Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Worst (Football) Broadcasting Team Ever

ESPN takes over Monday Night Football in 2006. The broadcasting team: Al Michaels and Joe Theismann. I can't actually imagine a worse pairing.

This would be the worst broadcasting team ever period except for the obvious exception: Joe Buck and Tim McCarver on Fox baseball.

Hillary 08

Scott and Yglesias are right--if we are going to pick a moderate candidate in 2008, shouldn't he/she at least be get credit for being a moderate? If we want to pick someone that the Right thinks is a crazy liberal, let's pick Jon Corzine or Russ Feingold. If we want to pick someone who is a moderate, let's pick someone who does not have a false reputation as being on the left, someone like Bill Richardson, Evan Bayh, or John Edwards. Picking Hillary Clinton is the worst of both worlds--she's a moderate/conservative with a reputation on the Right as the second coming of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Like Scott, I don't think this means that Hillary can't win in 2008. But it does build in an inherent disadvantage. Plus I worry about a race between the more competent Bush and the less charismatic Clinton.

Tierney is Right?

Remarkably, John Tierney is on the right path here.

Tierney talks about how some western environmental groups have decided to play by Republicans' rules and buy out ranchers' grazing rights to get the cattle off the range. Bush and his rancher friends are not happy about this and now are changing the rules away from the market-based environmentalism Tierney supports and Gail Norton said she supported.

You have to get through Tierney's rhetoric about the market and such to see that he's right on. Doesn't it seem better for all sides to have well-heeled environmental groups buy out grazing rights rather than spending that money on divisive court cases? Of course it does. But that undermines today's political realities in ways that the administration doesn't like, including

1. The Right likes divisive court cases over the environment. They figure they can outspend the environmentalists and now that the courts are fully in the hands of Republican appointments, that they can win. They get to talk about property rights and individualism. To have these things settled out of courts not only ends in results that Republicans don't like but they also lose the rhetorical battle.

2. Reforming agricultural policy. The nation's agricultural policies haven't made any sense for decades. There is no good economic reason to run cows in the Escalante, in the Gila Mountains of Arizona and New Mexico, or on most national forest land. But agricultural subsidies are not only politically popular but politically popular in red states. These kind of individual settlements, while they make perfect sense to all parties, reforms American agricultural policy through the back door.

3. It exposes the hypocrisy of Republican rhetoric about representing small property holders and small farmers. An individual buyout makes great sense for the lucky rancher. They can get far more money from the buyout than they can from their cattle. By having to oppose these buyouts, the Republicans show that they don't give a damn about small ranchers or their terrible financial situation.

Anti-Appalachian Prejudice

I was dismayed to see this post on the normally excellent blog Shakespeare's Sister. To be fair, Shakespeare's Sister didn't write it herself--it was another contributor. Nonetheless, if you think that making fun of people from West Virginia, Kentucky, and western North Carolina is funny, I guess this is the post for you.

If you don't have the stomach to look, let me explain. A recent study came out showing that West Virginia residents lead the nation in teeth lost to tooth decay, with 43% of residents having lost 6 or more teeth. It's punctuated with a lovely picture of a West Virginian with some really messed up teeth and ends the post with this:

"So many red-state jokes, so little space."

This is wrong on so many levels. Here's a few of them.

1. Don't we all know that this is because of poverty? I guess not. But we should. The level of poverty in West Virginia is a direct indictment of American society as a whole. It's our system that allows this level of poverty. If we want to really do something about this, let's not make fun of people. Let's work to ensure that people don't end up in this level of poverty. By the way, if those numbers concerned African-Americans or people of the developing world would these kind of jokes be told? I didn't think so.

2. Dentists are expensive. Let's say you even have health insurance. Does it cover denistry except for the most basic care? So many policies do not. I know that I haven't had dental insurance for years. My wife has a quite good job and she doesn't even have dental insurance because she would have to pay an exorbitant sum for not much care.

3. What does this kind of joke do for progressives politically? If I were a Republican and I wanted to convince people that the coastal elites/liberals/whatever thought they were better than "good ol'Americans" I would use this as Exhibit A. It's when I see posts like this that I think some cultural conservatives have a point when they talk about cultural elitism. On a political level, this is really reprehensible.

Folks, anti-Appalachian prejudice is just as bad as racism or other forms of prejudice toward any other group. No, it doesn't have the long-term historical implications of anti-black racism. But it causes real pain, feeds into Republican talking points, and, frankly, is disgusting.

I truly hope such a good blog as Shakespeare's Sister refrains from similar posts in the future.

Environmental Restoration and the Poor

Here's a good idea.

"In 1995, the South African government started a program called Working for Water, in which unemployed people were hired to clear thirsty alien trees from important watersheds around Cape Town. A single eucalyptus consumes up to 100 gallons of water in a day, so removing the trees is like putting water back in the system. "Rivers that hadn't run in 30, 40 years began to run again," said Guy Preston, the founder of Working for Water.
That program now operates in every South African province, has an annual budget of $60 million and has inspired a group of sister programs that may change the face of conservation across the continent. Their aim is not just to restore ecosystems but to put them to use for human benefit."

