Saturday, March 31, 2007

Protecting Work Spaces

This story is a few days old now, but it's still worth mentioning. The insatiable drive of Americans to own property has placed the working ports of Maine in serious jeopardy. Baby boomers with their massive amounts of expendable income all want a second, third, or fourth home somewhere. They are buying up every available inch of land in Colorado, driving home prices in Santa Fe through the roof, and making it impossible for normal people to live anywhere near most of the California coast. Now they are limiting access for Maine fishers to work. There are only a few deep water ports in Maine and these of course are where much of the second home buying is taking place. Everyone wants their picturesque little town in Maine where they can eat their lobster during the summer.

The larger point here is the question of what role work has in the modern United States. Is there any place in post-industrial America for actual work to take place? Now, I have a real problem with the idea of post-industrialism because the U.S. is as much involved in industrialization as any time in its history. But we have exported all the visual evidence of making things and we don't want to think about. What is land for in the modern U.S.? For many people, it's clearly for personal enjoyment and that's it.

I have a major problem with this. First of all, there are millions of working-class people in this nation who will never have the capital to think of land in this way? What are these people supposed to do? In the concrete, what in the living hell are Maine fishers going to do if they don't have port access? How will they survive? And does anyone care? Do the people who are buying these second homes give a tinker's damn about working-class people? I think the answer is clearly no, except to the extent that they can hire them cheaply to clean their homes and perform other services.

Via Yglesias

Historical Image of the Day

Artistic portrayal of Zumbi, leader of Palmares, an enormous community of escaped Brazilian slaves

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

This is it: Baseball season starts (oficially, at last) tomorrow. Which means time enough for one last look at the Tribe's prospect before the season starts.

First, in yesterday's news, well, I know his age will eventually catch up with him, but this latest news from Detroit certainly helps the Indians' chances some what (with all due respect to my brother-in-law to-be, who's a big Tigers fan, and with all due respect to Rogers, to whom I wish no harm).The other thing is, this year just looks better.

I'm not saying it will be the Indians' year, but there is absolutely no reason to think (barring any major major disaster) that they will make a serious run, especially with the changes they've made, particularly at third and second (and I'm proud to say that, as Erik can attest, I was calling for Boone to be replaced by Marte since last season started, if for no other reason than to get the young guy the experience). I also generally agree with Jayson Stark. The one area I'm still a bit nevous about is that bullpen - yes, anything over last year (barring converting even fewer saves, which I think may actually be nearly impossible outside of statistics) would be better, but I don't know if they will really make it. Still, bullpens are one of the most random things ever (see: the Tribe's bullpen-star-making of Jose Mesa, Mike Jackson, Bob Wickman, Paul Shuey, etc.), and given how the starters look, and the hitters look, there are definitely reasons to be optimistic. I don't think this is the year (after all, it hasn't been the year for 58 years and counting). Still, as the season kicks off Monday, things are looking rather cheerful for Northeast Ohio.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Film Review: An Unreasonable Man

In 2000, I voted for Ralph Nader. This is one of the great mistakes of my life.

No one remembers now, but Ralph Nader was an amazing American. One of the real greats, up through the 1980s. His work attacking the lack of safety in American cars, particularly at General Motors and especially the Corvair, was groundbreaking. Unsafe at Any Speed, released in 1965, was a key book in the second period of great muckraking literature in American history. Nader built on that to attack American corporations and governmental agencies whenever they did not have the best interests of the American people at heart, i.e., all the time. He pushed for the Clean Air Act, OSHA, the EPA, and many other key pieces of environmental legislation. He created a team of young, hungry college students who researched perfidy in different federal agencies and industries, leading to massive number of new regulations designed to make the lives of Americans better and safer.

Ralph Nader is a great man. Ralph Nader is also a terrible man.

By the late 1970s, Nader's influence reached its high water mark. The key event was in 1978 when he did not win passage of a bill to create a consumer protection agency. The Reagan Revolution had begun. Jimmy Carter, a friend of Nader, would not spend the political capital on the bill. In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the presidential election and he appointed people to head the new agencies Nader helped create who had spent their whole careers working against them.

In response, Nader turned to the Democrats hoping they would continue his fight. However, the Democrats were in a serious defensive mode that they are just coming out of today. Desperate to regain the presidency and hold on to power in American politics, they turned to big corporations for campaign donations and became lukewarm on current regulations and mostly opposed to new ones.

What is clear from the new documentary about Nader, An Unreasonable Man, is that he ran for president in 2000 because he felt personally disgusted by the Democratic Party. Despite his unbelievable claims to the contrary, Nader was happy to throw the election to Bush. The smug look on his face after the election and the arrogant words he spoke shows how self-satisfied he was with what he had done. He showed the Democratic Party that they could not ignore their left wing.

Nader correctly claims that the Democrats had completely marginalized their own base. He tapped into the frustration of many progressives, myself included, who were utterly disgusted with the Democrats under the Clinton era. The final blow was Al Gore picking the loathsome Joe Lieberman as his vice-presidential candidate. How could a good Democrat with ideals vote for that ticket? Sadly, I didn't understand the American political system very well at the time, even though I was 26 years old.

Remarkably, Ralph Nader also has very little understanding of the American political system. This is strange since he has spent his entire career inside the Beltway. His feelings and those of his followers are quite similar to what the right felt about the Republican Party in the 1950s and early 1960s. They considered the Republicans to be Democrats-lite and had a hard time voting for people such as Nelson Rockefeller. But they understood American politics. They knew that a third party was a stupid idea. What needed to happen was that they would take over the Republican Party. Beginning in the 1950s, particularly in southern California, they did just that. By 1964, they were able to nominate Barry Goldwater for president. Although they failed, most were satisfied enough with Nixon in 1968 and they were ecstatic about Reagan in 1980. Between 1994 and 2006, they dominated American politics and of course still control the presidency today.

