that he will be a poor chair. Rather, I am deeply frustrated that Democrats picked the ultimate Republican straw man to be their head. This would be OK except for one small thing.


It would be one thing if this was Paul Wellstone and the left was somehow taking back the party. But Dean is to the right of Kerry on many issues and so many progressive Democrats were grumbling that they were voting Nader in 2008 because Kerry wasn't progressive enough and we lost anyway. So why should we give the Republicans a golden opportunity for a politician well to the right of me and many progressive Democrats who I count as friends? It makes absolutely no sense.

Related to this is the movement for Hillary for president in 2008. This is the same thing as with Dean. Hillary is not particularly progressive, especially after the demise of the health care plan in 1993. But she is hated by Republicans and distrusted by many moderate voters. So why would we give the Republicans such a golden opportunity? Why would we hand them their ultimate candidate to run against?

A better question for me is why would someone support Hillary Clinton for president?

I think one trend among many Democrats for a long time is to overlook actual policy and be taken by someone's image. Neither Dean nor Hillary are very progressive, yet they are beloved by many who are far more progressive than they. The best analogy I can see for this is Baby Boomers' fascination with John F. Kennedy and the whole Kennedy family. Kennedy, along with Reagan, are the most overrated presidents of the 20th century. What did JFK actually do? Yet he is still beloved by many Democrats even today. On the other hand, Lyndon Johnson, who was never much liked or trusted in his time and is not generally remembered fondly today, did much more for the liberal cause than JFK ever considered. Facts such as the Kennedy's chummy relationship with Joe McCarthy and Johnson's pushing through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are often ignored by the general Democrat when thinking about these presidents. They love Kennedy and LBJ got us into Vietnam so he was bad. Never mind that JFK had the same policy toward Vietnam as Johnson.

Thus so many Democrats continue to be blinded by image over policy. Dean is a symbol of opposition to the war and attacking Bush so he is idolized despite his moderate to right policies on many issues including the environment. Hillary is a strong woman so she is idolized, despite her questionable financial dealings and rightward-trending politics. We are so blinded that we just gave the Republicans their ultimate DNC chair and may give them their ultimate Democratic candidate for president. Sad state the Democratic party is in today.

GITMO torture

This story of an Australian citizen held and tortured for over three years at Guantanamo and other prisons of American allies is not surprising at this point but is extremely disturbing. What's more disturbing is the lack of outrage over torture, culminating in Senate confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. When did our country became so hardened and cruel? Or has it always been this way?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Cicero of Oklahoma

Here's a lovely quote I've run across by the Cicero of Oklahoma, Senator Tom Coburn:

"And I thought I would just share with you what science says today about slicone breast implants. If you have them, you're healthier than if you don't. That is what the ultimate science shows...In fact, there's no science that shows that silicone breast implants are detrimental and, in fact, they make you healthier." — Senator Tom Coburn, R-OK

Now that's what I call a U.S. Senator!!!

Old-Timey Baseball

In the spirit of recent baseball debates about the scientific method of people like Billy Beane and Bill James versus the old-time scouts, I thought I'd share an article that I just came across in the Bandon (OR) Recorder from April 14, 1904 lamenting the passing of old-time baseball. Like 80% of newspapers 100 years ago, this was reprinted from another paper, in this case the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune.

The article begins, "Time will not turn back in its flight, but the mind can travel back to the days before baseball was so well known and before it had become so scientific." Among the ways which the game had become too scientific: baseballs were standardized instead of the old days when you wound a pair of socks around a hard center like a bullet; there were now 4 bases instead of 6 or 7, depending on whatever the players in the game wanted; and when you wanted to throw someone out you literally threw the ball at them and if you hit them they were out.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Social Security

Check out this new CNN/McPaper/Gallup poll that shows that over 2/3 of adults think the wealthy should pay more to protect social security. Hello!!! It's absurd that payroll taxes for social security are capped at $90,000. Why shouldn't Bill Gates and Paul Allen pay 1000 times what I do for social security. If you took the cap off of payroll taxes, or even if you capped it at say $500,000, what would the numbers look like for how long social security will remain solvent?

If there is a problem with social security, which there's not, this is the obvious solution.

If the Bush administration is composed of smart politicans as opposed to the ideologues that I think they are, they will drop the social security right now. Just let it die. I don't think they will though since they are driven by the desire to peel American history back to 1890.