I think this an excellent idea for several reasons. First, it builds environmental awareness among people who are often too impoverished to consider conservation. By paying the poor to work in conservation, it builds the educational knowledge necessary to convince them to conserve in the future and to pass on conservation knowledge on to future generations. Second, the government should play an active role in restoring environments and controlling invasive species. Naturally, I support increased government spending in many programs so it's not surprising that I would support this. However, I think this is a particularly good idea and a good program.

Is it applicable to the United States? Not really, I don't think. Is there something to getting the urban poor out of the cities and working to restore nature? Maybe, but there's a lot of historical reasons that the urban poor (i.e. African Americans) don't much trust the idea of working in rural places. I don't know that I can give them a good reason today that they should feel safe. I'm sure a couple of thousand of blacks descending on rural Alabama, or Indiana for that matter, would have much reason to expect a warm welcome.

Occasionally I hear the arguments that we need a new CCC. Maybe that's so, but who is going to work at it? The CCC worked in 1935 because there were millions of people desperate for work and the CCC was work. But let's not fool ourselves. How many of us today would want to clear trails for $6 an hour? Fight fires? Dig up salt cedar in dusty, hot New Mexico or digging up kudzu in sweltering Mississippi? Not so many.

That said though, the US government really should look at the South African experiment for an example of how a government can make a positive impact on both promoting conservation and fighting invasives. Not that we should expect this government to do take such an enlightened path.

Myron Floren

Myron Floren died a few days ago. Who is Myron Floren? Why he's none other than Lawrence Welk's accordion player, also known as "The Happy Norwegian," a monicker that sets him apart from all other Norwegians I've ever met. Why do I bring up the death of Myron Floren? Because I think it's a good opportunity to talk about Welk.

Actually I have a bone to pick with Myron. The accordion is one of the coolest fucking instruments in the world. I've seen (and, well, heard) it used to great effect in many different kinds of music--rock, tejano, experimental jazz, country--yet if you want to portray someone in a movie or TV show as a complete loser, what instrument do you have them play? Either the accordion or the clarinet (a different beef for a different time about people dissing the clarinet). My wife, who has a fascination with Lawrence Welk, was watching an episode recently and it was hosted by some kid who plays accordion in a Welk tribute band in Branson. This kid was the worst of the accordion stereotype. To make it worse, he's only about 20. I wanted to inflict physical punishment on this kid. He was playing an active role in making the accordion the most uncool instrument in the world. It also made me wonder if the kid had ever gotten laid, but since he works in Branson, who knows? Maybe he gets lots of older ladies with Myron Floren fantasies.

Anyway, onto Welk. Lawrence Welk was once a hell of a bandleader. But he took his populist streak too far, famously saying "Keep it simple so the audience can feel like they can do it, too" and "You have to play what the people understand." Of course, it shouldn't be that simple. You can make great music and make money too in ways other than butchering the popular music of the day. Which is what Welk did, especially over the last 20 years or so of his show. Nevermind the ridiculous costumes, the ethnic stereotypes, the extreme whiteness of this show. The music alone makes me cringe. You can make good music that 60 year old North Dakotans will like. Let me mention the work of one Merle Haggard, who did this pretty successfully. Or for that matter, Frank Sinatra who got people of Welk's generation dancing as well as he did, whether in New Jersey or North Dakota.

What is really fascinating about Welk today is his continued popularity. His show is the highest rated syndicated program in public television. Why? This is hard to figure out. A friend of mine puts it this way:

(By the way, the continuing drawing power of the Welk thing is dying for a book. It's just damn weird. The reasons my family and I watch are strictly tongue-in-cheek, but I suspect we are very much the exception. Are there that many old-timers still around who want to watch the show? Do gays watch to wonder about Tom Netherton? Do blacks watch to wonder how Arthur Duncan could have worked on such a lilly-white show? Was some insidious bargain made between Lawrence of Dakota and the devil? So many questions.)

I don't know that I can expound upon this perplexing question any better. Does anyone have any insight on this?

One thing about Welk though. He's just about the most powerful expression of a very particularly northern US culture affecting the whole nation. We can think of a million ways the South has influenced American culture as a whole? But the North, or at least that swath starting in maybe the upper peninsula of Michigan or maybe Wisconsin and extending west to Washington and Oregon? The Welk show represented my grandparents and the other people of that generation better than anything else I could name. Garrison Keillor is part of this culture too, but it's a different thing, maybe one better suited for people a bit detached from that culture and who can look on it with a certain fondness but also a bit of irony.

A First Thought on the AFL-CIO split

More later, but this note will suffice for now. Journalist and novelist Louis Adamic in 1932 wrote that the AFL was:

"ineffectual, flabby, inflicted with the dull pains of moral and physical decline. The big industrialists and conservative politicians are no longer worried by it. Indeed, the intelligent ones see in it the best obstacle--temporary at least--to the emergence of a militant and formidable labor movement...The ten year decline of the whole organization, I think, has already gone to far to be rejuvenated by anybody."

OK, very different times, very different circumstances. But labor recovered from one time when it was considered irrelevant. Maybe it can again.

From Sanford M. Jacoby, Employing Bureaucracy: Managers, Unions, and the Transformation of Work in American Industry, 1900-1945. Columbia University Press, 1985, p. 241.

Mel Gibson

WTF is this?