I don't think that working from the bottom to take over the Democratic Party ever seriously crossed Nader's mind. They ask him about that in the movie--why didn't you run in the Democratic primary? He answered more or less that it was because he would be gone by February. For Nader, it's all about him. He wanted to be in the public eye all the way. Building a movement to take over the party did not mesh with his immediateist goals. Eric Alterman, one of the only Nader critics to be interviewed for the film, called Nader a Leninist, because he believes things have to get worse before they get better. I'm not sure if this is true exactly. I think that much of the Nader phenomenon was a hangover from the 60s. I went to see Nader speak in the fall of 2000 in Albuquerque. While the media focused on all of Nader's young supporters, probably 80% of the crowd was over 50. The ex-hippies came out for Ralph in a big time way. Few of these people really understood the two-party system. To them, and to me at the time, creating a third party was a legitimate way to conduct yourself. They were idealists in a time when idealism had little value in American political life.

What infuriates me about Nader of course is his actions in 2000. First of all, Nader never should have campaigned in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Iowa, New Hampshire, or other close states. He claims that he ran a 50 state campaign, but that is essentially a lie. When he could have focused on safe Democratic states like California or Massachusetts, or truly made it a national campaign by going to strong red states and campaigning in college towns like Austin or Chapel Hill, he worked as hard as he could to kill Gore in the end. And so he did. Nader and his supporters also pull out the tired claim that there were lots of reasons Gore lost. Eric Alterman puts that argument in the proper perspective. He says that, yes, the Gore campaign was a disaster. Yes, the party had moved too far to the Right, alienating its base. Yes, picking Lieberman for VP was a bad idea. But there was one man who could have prevented George W. Bush from winning the presidency and that was Ralph Nader. It's really hard to refute that point.

What has come of the Nader debacle and the Bush presidency is the rise of the Netroots. A new, younger, and meaner generation of Democrats is taking over the party. For these people, partisanship trumps ideology. After 6 years of this administration, I am fully in their camp. These people have learned the lessons of the New Right in a way that the 60s left never did. We are taking over the party from the inside, pushing progressive candidates, challenging perceived wisdom from party elites, and trying to do away with people like Joe Lieberman. I feel better now about the future of the party and the nation than I have since 1994. There is no room in this new paradigm for Ralph Nader and his supporters. He doesn't understand that, something proven by his absurd 2004 "campaign," if not long before. Would the Netroots have happened without the Bush presidency? I suspect the answer is yes, though in a different way. I think Republicans would have pilloried Gore in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Democrats would have suffered enormous losses in 2002. What would have happened in 2004? Who knows. Perhaps Gore's smart handling of foreign policy would have won him great support? Or perhaps Republicans would be calling Democrats traitors more often then they already do and they would have swept into office. Either way, the progressives in the Democratic Party would have organized to take it back at some point, much as right-wingers did with the Republicans in the 50s and 60s.

As for the film itself, it's pretty strong. It is clearly made by Nader supporters. Alterman and Todd Gitlin are really the only critics that get interviewed. But despite that, An Unreasonable Man, places Nader's career in context and reminds us of all the great things he did before he decided that he should blow up the Democratic Party. It's a bit long and lets some of the claims of Nader and his supporters, like that he wasn't focusing on the tossup states, go too unchallenged. But if you go into the film with a critical eye, it's quite good.

Historical Image of the Day

For the next week or so, we will have Brazilian historical photos selected by our own Mr. Trend. Anyone who has photos to recommend for this series should e-mail me.
Cardinal Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, Brazilian Cardinal in São Paulo and a human rights leader during Brazil's military dictatorship (1964-1985)

Erik's Random 10

1. The Music of Islam, Vol. 2, Music of South Sinai Bedouins, Ya Rim
2. Pink Floyd, One of My Turns
3. Rinji Kadekaru, Jidai No Nagare
4. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Cool Breeze
5. Death Cab for Cutie, The Sound of Settling
6. French Frith Kaiser Thompson, Hai Sai Oji-San
7. Gillian Welch, Good Til Now
8. Gram Parsons, $1000 Wedding
9. Kathy Louvin & Pamela Brown Hayes, I Wish You Knew
10. Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show, Walking' in the Big Country

Lyrad's Random 10

1. Duke Ellington--Delta Bound
2. Bumble Bee Slim--When Somebody Loses (then Somebody Wins)
3. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion--Get Over Here
4. Miles Davis--I Loves You, Porgy
5. Albert Ayler--Spiritual Rebirth
6. Siegel-Schwall Band--Bring It With You When You Come
7. The Velvet Underground--New Age
8. Peeping Tom--Caipirinha
9. Masami Nakagawa--Magic Flute Tango
10. Memphis Slim--Slim's Boogie

Friday Guitar Blogging

T-Bone Walker.

Ground Control to Stanley Kurtz...

Transmitting from somewhere deep in the Kurtzoid Galaxy, Star Commander Stanley Kurtz thinks he knows what's really going on here.

I doubt it’s the Western good-guy vs. Eastern bad-guy theme that’s actually generating "liberal furor." I think what’s really bugging folks is 300's portrayal of anti-war types back home...

No doubt, liberal critics are reluctant to grouse in a way that makes it seem like they’re identifying with the villains back home. But I suspect the multiculturalism complaint is largely a smokescreen for what’s really bugging folks.

Right, I wonder how much Stanley paid his Oracle for that one? These guys have gotten so lazy that they can't even be bothered to manufacture evidence for their casual assertions of liberal treachery.