Geography of Death

As you may remember, in December I posted on the unusual number of dead soldiers in Iraq from Kirkland, WA. There's nothing new on that front, but I thought it would be interesting to post the cities who lead in war dead. I'm not sure what can be gleaned from this, but it's interesting enough I think.

Here's the list from December 8 when I did this for the first time.

1. New York City, 15
2. Los Angeles, 14
3. Houston, 13
4. San Antonio and Portland, 7
6. El Paso, Buffalo, and Phoenix, 6
9. Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Tampa, San Diego, and Tucson, 5

Here's the list as of today.

1. New York City, 20
2. Houston, 15
3. Los Angeles, 14
4. Phoenix and San Antonio, 8
6. San Diego, Buffalo, Portland, and Fort Worth, 7
10. Tucson and El Paso, 6

Nothing huge there I guess. Probably the most remarkable number is that 13 soldiers have died from Louisiana since December 1. Lousiana now has 32 dead. This is over twice as many as Minnesota or Connecticut and approximately as many as Indiana, New Jersey, or North Carolina, all significantly larger states. Perhaps we are starting to see poorer states starting to take more casualties. Or maybe it's just really unlucky to be from Louisiana.

More Quarters

I almost feel like apologizing after subjecting people to the bad state jokes from yesterday. The real point of wanting to parody the quarters is to make fun of how states (and people of course) misrepresent themselves to the world. In addition, bringing up those tricky bits of history that makes all the state boosters feel uncomfortable is a good thing too. So rather than keep turning out 5 a day, here's a few of the better ideas I have for these quarters if states wanted to give a truer representation of themselves and their people to the world.

Idaho--a picture of Randy Weaver
Oregon or Washington--a spotted owl nailed to a tree by a logger
New Mexico--a scene of random, meaningless, and violent crime
North Dakota--a blank quarter to represent the topography of the state
Alabama--a picture of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham blowing up
Mississippi--Parchman Farm
South Carolina--a lynching
Tennessee--a picture of three generations, with the grandfather being a monkey
Montana--Unabomber shack
Colorado--a Sand Creek Massacre scene with Chivington impaling a child or something like that
Ohio--the Cuyahoga River on fire
Minnesota--someone with their head in their hands and the line, "Our favorite pastime is depression"
Oklahoma--some white guys forcing Indians to sign away their oil rights
Louisiana--Huey Long taking a bribe
Maryland--a proud looking picture of Spiro Agnew

You get the point. This is what I call representation of a state.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Quarter Redesigns--1999

I have been amused for over 5 years now at the quarter redesigns. I like the idea and have liked many of the quarters. But it's funny to see how states try to present themselves to the nation. I thought I might try some alternative designs. I guess Conan O'Brien has been doing this for a long time. But I'd like to think that mine are funnier. Or at least one or two of them will be.

Here's the 1999 states:

A question mark with the line, "We don't know why we exist either."

A picture of James Buchanan with the line, "America's Worst President"

New Jersey
A picture of an urban wasteland with the line "America's sewer for over 100 years"

A screaming Zell Miller with the words "Wisdom Justice Moderation"
The words are from an actual finalist for the Georgia quarter. Zell wasn't on there though.

A suburban home, a tough urban street, and a farm all mixed up.
The line: "We've lost our identity. Could you help us?"

OK, these weren't that funny. I haven't lived in the northeast so it's hard. Could you come up with Pennsylvania or Connecticut jokes? But bear with me. The quarters for the West and South will be both more funny and more brutal. I hope. I do like the Georgia one though.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Bush's Agricultural Policy

You may be wondering why Bush is coming out against agricultural subsidies, thus alienating some of his core constituencies, especially in the cotton and soybean states of the South. What is the political capital he would gain out of this?

I think the answer is that this is a presidency rather unconcerned with traditional notions of politics. Like everything else over the last 4+ years, this attack against subsidies comes out of ideology. In the first term, Bush put into motion the first two parts of the radical Republican agenda: eviscerating the tax code and a neoconservative foreign policy. Now that they have been reelected, it's time to focus on the third and most difficult task: turning domestic policy back to the Gilded Age. The Social Security "reform" is part of this. Although there is no crisis in Social Security, one has been invented because the ultimate goal of this administration is to get government out of our economic lives, regardless of the consequences. Social Security was part of the New Deal safety net. Agricultural subsidies were too. In order to raise prices during the Great Depression, one of the first acts of the Roosevelt administration was to create the Agricultural Adjustment Agency (AAA). This established such policies as paying for farmers to plow under their fields which turned into more direct forms of subsidies.