"A year after breaking box-office records with "The Passion of the Christ," which was shot in Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew, Gibson has struck a deal with the Walt Disney Co. to release his next picture in a Mayan dialect.
Gibson is due to begin shooting the film, titled "Apocalypto," on location in Mexico in October and is aiming for a summer 2006 release, spokesman Alan Nierob said on Monday."


I heard that after this, Gibson will shoot a remake of Clan of the Cave Bear in authentic Neanderthal languages.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


The antenna for my Sirius recently became frayed and stopped working, thus forcing us to listen to the radio in the car. We don't have a tape or CD player in the car. This situation led to the following conversation in the car today between my wife and myself:

Wife: I'm really getting pissed off.
Me: Is that because we're listening to Sting on the radio instead of something good like we could if the Sirius wasn't broken.
Wife: Yes
Me: That's a good reason to be pissed off.


Um, that didn't go as planned now did it? Well, don't they all just look the bloody same anyway? Yes, yes.

I suppose this might be a good reminder for all of us that Europe has racial problems about as severe as we do here in the US.

Also, notice on the article that the picture has nothing to do with the murdered Brazilian. Nice.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Why, Oh Why, Would You Live in Southern Arizona?

See this story on the insane heat in Arizona.

What you say, it was only 116 in Phoenix yesterday? What's there to complain about?

Why would you live in a place where you can't go outside in the middle of the day?

Oddly, I don't feel this way about cold places, but I like cold much better than heat. Too bad I'm in New Mexico.

Cat Power

I really like Cat Power. But am I the only one who thinks than Chan Marshall sounds completely wasted on every recording? Not that this is a problem.


I blew off my counting of loggers' nationalities on my last day in Denver last week for a trip to Leadville. It so happens that I have a friend who knows more about the history of Colorado than all but maybe 5 living people so that made it especially tempting. He wanted to take me up to Leadville, a place that I cannot recommend highly enough for a visit. That is, if you like seeing the incredible damage that mining causes and find historical mining landscapes fascinating. I find this so fascinating that I almost forgot the mountains that surrounded the town. Though I didn't forget the elevation given that Leadville is over 10,000 feet. Anyway, a few highlights.

Merlot Ponds--What is a Merlot Pond you ask? Why it's exactly what you would think it is. A pond of water that at the foot of a tailings pile that looks like merlot. Yes, that's right. It's red. Hmmm....red water. Very frightening stuff.

Wedding Cakes--By the late 80s and early 90s, the EPA was sick of dealing with Leadville. They had been trying to clean the place up for a long time and had faced a lot of local resistance, in large part because the EPA committed some really bad public relations blunders early in the process. So they decided that they would take old tailings piles and place them in more centralized locations but would be designed to look historic. Their plan--to put them in piles and cover them with a couple of different colors of rock to make them look "historic." In fact, they look absurd. This caused great consternation in Leadville as well as among historic preservationists. The EPA doesn't do this anymore.

Finn Town--Ah, the Finns. No one talks about the Finns when they talk about immigrant labor. But throughout the West at least, Finnish immigrants were used for the worst jobs. There were thousands in logging in the Pacific Northwest and a lot in Leadville too. They had their own settlement outside of town. Finns were seen by industrialists as among the hardest working immigrants and thus desirable. On the other hand, they were also known to be the worst radicals and the most given over to IWW sympathies. This did not endear them to industrialists. What was particularly interesting about Finn Town was not necessarily the old buildings but the sign that talked about the saunas they used after work. Just curious--what was in that water they used in the sauna. Bad stuff, but then again how much worse could it have been than they what the breathed in while at work?

Trophy Homes in Leadville?--One spur for the Leadville economy has been that it is the only place around where working-class people can afford to live. They work in other, high-priced communities, including Vail I think. But the prices of homes are rising in Leadville too as people start building there because they can have their mountain views cheaper than Aspen. The deep problems of pricing working-class people out of Leadville is part of a process repeated throughout the West but it's not really the point here. What I am interested in with this case is this--why in the hell would you build a trophy home on top of a tailings pile? Are people so blinded by their mountain views that they don't care about deeply polluted water or their children playing on toxic waste? I guess so.

In a lot of ways, Leadville is like a slightly less depressing version of Butte. It's a rundown, heavily polluted mining community. There's no giant pit in the center of town like in Butte, which helps. They have started moving over to a tourist-based economy, something still resisted in Butte. But even in Leadville it seems to be very grudgingly and there's no doubt that many in the community would prefer to turn back to mining, something perhaps like if the molybdenum prices keep rising and MolyCorp reopens the Climax Mine. The Climax Mine was interesting in its own right as it is a large, barren, and orange wasteland. But hey, there's a sign next to it talking about how wildlife is coming back and how soon it will look like nothing's happened there. Somehow I don't believe this to be true.

One note on the drive to and from Leadville, which took us through the mountains and then down through South Park and back to Denver. Not to be trite, but Colorado is a stunningly beautiful place.

AL East

Is it just me or is the AL East a terrible division this year? For all the redundant and tiresome talk on ESPN about the rivalry between Boston and New York, I have come to the conclusion that the AL East may be the second worst division in baseball, behind only the NL West. Let's look at the teams:

New York. OK, they moved into first last night. But their starting pitching is horrible and their defense is laughable. Bernie Williams' error last night was particularly amusing. Yes they can hit the daylights out of the ball. But in the playoffs, that's not enough. And I don't think this is a playoff team.