Orientalism: The Movie

Lyrad already posted a fine review of 300, but I thought I'd throw in my few cents.

I saw it the other night, and the thought that kept running through my head was that the film could have taken place entirely within the imagination of a ten year old boy. (Or your average neoconservative.) My little brother and I fought these sorts of battles countless times, wildly swinging our fence-picket swords, as well as a considerable array of other home-made melee weapons, at the oncoming horde, tumbling and rolling around our small side yard in South Nyack, fighting back wave after wave, taking arrow after arrow until we... just... couldn't... go on. (There's probably a secret rec room at AEI with foam-rubber swords and cardboard shields for just this sort of play. They call it "The Lab.")

300 is about as good an illustration of Edward Said's ideas about Orientalism as I ever expect to see on film. I should say first that I disagree with Said's overbroad characterization of Western scholarship as being in the service of empire, and think it's been amply demonstrated by Said's critics that work relating to the Orient has been rather more diverse than he gave it credit for. Then, as now, imperial governments and their intellectual servants seized upon scholarly work which served to justify their particular aims, and ignored that which didn't. (Please see: Iraq, invasion of.) As he was neither a historian nor a political scientist, but a professor of comparative literature, I find Said's work most compelling when he focused on the use of literature and art in the production of knowledge and the maintenance of Western popular assumptions about the Orient. 300 could function as Exhibit A in this regard. The Greek (rational, well-organized, frequently bathed, and white) and Persian (prone to magic, a horde, much less frequently bathed, non-white) ethnic and cultural stereotypes are so blatantly offensive that they come very near subverting themselves. There were parts of the film that really made me wonder if the filmmakers were indeed winking at the audience, such as the Spartans' "Before we sally forth in defense of reason, let's consult the Oracle!" bit, but I don't think so. Did this spoil the film for me? Not really. I mean, did you see Xerxes? That dude was huuuuuge.

Anecdotally, I find it interesting that quite a few people I've spoken to have criticized the movie's representation of the Persians in terms that that I can only describe as Saidian. That is, they recognize the role that popular culture plays in reinforcing assumptions about the Other, and the way that these assumptions service certain political ideologies. The fact that some tech dudes at a party, who had never heard of Edward Said, were casually pointing these things out to me between tequila shots can, I think, be seen as a victory for the better parts of Said's work.

Of course, the majority of people who see the film will not be not over-educated, pointy-headed liberal types who sit around increasingly-drunkenly discussing representations of the East. (That is a pleasure to be found only in select regions of this country.) I suspect more will see it in Victor Davis Hanson's terms, freedom versus tyranny, even if it is only the freedom to discard one's imperfect children and raise the rest as killing machines/sperm donors in a proto-fascist nightmare society, and will fold the film's negative portrayal of the Persians into their pre-existing anti-Iranian paranoia. The vast majority, however, will see it as simply a bloody good time at the movies, which it is, even if it didn't quite gel, in my opinion. Like a soupy merengue, though, it's still really tasty.

Mr. Trend's Random 10

1. "Walking Blues" - Son House
1. "Mr. Johnson's Blues" - Lonnie Johnson
3. "Trio in G, BWV 1039 - Andante" - Johann Sebastian Bach
4. Le Sacre du Printemps - "Danse sacrale. L'Elue" - Igor Stravinsky
5. "Time Can Never Kill the True Heart" - The Stars
6. "Windowlicker (Acid Edit) - Aphex Twin
7. "Someday" - The Strokes
8. "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" - Radiohead
9. "Moro na Roça" - Mônica Salmaso
10. "Sonnets/Unrealities XI" - Bjork

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Fraud of Allegations of Voter Fraud

I touched a few weeks ago on David Iglesias's failure to find substantial evidence of widespread voter fraud in New Mexico, and now Scott points us to this great article from the Washington Post on how often (and why) the specter of voter fraud is almost always no more than that - a specter. Both Scott and the Post do a far better job than I could in displaying how often allegations of voter fraud are just just urban myths, so check them out if you get the chance.

Historical Image of the Day

"Rio Colorado of the West"
1858 map

Portugal's dimmed memories of repression

Randy says it best: good God. Having studied military dictatorships and military state-society relations for awhile, I'm not unfamiliar with the dulling of memories over time and even the perverse reminiscence (during good times and bad) for the "good old days" of torture, repression, and lack of democracy. Still....what the heck is wrong with the Portuguese on this?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Book Review--The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Two people, identified only as the man and the boy, walk stoically across a burned, desolate landscape. The desiccated earth an endless horizon of formless ash. How long have they been walking? Where are they going? These are constant questions never answered in The Road, Cormac McCarthy's most recent novel. While most of his books take place on the outskirts of civilization, McCarthy takes this to its logical end: the aftermath of civilization’s destruction. There are no more cities, no more animals, no more vegetation, only the rare can of ancient food and a prayer for death. But, with all people dead, there is no god to answer the prayer. So these solitary travelers, father and son, wander and roam with only a vague notion of where they are going and why, avoiding cannibalistic bands of survivors, those who will “eat your children in front of you,” hoping against hope to find a group that they can join with and allow them to be human, once again.

Through the repetitive (eat, hide, and sleep) nature of survival and the formless setting, McCarthy creates a world that is barely more than a blank canvas. In this bizarre futurism, time has moved forward while civilization has regressed all the way to its base state, where predator and prey are revealed quickly, where there is no ambiguity about which is the correct path; the correct path is the one in which you survive. The man strives to stay somehow civilized, both in thought and action, with utter futility.