For this ideologically driven administration, AAA was a bad thing and its remnants must be eliminated. This is the core of Bush attacking agricultural subsidies. If Bush is successful with blowing up Social Security and to a lesser extent with this new agricultural policies, you can expect further repeals of New Deal and even Progressive legislation. Among the possible ideas brewing in the right-wing "think"tanks are privatizing National Park sites and eliminating the minimum wage.

I can already see the Worker Freedom Act in Congress that will allow workers to "negotiate" their wage with their employer without government interference.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Viva Nuevo Mexico (III)

I haven't had any good New Mexico stories for awhile but recently we were talking to a friend of ours who is getting married and is looking for a cool place to do it. She decided to check out the Santa Fe Opera just north of town. The price to be married there--a mere $10,000 "donation." Oh is that all. You wouldn't like a right arm as well. Of course, what this means is that not only are all but the rich excluded from being married there but essentially all but the white are too. Of course the liberal opera people would be horrified to be accused of even unintentional racism. But what is Santa Fe if not a historical Disneyland fantasy for rich white people. This in the same town that spends less per capita on public school students and has a higher teacher/student ration than Charleston, WV.

Meanwhile in Albuquerque today I saw a guy pull out his prosthetic leg when the donation he was begging for wasn't enough.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Food Thoughts

A couple of food thoughts/rants:

1. It was great to see Ming Tsai beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America in Battle Duck. If my memory serves me correctly, duck is very tasty.

2. What the hell is deal with the people who watch Emeril? If he puts a damn clove of garlic in a dish, they cheer like he just scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl. And if he uses some chiles, holy shit there might be a riot going on. Are there really people in the world still afraid of a clove of garlic? Is using a lot of black pepper really a sign of bravery? I think Emeril's audience are the people I was referring to last month in my discussion of food hating in America. I think there are millions of people in America who are just beginning to realize that food can be tasty and are amazed but somewhat delighted that a chef like Emeril would dare to use such exotic and edgy ingredients like garlic and jalapenos. Emeril himself is a ham and a schmuck, but whatever. I do wonder what in the hell NBC was thinking in giving him a sitcom. I assume at least one person lost their job over that. But if a major network is actually going to pay people to come up with a show like that, I should move to Hollywood. How much worse are my ideas?

3. The Food Channel has been running these commercials by the ranch dressing lobby that try to get us to use ranch for everything. Anyone ever wanted to try ranch bread? Yum, Yum, Yum!!! I mean, do we really need to coat all of our food in a mayonnaise-based dressing? I don't mind ranch in certain situations, but ranch freaking bread? Hey, here's some other ideas for you. Ranch on pasta anyone? How about a ranch burrito? Would you care for a ranch margarita to go with that?

These kind of rants are part of my campaign to become the next Andy Rooney. Do you ever wonder why people eat aerosol cheese...

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Great Flashback Quote

"United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting." (New York Times, September 4, 1967)

Bobo Strikes Again

David Brooks puts another whopper of an editorial in today's New York Times. He compares the Iraqi voters to Whittaker Chambers, saying that both "have spent their lives in hell and cannot have been unaffected by it." This is a simply idiotic metaphor. To argue that a communist in America before and during World War II has lived through the same type of experience as an Iraqi under 25 years of Saddam Hussein and 2 years of American invasion and terrorism shows simply no understanding of the American communist movement. This isn't surprising. I don't expect any kind of subtlety from Brooks.

What's truly laughable is that he goes on to criticize Democratic senators for not supporting the war. So is Ted Kennedy Brooks' Alger Hiss? Does he really believe that opposition to this war is comparable to spying for the Soviet Union? For that matter, he puts Brent Scowcroft on the same level as Kennedy. Brooks didn't come out and directly make this comparison. But the analogy is clear.

UPDATE (2/2/05) This is a highly edited version of this post. I wrote it in a great hurry last night and sort of left out half a sentence. Whoops!!

Schwarzkopf Trivia

I just found out some fascinating trivia about the father of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, H. Norman Schwazkopf. The senior Schwarzkopf was a colonel in the New Jersey state police in 1934 when migrant farmworkers in New Jersey went on strike. Schwarzkopf played an active role in getting rid of these people after the strike. When the owner of the Seabrook farm refused to rehire his black laborers after the strike ended, the good Colonel ordered all "agitators" out of the area within 24 hours or face forcible removal, a threat followed up on with all due force.

Says a bit about the politics of his son, don't you think?