Baltimore. A surprising team but not enough pitching to compete long term. Well except in this division. Maybe they can pull it out and win the division but they'd almost certainly lose in the first round of the playoffs.

Boston. This is the team that should be winning going away. But between a terrible bullpen and perhaps a sense of complacency they have not played to expectations. Schilling's injury hasn't helped either. I still think they'll win. But they are clearly not as good as last year.

Toronto. That we are even discussing Toronto as a contender shows how poor this division is. With Halladay hurt, there's no point. Nor is there any point discussing Tampa Bay.

Normally I wouldn't care how weak a particular division is. But with the constant talk about how tough the AL East is and how New York and Boston are so great, well it's annoying. So here's hoping that the wildcard team doesn't come from the East and that the division winner, unless maybe it's Baltimore, loses in the first round.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Mass Transit and Urban History

This post on Lawyers Guns and Money has received a surprising amount of very interesting comments concerning the state of Seattle's mass transit. It made me think about why some cities have relatively advanced systems of mass transit and others are still in the dark ages with a good bus system all they can do (and some who can't even do that). I think that the present state of mass transit in various cities may have something to do with the development of each city's urban infrastructure in the pre-automobile period of American history. For instance, look at the cities that do have excellent mass transit--New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, even Portland. These cities all had significant urban core development before 1910. Many of these cities already had effective and widely-used streetcar systems before the car transformed American urban life. Most of these cities are located in the east. But even the western cities with the best public transportation, San Francisco and Portland, are the oldest metropolitan centers in the West. These cities grew up not only with public transportation but also with the expectation of getting from one side of the city to the other in a short amount of time, whether by foot or some other means.

Seattle really has more in common with cities like Phoenix, Los Angeles, Houston, Jacksonville, and Charlotte than the other cities listed above. People don't remember this now, but Seattle was a second-rate city, even in the Puget Sound area, until well after 1900. Tacoma was the urban center of the Puget Sound before 1900 and Seattle was a backwater. This changed of course, really beginning just before 1900 and accelerating throughout the 20th century. But Seattle did not spend its early years as an important regional metropolitan center and perhaps because of this, it took a long time to develop the intensive urban identity that its residents see in it today. Really it's only in the last 15 years or so that Seattle has become nationally known as one of the best places to live--before that it was usually known as drab, dreary, and a really crappy place to be. It's easy to forget that history now.

This is only a theory of course but I really think that a city's historical sense of urban identity places an important role in its acquisition of non-automobile based modes of transportation. Seattle has a recently developed sense of urban identity but it may not extend into the suburbs or more importantly, to the tax base necessary to fund high quality mass transit. It's not the only reason and there's no good reason that Denver and Atlanta should be ahead of Seattle in creating mass transit. But I think it is an important point that helps us understand these differences.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Downtown Denver

I spent last night in downtown Denver, a place I have been several times before. The transition of downtown spaces from hellish pits 15 years ago to happening and expensive places to be is fascinating. Denver is a good example. I know that several years ago it was truly terrible but the 16th Street Mall has revitalized the area and all kinds of new lofts and apartments are going up in the area for high prices.

Denver's downtown is obviously much improved over the past and I think it is better than some other downtown revitalization I have seen. It is one of the only examples where a new baseball stadium actually did what its creators claimed, that is bring businesses and people back to downtown. Coors Field has been so successful at this that the team is now fairly irrelevant to the long-term success of the area. I also like the transition back to living downtown, both in Denver and other cities. I loathe sprawl and suburbia for so many reasons so I am naturally inclined to prefer dense urban living. While I'm concerned about the exorbitant prices for these places, they are nice, they do bring people back, and they show that downtown can and is a desirable place for a lot of people to live.

While I like much of what Denver has done, it also epitomizes some of what I am uncomfortable with. A friend that I met down there last night said something like, "Welcome to our version of San Diego." So many of these downtowns have become a sort of glorified strip mall with all the same stores in all the downtowns. Have to have the Banana Republic and the Gap. Hard Rock Cafe is a must. Nike Town is highly desirable. And so on. These stores both eviscerate the local uniqueness of downtowns and ensure the sort of importation of suburban shopping malls back into downtown. If Denver is trying to copy San Diego, then Albuquerque is copying Denver, and much to the same sanitized, white bread, and well, just white effect. Maybe the best part about downtown Denver is its fairly unique (for the West) architecture and the ways that the remaining old buildings transform the businesses inside of them. The worst is when the chain stores transform or completely obliterate the building itself to fashion something to its own liking.

To Denver's credit, they are trying to ensure some low-cost housing for its homeless population rather than just evict them from the area. This has been slow and too long in coming, but it is happening.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Absurdity of Genealogy

I write this for two reasons. First, the National Archives offices, including here in Denver where I am working this week, are dominated by genealogists. I really can't stand genealogy. Why? It's actually a little hard to say. I think that part of it is that people confuse it for legitimate history and that bugs me. But a far bigger part is that people are always trying to validate themselves by finding famous ancestors in their past. As if being distantly related to James Monroe really means anything today. People always are looking for those famous ancestors to namedrop with like they were Arsenio Hall while ignoring the drunks, criminals, and lazy bums that dominate both their current and their past families. That's what matters people, not that your great-great-great-great-great grandfather was there with Francis Scott Key when he wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Do I think my work is more important than that of genealogists? Well, yes but obviously that's subjective. But given that I'm sitting around counting the ethnicity of loggers this week, I'm questioning my whole premise here.