In the morning they came up out of the ravine and took to the road again. He’d carved the boy a flute from a piece of roadside cane and he took it from his coat and gave it to him. The boy took it wordlessly. After a while he fell back and after a while the man could here him playing. A formless music for the age to come. Or perhaps the last music on earth called up from out of the ashes of its ruin. The man turned and looked back at him. He was lost in concentration. The man thought he seemed some sad and solitary changeling child announcing the arrival of a traveling spectacle in shire and village who does not know that behind him the players have all been carried off by wolves.” [p.66]

That the man tries so hard to keep himself and his son human is the saddest part. For the man, he stretches back to grab semblances of what he used to know. For the boy, who never knew civilization before, all his father’s stories are lies and, in the end, happiness is the biggest lie of all. For them, the closest they can come to joy is relief, and true relief may only come in death. We then have two people walking through a formless landscape toward inevitable misery, starvation, and death. Yet, this is the most humane, soulful, spiritual work he’s ever done. Through the bleakness comes a philosophy of why we live, and what we live for. As wretched as their lives may be, the man looks at the son and he knows why; he struggles moment after moment with the thought of his son growing up without him but, inside or outside of these apocalyptic circumstances, these are the musings of a parent.

The book is written more in aphorisms than any kind of traditional prose. The above selection is one such aphorism. It comes toward the beginning of the book, but it could stand anywhere and work as well. Ultimately, the beauty lies here. The mantra of the walk, the repetition of hunger and of terror, the same questions asked over and over can seem, at first, redundant, but the stepwise changes in the characters as they march to their inevitable ends give each aphorism nuance that defies explanation and must be witnessed. McCarthy’s prose has always been terse, even in the long form works like The Crossing, but the sparseness of language here is a whole new level of brevity. Dialogue consists mainly of statements like “Let’s go,” “I’m scared,” “I know,” “We must keep moving,” “Talk to me,” “I am.” But, again, the sheer simplicity allows for a subtly sublime building of the relationship between father and son, a relationship that exists silently and without expression. This relationship reminds me strongly of Lone Wolf and Cub, the landmark comic by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima, and I can’t help but think McCarthy may have drawn inspiration from the Shogun’s assassin and his young son with the eyes of the Samurai. In The Road the bond is chillingly emotional, especially as they come to the shocking end in a twist that, as a fan of McCarthy’s, I could not possibly expect, one that is more mystical than anything he’s written previously. When all the myriad of emotions in the human experience are reduced to love and fear, do we become animals, or can there be something more? One thing is certain: sometimes simple is best, and McCarthy cuts straight to the bone. This is one of the best books to come from McCarthy, and I simply cannot recommend The Road highly enough.

A rich "legacy" indeed, that Confederacy...

For all the awful, offensive, racist claptrap mentioned in this story about the treatment of two white teachers who slept with their African-American students, what I find so painfully, awfully, unspeakably awful isn't just the fact that, as Lonnie Randolph said, had it been two black teachers instead of white teachers, they probably wouldn't be treated as favorably (although that is offensive).

What's particularly insidious in this story is not just the buried fact that there is a KKK museum in the town where one of the teachers taught, and you can buy such charming shirts as .

What I find worst in all of this (on a strictly personal level) is the fact that the Redneck shop exists, selling pro-KKK paraphenalia that, according to the google summary (apparently, even the redneck shop sells online), offers "Flag's,Bumper Sticker's,Tshirt's,Decals,If a redneck needs it we have it. Confederate to Klan." (And, in fine redneck form, it doesn't even know how to use an apostrophe.)

Thank god there's a store that caters to those intersted in buying things from racist-lily-white to aryan-white. Another fine standard in the South's "legacy"....

Say it ain't so, Joe!

Scott is right. I don't know if Lieberman was "slipping" when he made his plea, but I'm confident that he really does see through all the BS he's fed the public over the last 4 years while he single-handedly tries to take down his Democratic "colleagues". Guess that's the kind of crap you can suspect from a guy who decides to ignore the democratically-established primary system when it doesn't go his way.

There's One Less Good Musician Today

I always have been a bit conflicted over Buena Vista Social Club. The music is really good - I just was always torn between the fact that middle-aged fans who like Kenny G bought the CD and acted "cultured" in their "knowledge" of world music, even while I was glad they had (at least briefly) put down the Kenny G.

Still, you can't fault any member of Buena Vista Social Club itself for that, and it is with great sadness that the music world loses Faustino Oramas, one of the last musicians still alive from that recording session. He wasn't as famous as the others, but he was just as good.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tuesday Forgotten American Blogging: Abraham Ribicoff

Abraham Ribicoff was one of the Democratic Party's leading lights during the 1960s and 70s. A Senator from Connecticut, Ribicoff was one of the most progressive voices in the Senate, fighting for reforms at every corner and attacking injustice across the United States.

Born in 1910 New Britain, Connecticut, Ribicoff grew up in a tenement slum. He worked from the time he was a small boy, delivering groceries and selling newspapers. Ribicoff, a Jew, managed to work around the quota systems so dominate in pre-World War II American colleges and graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 1933, even though he had never earned an undergraduate degree. He soon turned from the law to politics and won his first race to serve in the Connecticut legislature in 1938. He was a strong New Dealer and continued to promote progressive politics throughout his long and distinguished career. He entered the United States House of Representatives in 1949 and served for two terms. In 1952, he ran for Senate but lost to the Republican candidate Prescott Bush. Nothing was ever heard from the Bush family again...

He built upon his defeat, becoming the first Jewish governor of Connecticut in 1955, leaving the post in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy named Ribicoff Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. Ribicoff was an early and vocal supporter of Senator Kennedy and it was a good position for him, as he had shown himself a leader on issues of public health and welfare during his political career. Ribicoff only served in the post for a year. Prescott Bush was retiring from the Senate and Ribicoff wanted the post he had lost ten years earlier. He won the 1962 election and served in the body until 1981.