From Mary Hahamovitch's The Fruits of Their Labor: Atlantic Coast Farmworkers and the Making of Migrant Poverty, 1870-1945. University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Montana Hate-Crime Legislation

Montana is a very interesting state and one I think bears watching over the next decade. And I'm not just saying because I have many friends from there or because I do research there. Long one of America's most conservative states, it has begun to trend Democratic, particularly in the last election when a Democratic governor was elected and a referendum to allow cyanide leaching for mining was rejected. Now you have the Montana legislature seeking to expand the state's hate-crime legislation to include gays, the disabled, and gender.

Maybe not surprisingly in such a rapidly changing state, you now have the odd combination of a fairly conservative legislature looking to expand hate-crime legislation and the editors of the Missoulian, the main paper in the state's liberal bastion of Missoula arguing against the idea of hate-crime legislation at all.

Here's the text of the editorial:

Do you suppose someone beaten bloody by a complete stranger feels less victimized than, say, a naturalized citizen who is beaten bloody by a complete stranger? Neither do we. Should it be less of a crime to murder a person of color than a white person? Of course not. Then can you explain why, under Montana law, it's a worse crime to murder a person of color than it is to murder some races than it is others? Neither can we. Don't think the line in the Montana Constitution that guarantees "No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws" means what it says - that we're all equal in the eyes of the law? So do we. Montana legislators once again are debating expanding the state's "hate crime" statute. As it now reads, the law allows judges to impose tougher sentences on criminals who victimize people based on race, creed, religion, color and national origin. Now lawmakers are talking about adding gender, disability and sexual orientation to the list of special victims against whom crimes are to be considered worse than the crimes committed against other Montanans.... All of the offenses covered by the hate-crime statute already are against the law. If that doesn't deter offenders, making them against two laws won't either. This is feel-good legislation that, because it reneges on the constitutional guarantee of equal protection, shouldn't make anyone feel very good.

This is via Orcinus. He used to work at the Missoulian and wrote a wicked letter tearing there ideas apart. Check it out. I won't spend the time tearing it apart myself unless a reader happens to agree with the editorial or wants me to go into it. I will say however that there is a funny correlation between the enforcement of civil rights legislation in the South and the decline of lynching. So to say that there is no deterrant doesn't make very much sense. Also, this editorial ignores the historical legacy of racism and oppression in this nation and the world. But see, now I'm starting to go into it. Must stop now.

Indoctrinating Students

Lawyers Guns Money recently posted on a terrible Book TV special where someone actually claimed that every female college student was indoctrinated with the ideas of Judith Butler. And I thought, well hell, I do that. So I thought I'd put my syllabus for my introductory history course on the blog to show just how brainwashing students work. So here it is:

In this course we will learn how to hate America, your parents, apple pie, the flag, the modern world, and God. The goal of this course is to turn you all from God-loving Americans into drug-taking, homosexual atheists. Any dissent in this course will automatically ensure you of an F in the course. We will learn how to hate America by reading other God-hating commies.

Week 1. Readings--Thomas Paine, Common Sense
The goal of this week is to prepare you for bloody revolution
Your assignment is to write an essay discussing your plans to prepare for the revolution against America.

Week 2. Readings--Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
The goal of this week is to teach you to reject God.
Your assignment is to desecrate a local church. Urinate in the holy water, have sex on the altar, use a statue of the Virgin Mary to pleasure yourself. Inventiveness is highly encouraged.

Week 3. Readings--Karl Marx, Kapital
The goal of this week is to teach you to understand the heart of the capitalist beast and to show why capitalism is doomed.
Your assignment is to write a 200 word essay summarizing the key argument of the book.

Week 4. Readings--Prince Kropotkin, His Thoughts and Works
The goal of this week is to show why all government is evil and should be destroyed.
Your assignment is to blow up a symbol of capitalism. Or just blow up whatever you can find.

Week 5. Readings--V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?
The goal of this week is to teach you how to instigate a revolution
Your assignment is to preach the oncoming revolution on the streets, to your parents, or in your church.

Week 6. Readings, Immanuel Wallerstein, World-Systems Analysis, An Introduction
The goal of this week is to show how the US controls the world and oppresses all people of color.
Your assignment is to pick one country and show how a revolution will end American dominance over it.

Week 7. Readings, Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
The goal of this week is to show why white people hate everyone in the Third World.
Your assignment is to write a paper on why America should celebrate the birthdays of leaders like Patrice Lumumba, Robert Mugabe, and Julius Nyrere instead of racists George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Week 8. Readings, Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X
The goal of this week is to discuss why the "Man", meaning all of us whiteys, continue to screw the black population of the world.
Your assignment is to kill a white person. If it's yourself, you will get a posthumous "A" for the course since I won't have to grade any more of your work.