My agitation over genealogy is particularly acute this week because I am surrounded by them. But I was sparked to write about it more by reading Jack Hitt's article "Mighty White of You" in the July issue of Harper's. Hitt hilariously shows how genealogy is ultimately about claims to a past by Americans who feel rootless and how those claims can often turn into racial triumphalism. He makes fun of his own childhood obsession with genealogy, particularly his belief that he was descended by Charlemagne, something that was dashed when a college professor noted that literally everyone in the world could make such a claim and that it means nothing.

But more importantly, Hitt writes about how this search for your past has led to the ridiculous debate over Kennewick Man and other findings meant to show that proto-Europeans were in America before the Indians. Hitt shows how easy it is to misinterpret the "evidence" that there were pre-Native Americans in the Americas and how such interpretations often shade into the rhetoric of race war. He quotes from one website where a white wrote "Kennewick man is older than any known [Native American] remains, and appears to be much more European than N/A, so your people stole the land from my European ancestors who were here first.

Yes, that's right. We now have no reason to feel guilty about what we did to the Indians because they did it to our deep ancestors so long ago. Even if in fact such a thing did happen, this is a completely absurd argument. Our responsibility to the Native Americans remains the same regardless of what happened 20,000 years ago and no "scientific" discoveries will change that.

Hitt also discusses how Americans constantly project their current myths back on to the past. Take your mom-and-pop genealogy for instance. They are always talking about their rich ancestors and how that reflects so well on their families. Or in a more modern version, how many people subscribe to the myth that Indians lived in an environmentally-friendly manner with nature? And how many of these people claim their Cherokee princess background?

Well the same processes are taking place with Kennewick man and his supposed cousins. For instance, Hitt destroys the idea of the forensic reconstruction of Kennewick man's face, as he quotes the archaeologist who identifies it as having based the reconstruction on Patrick Stewart after watching Star Trek.

Yes, you heard that correctly. The facial reconstruction which we've all seen pictures of is based on Patrick Stewart.

Other discussions of Kennewick Man have similarly projected our modern conceptions of beauty, desire, and ambition back upon this creature and similarly recent artistic conceptions of Neanderthals have changed from them as ape-like creatures to them as pretty damned good looking Europeans.

Who's promoting this? Not only the media--Lesley Stahl and the Washington Post Magazine say particularly stupid things, but also "Norse-Americans" who are supposedly reclaiming their heritage by embracing Kennewick Man and other pre-Indian Americans, including a Center for the Study of the First Americans at that bastion of intellectual liberalism, Texas A&M University.

The chilling last paragraph of Hitt's article is a good way to sum up both his and my arguments about the mythology of the European ancestors. Before I quote it though, I should say that there is obviously value in knowing your ethnic makeup and the health history of your family. However, I highly question if there is any positive value that comes out of reading anything into yourself or your life today based upon your distant ancestry. Anyway, here it is:

"Because we no longer read mythological stories, we no longer appreciate their immense power. We find ourselves stunned at how something so many deeply long to be true will simply assemble itself into fact right before our eyes. If the majority profoundly longs to believe that men of Caucasoid extraction toured here 16,000 years ago in Savile Row suits, ate gourmet cuisine, and explored the Pacific Northwest with their intact pre-Christianized families until the marauding Mongoloid injins came descending pell-mell into their tribal haunts to drive Cascade points into European hips until they fell, one after another, in the earliest and most pitiful campaign of ethnic cleansing, then that is what science will painstakingly confirm, that is what the high courts will evenhandedly affirm, and that is what in time the majority will happily come to believe."

Wow that quotation is applicable to so much today. Sigh.

Teaching the Scopes Trial

This fall semester, I will be teaching the second half of the US history survey for the first time. I am looking for a little advice on how to teach the Scopes Trial. Because what I really want to say is this: If you believe in creationism, you are an idiot. But somehow I don't think that will have a positive impact on my teaching evaluations. Usually I'm pretty good at making my points clear without coming down on those I disagree with, but this one is going to be hard.

Having had someone in my master's program who was a graduate of Bryan College in Dayton, TN does not help the matter.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Denver Blogging

Blogging has a been a touch light lately for several reasons. The article referenced in so many places about how a department wouldn't hire people for the sole reason that they did blog has put a bit of chill over the whole enterprise. I haven't had a whole lot interesting to say lately. But also, I'm in Denver doing research on the dissertation.

Now, you ask, Erik, what are you doing? Let me tell you. It's very exciting. I am looking through census records from 1900, 1910, and 1920 and counting the ethnicity of loggers. Yep, it's an exercise in advanced counting. Now that my friends is what I call intellectual fulfillment!!!

On the other hand, I do get to travel around Colorado and there are worse fates than that. I decided to come up through the Plains yesterday. I took a detour off of I-25 at Trinidad, CO yesterday that took me northeast to La Junta. There's something fascinating about the Plains to me, especially the western Plains. I drove through these towns where there was literally no one left. The town still had it's sign but that was it. Even more fascinating were the little towns that had 1 or 2 families still hanging on. When passing through such places, I can't help but ask myself, why? Why would you stay there? I understand that certain places get a hold on people and they don't want to leave. But you have to balance that against every other possible reason--educational opportunities, jobs, cultural advantages, shopping, etc. etc. I guess there are a few people still holding out against these things. And many of them are living in southeastern Colorado.