It is during these nineteen years that Ribicoff made his name. He quickly became a leader on Progressive concerns. He chaired the Senate committee that hauled in the president of General Motors after it was discovered that GM hired women to seduce Ralph Nader in order to discredit him after the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed, as well as sending detectives to follow him. He was a friend of South Dakota Senator George McGovern and it was his support of McGovern that made his name nationally known. As many of you no doubt know, Ribicoff was speaking at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago to support McGovern. Of course, the 68 DNC was dominated by the way Chicago Mayor Richard Daley dealt with the thousands of antiwar protesters outside--by having his police beat the hell out of them. Ribicoff said in front of a national television audience, "If George McGovern were president, we wouldn’t have these Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago." The cameras focused on Daley who could be seen mouthing, "Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch."

I'm a bit unclear as to whether Ribicoff had presidential ambitions. He wrote a lot of books, suggesting that at the very least he thought he had something important to say for the American people. On the other hand, he quickly rebuffed George McGovern when he was tapped to replace Thomas Eagleton for the VP slot. Perhaps he simply recognized a sinking ship when he saw one. Incidentally, another person McGovern was interested in was Ralph Nader, which would have been weird to say the least.

Ribicoff spoke to a national audience on many of the issues he cared about. His book, The American Medical Machine (1972), discussed the difficulties average Americans faced in dealing with the American medical system. He concluded, "But if we want to make medical care a right in this country, a right in fact as well as in principle--and that is what our goal ought to be--then we have only one choice. We must move as quickly as possible toward a federally financed program of national health insurance. The program should establish a system of universal entitlement, one program for the entire nation. It should be open to everyone without exception and have no restrictions on the medical services that are covered or the length of time a person may receive the medical treatment he needs." Damn right.

Ribicoff published another book in 1972, America Can Make It!, which has chapters on many of the issues Ribicoff fought for throughout his career--school integration, housing problems, and welfare and poverty issues. In it, he discusses standing up for unpopular issues, especially concerning desegregation. In 1970, Mississippi Senator John Stennis proposed an amendment to a bill stating that the entire nation should be treated equally on school desegregation. That is, that if the South was going to have to have desegregated schools, the almost equally segregated northern schools should have to change too. Of course, Stennis proposed this hoping that the federal government would get out of the business of desegregation period, but Ribicoff called him on it. Ribicoff agreed that the North needed to desegregate and surprisingly gave his support to the Stennis Amendment. He argued that racism was a nationwide problem and that the entire nation needed to deal with it. He was pilloried in the press and by civil rights groups because the amendment was sponsored by Stennis. But you know what, Ribicoff was right. As we have seen in the 37 years since Ribicoff's stand, northern schools remain extremely segregated. The majority of northerners did not want their students going to school with black kids. Ribicoff knew that this was wrong and it is wrong.

Ribicoff was by no means perfect of course. He was a major supporter of the Shah for one thing and sharply attacked the Iranian Revolution. Attacking the Iranians was certainly bipartisan during the Hostage Crisis and for good reason, but the U.S.' relationship with the Shah, while advantageous at the time, has certainly hurt us in the long run and Ribicoff's vigorous support was a major part of this. He also made a terrible choice by hiring a young Joe Lieberman as an intern, thus launching this charlatan into his sickeningly moralistic and ego-driven political career. But who could tell this would happen at the time?

Ribicoff struggled with Alzheimer's Disease at the end of his life, but managed to work at his law office until only a year before he died in 1998.

Like so many of the people I've discussed lately in this series, there is no biography of Ribicoff. Frankly, I haven't been able to find out as much about the man as I had hoped. Again, here is a very important figure in mid-late 20th century American politics and no one has written anything on him. Odd.

Historical Image of the Day

Ralph Ellison

Flypaper Update

This 60 Minutes segment on Hassan Butt, a former militant jihadi fund raiser who now speaks out against violent Islamism, is well worth the time. Butt gives a fascinating account of how young British Muslims like himself are being recruited into the network, how the network raises funds, and how he now feels that Islam is being misused.

I think it's obviously in our interest to support those who challenge the Koranic justification of terrorism. There's a lot in the segment to discuss, but I found the following very interesting in regard to the question of whether U.S. involvement in Iraq is helping their work, aiding the promotion of democracy, or bolstering our security in any way. It's not encouraging:

The London bombings changed him. He began asking questions of his handlers, theological questions. He wanted to know whether the bombings could ever be justified in Islam. He waited and waited for answers. Months later, he was summoned by his handlers to a meeting in the Middle East. But he wasn’t given answers, only new orders.

"They were trying to force me into Iraq to fight basically," Butt says.

"So, to summarize, you're asking, basically, why should we be killing innocent people?" Simon asks.

"That's correct," Butt replies.

"And the answer you eventually received is go to Iraq and perhaps carry out a suicide mission?" Simon asks.

"Go to Iraq to basically – the actual word that they used was that I needed 'reprogramming.' And Iraq would give me the opportunity to basically be reprogrammed for what I needed I mean. I was quite shocked at the analogy," Butt says. "To think that will, firstly, I'm neither a computer nor a robot. And I don't know on your say so, I do on God's say so. And if you can't justify to me or prove to me that this is what God wants, then I'm gonna have to go my separate ways."

Despite Bob Simon's suggestion, I find it unlikely that al Qaeda would send one of their top fundraisers, a person in whom they'd already invested considerable training and resources, to Iraq just to kill himself, though I suppose that is possible. More likely, they wanted him to go to Iraq to experience their jihad up close, to get his head straight and recommit himself to the struggle, and his particular role in it, as a result of linking up and forming relationships with comrades in arms. In other words, Iraq has become like a Boy Scout Jamboree, except instead of vague Christianity and Pinewood Derby, it's militant Islamism and IEDs. Come to Iraq, get fired up, go back home to carry on the fight.