Week 9. Readings, Mao Tse-Tung, The Little Red Book
The goal of this week is to find out how to create a radical revolutionary culture.
Your assignments are to form small groups and self-criticize as well as to denounce elders in public. If you can force your parents, teacher, or a minister to their knees and to cry, you get extra credit. But no extra credit for only one. They must be on their knees and crying. If you denounce me, you get double the extra credit.

Week 10. Readings--Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism
The goal of this week is to teach you that Israel is the antichrist and should be destroyed with as much violence as possible.
Your assignment is to pick a group of people and find out how the Jews have screwed them over. It's very important that you don't engage in any anti-Semitic violence this week. If you've learned anything so far, it's that you must work within the movement and that individual action will result in the fall of the revolutionary movement. Not to mention that it will lead to a 1/3 grade deduction at the end of the semester. If you need a reinforcement of this, watch I Am Cuba

Week 11. Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
The goal of this week is to show you how white capitalist culture has destroyed the environment.
Your assignment is to chop down a billboard.

Week 12. Readings--James Scott, Seeing Like A State
The goal of this week is to show how capitalism has screwed up the world and how Scott is a counter-revolutionary rightist for claiming that communist nations caused the same problems to people and the environment as capitalist movements. See, critical reading is encouraged in college.
Your assignment is to find the plans for a high-modernist structure, preferably a dam. We will discuss how to destroy it in class.

Week 13. Readings--Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference
The goal for this week is for you to be able to tell your parents and other authority how stupid they are because they don't understand deconstructionism.
Your assignment is to deconstruct your relationship with your parents.

Week 14. Joan Scott, Gender and the Politics of History
The goal for this week is for you to understand why women are better than men.
Your assignment depends on your gender. If you are female, you must dominate and humiliate a male. If you are a male you must be dominated or humiliated by a female.

Week 15. Readings--Judith Halberstam, Female Masculinities
The goal of this week is show that acting within established gender norms is evil and oppresses the world.
Your assignment is to cross-dress for a week. Experimental sex is encouraged.

Week 16. Readings--Judith Butler, The Judith Butler Reader
The goal of this week is to learn a language that people in red states can't understand as well as to reinforce your new status as homosexuals.
Your assignment is to film yourself having sex with at least one other person of your gender. More than 1 is encouraged. If you're particularly shy, a goat will suffice.

Final Project
The final will be to start a violent, yet racially, gender, and sexually tolerant revolution. We will begin the revolution at the designated time for your final exam as listed in the schedule of classes. Blue books are not required for this final.

Do any readers have similar syllabi? I am always looking for more effective ways to indoctrinate my students.

Reforming the AFL-CIO

Some of you have maybe already seen this, but here's the link to the New York Times long piece on SEIU president Andy Stern and his ideas to blow up the AFL-CIO and start a new labor organization. There are legitimate criticisms of the article here and here. But I feel that Stern is on the right track to try and do something about labor's increasing irrelevance in America.

Stern's basic argument is that the union movement as presently constructed in America has not made any adjustments to a post-industrial economy and therefore is obsolete. He suggests that the 58 present unions that make up the AFL-CIO be reduced to 20 and that each one focus on a particular area of the modern economy, i.e. service economy, teachers, etc. Right now there are many unions who are trying to survive by picking up locals here and there that have nothing to do with the core of the union. He also suggests that unions make a more concerted effort to become an international labor movement as a necessary response to globalization. Multinational corporations have different attitudes toward unions in different countries and it is necessary to build alliances with labor unions throughout the world so that unions in countries where organized labor is more accepted can put pressure on the companies for the workers is less advantaged places. Stern equivocates over the issue of organizing workers in Third World countries where American jobs have gone to and this is understandable. How can you justify to American workers organizing workers who have their former jobs? But I think this is a problem with a solution. After all, all workers deserve a high standard of living. And if a company knows you are going to organize wherever they move, they are less likely to move in the first place.

What's really impressive about Stern is not his ideas per se. These have their merits and their faults. Rather, what's impressive is his attempts to bring the progressive movement into the age of globalization. He is moving away from the 1930s and 1960s organizing eras that both labor and the Democratic party and most of the Left for that matter is stuck in, and proposing new solutions to new problems. We need more visionary thinkers like Stern throughout the country to try and move a new progressive platform forward.