Anyway, I went to La Junta both because I wanted to take a drive on the Great Plains but also becuase Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site is there. It's a real cool place. It's an old trading post on one of the forks of the Santa Fe Trail and it played a major role in white-Indian trade through the 1840s and 1850s I believe. It's a big old adobe fort in remarkably good condition. Oddly, the interpretation at the park was poor. Usually, even if a park has no money as is so often the case these days, they at least have good signage around the park. But this had 3 signs in one place and that was it. It was still really cool. They had an old-time pool table, some sort of old banjo (or at least it was made to look old) and other neat old things. Also they had flooded part of the grounds to make it look like it did before whites came and controlled all of the water down to the last cubic meter. They had created a nice marsh land with verdant plant life that hosted a multitude of birds, including a nice red-winged blackbird population.

Our National Historic Sites are very cool. When people think of the National Park System, they think of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon, and for good reason. But there are some damn cool National Historic Sites out there too. My second favorite park site, only behind Yellowstone, is Harper's Ferry National Historic Site in West Virginia, which is a must visit for anyone interested in American history. Big Hole is another cool site in Montana, where once of the Nez Perce battles took place. Very well done and in a beautiful location. It's also very depressing and it should be. Same with the Washita Battlefield site in Oklahoma, where not only do you get to hear about the sickening massacre of the Cheyenne and Arapaho in 1868 but also see the restoration of the native prairie. There are numerous super cool sites back East too that I wish I could visit but that I haven't had a chance to get too yet.

Anyway, blogging could be fairly light this week since I'm so enraptured with my counting of loggers' birthplaces but I'll see if I can throw something together every now and then.

Underrated and Overrated Rock Albums

From Scott comes a link to these lists of overrated songs and underrated rock albums. First, comments on the underrated:

George Harrison, All Things Must Pass. Funny, I've always thought this was overrated. If the exact same album had been made by a non-Beatle, or even a Beatle after 1975, would anyone care about it?

Richard Thompson's Rumor and Sigh is a great album that all music fans should own. I however think that there are other Richard Thompson albums that are more underrated such as Amnesia and Mirror Blue. That said, it's a fine pick.

The Traveling Wilburys? WTF? This album may be underrated, but only in its ability to get five rock legends together and watch them suck collectively. Especially Dylan. God his songs on that album are dreadful. Is there anyone on that album that you wouldn't rather own their solo albums? Well, except for Jeff Lynne where you wouldn't want to own any of his albums.

And then there's this:
Top 5 Rock Concept Albums
1. Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
2. Frank Zappa, Joe's Garage
3. Drive By Truckers, Southern Rock Opera
4. Pete Townshend, White City
5. Jethro Tull, A Passion Play

Yes, that's right. Genesis is listed above Joe's Garage and Southern Rock Opera. I can't defend A Passion Play really except to say that Jethro Tull actually did put out a couple of really good albums early in their career, especially Stand Up. But that doesn't excuse A Passion Play. I mean for God's sake, if you have to include a Jethro Tull concept album, and do you really have to?, at least make it Thick as a Brick.

Now for the overrated:

"American Pie," "Light My Fire," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," these all make sense. Like Scott I am perplexed by "Pour Some Sugar On Me" being on the list because it just objectively sucks. Anything that Andrew Lloyd Webber does automatically objectively sucks but since some people actually like that shit, I guess it deserves to be on there. I would feel better about this list if it was albums instead of songs. Here's a few albums I would nominate:

1. U2--The Joshua Tree
2. Pink Floyd--A Momentary Lapse of Reason
3. Bob Dylan--Nashville Skyline
4. Pearl Jam--Ten--I liked this at the time and I still don't mind it but looking back it doesn't age as well as some of the other early grunge albums
5. Van Halen--1984
6. Wilco--Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
7. Anything Ryan Adams is involved with.
8. Metallica--Metallica

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Coolest VIdeo Game Ever

I cannot imagine a cooler video game than one based on the Godfather series that includes the voices of James Caan and Robert Duvall.

What kills me about this story is Coppola getting all uptight about turning his movie into a violent video game. I don't know, I would have thought he would be more concerned with his inability to make a watchable movie sometime in the last 25 years.

Film Noir Festival

Santa Fe is having a film noir festival. Unfortunately, I will be out of town for most of it. But this weekend I'm around and want to check out some of the films. Most of them I am unfamiliar with. I have seen The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. Last night I went to Dark Corner, which is pretty good if you can buy Lucille Ball as anyone's secretary. Also, after that movie I will now always refer to a gun as a "pepperpot." Anyway, has anyone seen any of these movies:

A Kiss Before Dying
Kansas City Confidential
Out of the Past
The Big Heat
The Big Clock
Murder My Sweet
Dead Reckoning

Friday, July 08, 2005

100 Years of the United States Forest Service--A Brief Evaluation

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt creating the Forest Service. Not to be overly simplistic, but I want to consider briefly whether or not this was a good or a bad thing.