To point out the staggeringly obvious, this represents (yet)a(nother) significant failure in the Iraq strategy. Flypaper Theory held that the war in Iraq would serve as a shiny object to distract terrorists intending to attack inside America: They would go to Iraq, and they would never leave. Instead, Iraq has become a terrorist training camp and proving ground, an anvil upon which new militant jihadis are being forged every day. The reverberations of this, as with the similarly galvanizing events which took place in Afghanistan in the 1980s, will be felt for decades, as these highly motivated and trained activists return to their home countries, in the Middle East and beyond.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

Cartoon criticizing Quaker tolerance of Indians after Conestoga Massacre, 1763

An Instant Improvement in Commentators

Thank God.

I know Jaworski will probably be irritating, too, but maybe outside of Tim McCarver, there is absolutely no former-player-turned-commentator to me than Theisman. I remember a game a few years ago where one team got a penalty and had to kick off from further back. Theisman's analysis? "You just don't want that. Because now you have to kick from further back, and the receiving team gets the ball closer to your end zone". Thank you, Captain Obvious. I know many "commentator"/former players are equally dumb (I remember David Justice once telling us that "the last thing you want to do as a hitter here is strike out" when the bases were loaded in one game). Still, NOBODY had a voice as irritating as Theisman's, and NOBODY had less to say in football than Theisman. How he stayed in the business for 19 years is beyond me (I'm sure it was all because of his big "break" on Monday Night football).

He truly was the Tim McCarver of football sportscasters.

Right of Return

Very interesting article in today's Times about how many Palestinians have accepted the reality that the vast majority of them will not be able to exercise their right of return to homes inside Israel.

The right of return "is my right, which I have inherited from my parents and grandparents," said Maha Bseis, 39, a Palestinian whose family comes from Jerusalem. "But if I have the right, I will not return because I was born and grew up here [in Jordan]."

In 2003, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank city of Ramallah, in one of the most comprehensive surveys conducted on the subject, found that most Palestinians would be unlikely to move if they were granted the right of return.

"Once the Palestinian narrative is assured, then the tactical issue of where they will go becomes easy to approach," said Khalil Shikaki, who directs the center. "Everybody wants the emotional question addressed; everybody is happy with the likely modalities."

He added, "The novel aspect of the survey is, once we gave assurances about the right of return, the other issues became very resolvable," meaning that many said they would take compensation and would not move.

More important to many of the refugees than returning to the land and homes that were stolen from them, homes to which the keys are often passed down as heirlooms, is recognition by Israel that al-Nakba took place, that a crime was actually committed, that the Palestinians were, in fact, driven from their homes by Zionist paramilitaries in 1948, and didn't just all happen to spontaneously flee en masse, either to the 7-11 to get cigarettes, or at the urging of fictional Arab radio broadcasts.

Add to this the polling that shows that, at least since the mid-90s, a majority of Palestinians has favored a two-state solution to the conflict, and you effectively dynamite the hasbarist claim that the Palestinians will never accept a Jewish state as their neighbor. They will, and most of them already have. In this respect, both the Palestinian and the Israeli electorates are far out in front of their respective governments, both of which are currently controlled by extremists, largely as a result of the policies and actions of the other side's extremists.

Even though most Palestinians and Israelis seem to have a similar understanding of the contours of an eventual peace agreement, it's important to grasp the moral disparity in the concessions which each side is expected to make. In the formula that is often described, Palestinians will give up the right of return, and Israel will give up the large majority of settlements on the West Bank. These are not remotely equivalent concessions. Palestinians agree to relinquish an internationally recognized legal and human right; Israel agrees to withdraw from colonies which are recognized, even among a majority of Israelis, as illegitimate and illegal from their inception. This goes to the base cynicism which has always powered the settlement enterprise, which involves the creation, through whatever means and whatever the cost to the Palestinians, of facts on the ground to serve as future bargaining chips.

That the Palestinians surely understand this, and yet a majority of them are willing to effectively reward Israel's settlement strategy by relinquishing the very same right of return which Zionists claim for themselves, speaks to the importance of having one's history affirmed. Yes, fine, keep our houses, many Palestinians seem to be saying, just stop telling us we don't exist as a people, stop telling us we voluntarily fled the homes and land on which we'd lived and raised families for generations, and, at long last, stop telling us, and the world, that this was a land without people when you arrived.

The Continued Refusal to Deal with Colombia's Paramilitary Forces

In the wake of the recent positive development involving heavy fines for Chiquita for paying paramilitaries for protection, the efforts to curb Colombia's paramilitary groups has suffered another setback. President Álvaro Uribe's administration rejected a leaked CIA report that ties Colombia's right-wing paramilitary groups directly to army chief Gen. Mario Montoya. Uribe's administration, which recently won re-election in a fiercely contested election, has faced myriad problems as strong ties between ranking members of his administration and the paramilitary groups have become clearer.

Uribe could do the right thing and fire those involved, disavowing himself of anybody who supports these terrorist groups that patrol Colombia's rural areas and often kill indiscriminately in the name of tracking "subversives". Instead, though, he continues to refuse what is becoming increasingly clear, and what many have suspected since the strong rise of the paramilitaries since at least the 1980s: the Colombian state, through its material, economic, and moral support of the paramilitary groups, has waged state-sponsored terror, killing indiscriminately in the name of trying to subdue the revolutionary group FARC's 40-year guerrilla war.