First, let's look at the state of the forests in 1905. To say the least, they often weren't in very good conditions. State and federal regulations on how to cut trees, how to get trees to market, what kind of environmental damage was acceptable in logging, and reforestation were almost non-existent. The forests of the east had been almost completely destroyed by this time. The great north woods of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan had nearly disappeared by this time and were in the process of undergoing disastrous attempts at farming the cutover land. Much the same had occurred in the piney woods of the South. The forests of the northeast had been mostly lost even before that of the Great Lakes region and the South. And this same process was transforming the last virgin forests of the continuous United States--the Pacific Northwest.

At the same time though, did the Forest Service really reverse these trends? It's hard to say that they did. There's a lot to be said for the efficient cutting of forests and applying scientific knowledge to forestry. The Forest Service did do some of this, particularly in its early days under Gifford Pinchot. But after Pinchot's ouster during the Taft administration, and especially in the decades after World War II, much of this spirit of the scientific administration of forests was lost. The timber industry, perhaps not surprisingly, became very influential within the Forest Service and they pushed the USFS to allow cuts far beyond what was in fact sustainable. By the 1980s, we began to see the last of the old-growth forests come under the saw and the environmental consequences of this became clear, as epitomized in the spotted owl controversies of the late 80s and the early 90s.

While the forests of the Northwest continued their long transformation into a giant tree farm, the forests of the Northeast and the Great Lakes came back through benign neglect. As people stopped farming in these places, the forests took back over without the help of the federal government. There are still clear damages from nineteenth-century logging in these forests, but in many cases they now look much closer to the original forests than in the Pacific Northwest and other forests managed by the Forest Service.

Overall though, I have to think that the creation of the Forest Service was a positive thing. It may have taken a long time for scientific management of forests to take hold in a real way, in a way that wasn't just lip service for the timber industry, but today it has. The forests of the Northwest now have an optimistic future I think. It's a future that will include logging, but that will also include ecosystem management in a real way. People like Pinchot were pretty far ahead of their time. We should criticize the lumbermen and government officials who allowed such ridiculous cuts in the National Forests for so many years. And we should criticize these same people for their war on fire, something that has made dryland forests of the West, from northeastern Oregon to here in New Mexico, greatly unhealthy and in danger of giant fires such as we've seen throughout the West since the turn of the century. Yet without that infrastructure in place, we could not have the positive changes going on today of ecosystem management, scientific studies, and controlled burns. We can compare the western forests with those of the South, where the Forest Service never managed to gain but a foothold and which are in fact giant tree farms. The one time I drove through rural southwestern Georgia I was struck by the nature of these tree farms--the trees were of one species and of one height. There was no forest, just some ecologically dead woods. I don't even know how long it would take for southern forest ecosystems to reestablish themselves if logging were to stop. Certainly longer than in the Northwest. Without the Forest Service today, we would see the rest of the nation's forests look like Georgia's.

So while this is only a brief discussion of our forest history and while a yes or no answer is awfully simplistic, I will go ahead and say that I am glad the Forest Service was a good innovation in 1905 and it's a good thing to have today. Whether or not it was good in 1945 or 1965, well that's a little more complicated.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Historical Separation of Church and State

I rarely look to Andrew Jackson for a model of how a president should act. However, one case stands out. In 1832, a vicious cholera epidemic shook the western world. Many Americans claimed that the epidemic was worse in France than England because France was an atheist country while the British government had announced a day of prayer and fasting so God would end the epidemic. When cholera reached the US later that year, many citizens urged Andrew Jackson to follow in Britain's example and have a national day of prayer. Jackson refused on constitutional grounds.

From Yi-Fu Tuan, Landscapes of Fear, p.94.

London Thoughts

It's hard to say too much about the London bombings I guess. I have just a few quick thoughts:

1. There is a lot of evil in this world. To talk of these terrorists as anything but horrible horrible people is just offbase. To kill innocent civilians in their home countries is totally unacceptable and just insane. And then of course there's all the innocents that the US and Britain have killed in Iraq. I hear Bush talking this morning about the killing of innocents and I think, are you talking about London or yourself?

2. There is a major difference between targeted assassinations and these kind of terrorist attacks. Not only do they really lead to nothing, but they are basically immoral. My mind can process the killing of the Egyptian envoy to Iraq, not that it justifies it. But what is the reason for such random killing? It seems not only immoral, but bad strategy as well. And I do differentiate between killing civilians in their home countries and the killings of civilians in a colonially occupied place, such as Algeria before the French left. Maybe I'm splitting hairs but I do think there is a real difference.

3. I think it's important to think about different ways to avoid these kind of attacks. Personally, I believe in a two-pronged policy of alleviating the most obvious and unnecessary provocations to the world's Muslims while attacking the terror cells very strongly, though with legal methods. Closing GITMO would be an excellent start. Not going to war in Iraq would have been a real good idea here. Giving Islamic prisoners some sort of due process would also be a real good idea. It's important to take away the legitimate moral claims that terrorists use to justify their actions is a very important first step. Attacking the centers of terrorism is a little trickier. Do you come down on the free speech of radical Islamic clerics when they advocate terrorism? That's a tough call. I think that if you do, you'd better make the process very transparent about what is acceptable and what is not and you'd better be constantly reviewing what is the correct thing to do in individual situations. And you'd better not be passing things like the Patriot Act that ultimately strengthen the moral claims of extremists.

In any case, what a sad day.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Tangled Up In Blue

For the first time in a long time, I just listened to the version of Dylan's "Tangled Up In Blue" from the Bootleg Series. What was striking about this was how much better the song is on Blood on the Tracks, not only because it's performed better but because on the bootleg version Dylan sings most of it in the voice of someone else, talking about "he" instead of "I." Wow does that song gain power when he sings it in the first person. It's really remarkable to me listening to that just how huge the difference is. It takes the song from being OK to transcendent.

Concert Review--Merle Haggard, July 4, 2005, Ohkay Casino, Espanola, NM

If you asked yourself, who would the single best musician to see on the 4th of July was, could you do better than Merle Haggard? I didn't think so. When I heard about this show I thought, "$28 is a lot to see someone but you know how many chances you are going to have to see the Hag on the 4th of July? One." So we put down the cash and went.

I can't say that I regretted going. For a man who is about 70 years old, he still puts on a hell of a show. He's energetic, he's clearly having fun on stage, and he plays a guitar much better than I thought he would. He can put together a pretty decent little solo. Haggard played quite a few of the classics. "Big City", "Mama Tried", "Lonesome Fugitive", etc. And given it was the 4th of July, I was even happy to hear "Fighting Side of Me". But let's face it, that's one ugly song. Really I wish he had never written it. You can look at "Okie From Muskogee" as a bit of satire and a bit of a tribute to his father and you can think that Merle doesn't really believe what he's singing. After all, the Hag was known to smoke a bit of marijuana in his time, whether in Muskogee or not. "Fighting Side of Me", well that's just a mean-spirited song. I'm not really sure whether or not he really means it. After all, he was one of the first people to come out with a song opposed to the Iraq war. But still, damn.

In any case, when he sang "Silver Wings" I thought, does it get any better than this? Merle Haggard, July 4, "Silver Wings." How many moments in your life do you have like that? Does American music get better than this? I just don't know.

On the other hand, it's far from the best show I've seen. I don't expect too much from the Ohkay Casino, but they put everyone in a parking lot. It was about 97 that afternoon. There were opening bands but I couldn't bear to go sit out there and listen to them since I needed to save myself in that heat for the Hag. And Merle was definitely affected too. He only played for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. I'm not sure if he usually plays such short shows, but from talking to him it sounded like he just needed to get out of the damn heat. Plus the stage faced west right into the evening sun. It was hard not to rue paying that much money for that small amount of music.

But still, I can say that I saw Merle Haggard on July 4 and that he was great. July 4 or not, he plays enough around America that everyone reading this blog should go see him at least once. It was my second time and I hope that the third comes around soon.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Los Alamos High School and Government Funding of Education

The next time you hear someone talking about the government throwing money away by giving it to public schools or that the amount of money given doesn't mean much of anything for determining the quality of that school, send them to learn more about Los Alamos High School in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Los Alamos, the city built around the laboratory that created the atomic bomb, has virtually no independent money. Los Alamos County just consists of the city and the laboratory. For many reasons, a large number of lab employees commute from out of the county. The number of homes in the county is limited. The number of businesses is also quite limited. Thus, the city and county have a very small tax base.

What this means is that without a lot of federal help, Los Alamos County could provide only a very limited number of services. This is unacceptable for scientists and their families. They are not going to live in a town with a poor school system. This has been this way since the 1940s. So what was the solution? The federal government has considered it in their interest to pay most of the county's bills, including providing one of the best high schools in the country, in order to keep some of the nation's top scientists in Los Alamos.

Thus the school has incredible math and science programs, great teachers, and all the money in the world. Supposedly the number of "geniuses" among Los Alamos children is among the highest in the world. Could this have something to do with the buckets full of money dumped in there by the federal government? You think? Of course, pressure from parents who have incredibly high expectations of their children plays a big part in the success of the high school too. And there are problems. If you are not good at math and science, you often have lots of problems fitting in to the school. The pressure is enormous. Therefore the use of drugs by Los Alamos kids is unbelievably high.

So I'm not necessarily saying that the Los Alamos school system is a model for the rest of the nation. But what I am saying is that this is one very strong piece of evidence to show that government funding of school systems does make incredible differences in the quality of schools.

Progressive History Book of the Month--June 2005

I realize that I didn't specifically name a progressive history of the month for June, so let's just call Varon's Bringing the War Home that book. I can't imagine too many histories more valuable for progressives to read than that.

Friday, July 01, 2005

First Thoughts On O'Connor

Had Rehnquist retired I was going to say that this might not be the fight that Democrats want to pick since it's unlikely that whoever replaced Rehnquist was going to be all that much worse than he was. However, O'Connor seat is a different game. This is worth all the marbles. I think we have to use every tool in the tool box to try and stop Bush from nominating an extreme right-winger here. The future of innumerable liberal values is on the line.

I do think that this will blow up the filibuster compromise. I think that Bush will name a Scalia-type. I think the Democrats will filibuster. I think that a few Republicans will hem and haw about how they wish there could be compromise and that they're disappointed that the president didn't name a moderate. I think they will then vote with Frist and the right-wingers to end filibustering on judicial nominees and will vote for Alberto Gonzales or whoever Bush names. I don't dare to predict what will happen when there is 4 extremists on the Court.