Instead of taking real steps towards an actual resolution to this conflict, he has stubbornly dug his heels in, refusing what even the courts are now acknowledging somewhat in the trials and testimonies of paramilitaries: that the Colombian government and the paramilitaries are in the same bed. If he really wanted to see an end to the useless violence and to find a peaceful solution to the 40+-year struggle in Colombia, then he wouldn't talk about the need for the "courts to do their jobs". He could take the initiative, disavow any and all such activities and those involved with them, and move towards peace. Unfortunately, Uribe's refusal of the increasingly open facts would seem to indicate that we will have to continue waiting for a real leader in Colombia who will not only say he or she wants peace; he or she will actually work for it every chance they get.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

Dock, Everett, Washington. Site of 1916 Everett Massacre

Probably no real posting for me today since I have a job interview tomorrow and fantasy baseball auction tonight. But I will say this, Go Ducks! Do for the Union. Beat those Confederate Florida bastards!

Punks, Posers, and Jesus

Today's Dallas Morning News features a front page article describing something that has bothered me for many years: the rise of "alternative lifestyle" evangelical churches throughout the country and, in this case, celebrating one in particular in Dallas, Deliverance Bible Church. These churches target different groups, there are many in gay communities, hip-hop communities, and metal communities. This one particularly targets the punk crowd, which tends to have the most intimidating appearance of the groups. Through music, faith-based body art, and a brashness of attitude, this church has grown significantly since its inception, bringing mainstream outcasts into the fold to, somehow, celebrate their faith in a way they can feel good about. The church performs a lot of charity work, which is a good thing, and I can appreciate that these people want to worship their way, but there's an inherent problem. The traditional message of the punk community has little to do with music, tattoos, piercings, and haircuts, and more to do with attitude and individualism.

What this kind of church does is pretend to celebrate this individualism, all the while easing the parishoners into a conformist bliss. It's a costume; underneath the mohawk and behind the body modifications is a manipulative dogmatist who, when church leader Pastor Cleetus was first coming into his own as a preacher " his early 20s, he would go to underground punk concerts night after night and look out upon a sea of lost faces. He felt like a shepherd gazing at his flock of black sheep." Given the sometimes militant nature of punks and their principles, and the overwhelming "straight edge" movement, there something that tells me that punks don't need your help. People may think that they're scary jerks, but they have principles, something the Christian community may want to think about. A wolf in sheep's clothing is no less a wolf. An evangelical blowhard in punk's clothing is nothing but a poser.

My favorite quote from the piece comes from Mr. Warren, a higher-up in the church, who says "Even before I was a Christian, I was bold. But when I became a Christian, God stepped that up a notch." That, my friends, is poser talk.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Teddy Atlas: Commentator Extraordinaire

My nomination for the greatest commentator in sports today is officially out: Teddy Atlas, ESPN Boxing's color man. Boxing may not have the popularity it once did, but don't tell that to Teddy. His energy and enthusiasm for the sport at every level makes bad fights more interesting and makes good fights great. More than that, though, his knowledge and understanding of the in-ring action is singular. Before the main event each week, Atlas sets up the "fight plan" for each boxer. Acting it out with a partner, he shows what they must do to win and to avoid their opponent. Almost invariably, his prediction mimicks exactly what the winning boxer has done; it's uncanny.

Before going into the booth, Atlas was both a boxer and a trainer, one of Mike Tyson's original trainers, in fact, which lends him the credibility he displays when talking about a fight. But, unlike many color commentators who have been in their respective games (Phil Simms, Tim McCarver, Charles Barkley, for examples), Atlas does not taint the game with stories about his great times in the sport that have little to nothing to do with what is actually going on. It's always refreshing to listen to no nonsense commentary that both enlightens and enriches the game. Unlike some other commentators who are adept at calling multiple sports, I do not wish to see Atlas call a baseball game but, in his element, there is nobody better. Hats off to Teddy Atlas!!

Historical Image of the Day

Glen Canyon Dam, Colorado River, Arizona

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Insidious Nature of the Bush Administration Strikes Again

Because of a little-known provision in the Medicare bill that takes away an incentive for drug companies to subsidize birth control for college students, the price of the pill is going up by 300% at many schools. At Kansas State for instance, the price is going from $10 to $30 a month.

Although the story doesn't go into this, there is little question in my mind that this was an intentional move by the Bush administration and the Republican Congress that passed the bill in 2005 to make contraception harder for people to get. Their anti-woman campaign wins another round.

Lyrad's Random 10

I'm not too tough to listen to a little Nazareth...are you?

1. Jimmy Yancey--Everlasting Blues
2. Chuck Berry--Thirty Days
3. Django Reinhardt--Improvisation No.3 (Part 2)
4. Beatallica--Everybody's Got a Ticket to Ride (but Me & My Lightning)
5. Derailers--All the Rage in Paris
6. Bob Ostertag--Ink
7. Bumble Bee Slim--Policy Dream Blues
8. Nazareth--Love Hurts
9. Gomez--Sweet Virginia
10. Fiddlin' John Carson--Jimmie on the Railroad

Asian Rivers

I have stated more than once before that the Asian environmental crisis will undermine the rise of Asian nations to world power. Alan Boyd's Asia Times story on the horrid conditions of Asian rivers only makes me feel stronger about this. Dams, human population growth, and especially massive unregulated industrial pollution are placing these rivers in extreme danger. The Yangtze is the worst but the Ganges, Mekong, Indus, and most other major Asian rivers also face incredible challenges. Multiple species have already gone extinct and thousands of others, from large water mammals to plants, are in serious trouble.

As Tom Le Quense from the World Wildlife Federation says, "We're talking about a complete collapse of the system - they're so polluted, so over-extracted or so cut up by dams that it's really not functioning as a river anymore. It's a challenge that humanity faces not far off the scale of climate change." I could not agree more. Moreover, I simply do not see how China and India can grow very much more and not face the complete collapse of their environmental base.

Without functioning water systems, human civilization cannot survive. That sounds apocalyptic, but it is also true. China, India, and to a lesser extent nations like Vietnam, Burma, and Laos, are reaching a point where they have to decide whether they want to survive.

Erik's Random 10

1. Bradley Walker, Life or Love
2. Brownie Ford, Satisfied Mind
3. Freakwater, My History
4. Sufjan Stevens, The Blackhawk War
5. Eloise Bennett, Sting Me, Mr. Strange Man
6. The Sons of the Pioneers, Cowboy Country
7. Drive-By Truckers, Careless
8. Charles Ives, Symphony No. 2. New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, conductor
9. Lucinda Williams, Words
10. Neil Young, Crime in the City

Quick Movie Review: Marie Antoinette

I really don't know what the reception of this in the States was, and I know I'm a little behind, (many movies arrive here later than in the States), so there will be a couple of these coming in the near future.

1. I know this was based on Antonia Fraser's book, but I don't know what Sofia Coppola was trying to do. a) If this was a movie that was supposed to make us feel mad about the French monarchy, well, it was so far removed beyond any general contextualization of society beyond passing mentions of angry mobs and expensive wars, it failed. b) If this was a movie that was supposed to make us feel sorry for Marie Antoinette, well, the acting (outside of Dunst) was so generally wooden that there was virtually no character development, and so it failed. c) If this was a movie that was simply supposed to complicate things, well, still - no character development. It failed. d) If this was supposed to portray Marie Antoinette as a strong feminist figure, than the whole "stand by my man" thing at the end completely undid that, and it failed. 3) If it was just supposed to damn the excesses of the French monarchy specifically, and monarchies more broadly, well, it was also so celebratory and (failingly) attempted to humanize such excesses that it failed. f) If it was supposed to be a "cutting-edge" "re-interpretation" of the Versailles era France, with music by New Order, Joy Division, and Aphex Twin, well, the vision was (if you'll pardon the pun), lost in translation. g) If this was a movie that was supposed to be generally boring, just showing pretty rooms of Versailles and people in old-timey clothes, well, it succeeded.

2. It's amazing what an at-best mediocre (and at times plain bad) script can do to an already mediocre film. Only Kirsten Dunst came out looking even half good as an actress with her lines, and even then, she only barely salvaged some of what were otherwise generally asinine and even downright stupid scenes of dialogue.

3. Such clumsy as showing Kirsten Dunst (finally) getting laid by Louix XVI, cutting to her falling in a green field with an ecstatic look on her face for one second, and cutting to her giving birth, is just plain clumsy and stupid. Ditto the treatment of her fantasization of the Swedish officer on his horse, with giant balls of fire exploding behind him and corpses from battle in front of him.

4. Sofia Coppola is overrated.

Historical Image of the Day

Specimens of the passenger pigeon and Carolina parakeet, extinct American birds.

Friday Guitar Blogging

Steve Cropper.

Cropper is among the small handful of players who really defined the role and sound of the electric guitar in pop music. You won't see a lot of footage of Cropper taking extended solos, but he can say more with one perfectly placed double stop bend as most chumps can with fifteen minutes and a bank of effects. I heard an interview once where Cropper explained how, as a kid, he got guitar lessons for half price: His friend took the lesson, ran home to show Steve what he'd learned that day, and they split the cost.

With Booker T. and the MGs, Cropper played (and wrote and engineered and produced) for one of the legendary studio bands of the pop era, performing on hundreds of Stax sessions. At a time in American history when that sort of thing could get you hurt, the band was integrated, both racially and musically. Booker T. Jones' gospel-influenced organ playing, Cropper's country-blues picking, Donald Dunn's McCartney-inspired counter-melodic chug, and Al Jackson, Jr.'s impeccable time combined to create something uniquely funky, uniquely Southern, and uniquely American.

Mister Trend's Random 10

1. "Professor Nutbutter's House of Treats" - Primus
2. "It Ain't Me Babe" - Bob Dylan
3. "The Dandy Warhols Love Almost Everyone" - The Dandy Warhols
4. "She's All Up House" - Mojave 3
5. "Guns Under the Counter" - The Fiery Furnaces
6. "Seven Swans" - Sufjan Stevens
7. "Bdydhyonchord" - Aphex Twin
8. "Sunday Night Just Keeps on Rolling" - Múm
9. "Chronology" - Ornette Coleman
10. "Dirty Dream Number 2" - Belle & Sebastian

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Return of the Son of It Came from the Dumb

The Dumb, it came for me. There was Glenn Beck, who appeals, I can only guess, to the type of person who is turned off by the intellectual rigor of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, interviewing Joel Mowbray, who has the distinction of being perhaps the only member of the conservative young guard with even less journalistic substance than Jonah Goldberg, on the state of the political left in America as evidenced by Rosie O'Donnell's behaviour on The View. Friends, the Dumb was literally pouring out of my television screen and onto the floor. I had to run and grab a broom and sweep it out on to the porch before it soaked into the rug, and even then I was fighting back the urge to watch Home Improvement for the next few hours. Close.

Republicans Hate Black People--Exhibit A

Today, the Republican Party again showed that it hates black people.


House Republicans forced a delay on a bill giving Washington D.C. a representative in the House by attempting to repeal the city's ban on handgun ownership.

That was just a tactic though. This quote showed they don't care much about the gun issue at all.
From Texas Republican Lamar Smith: 'Washington, D.C. is not a state, it cannot have a voting member in the House.'

In addition, George W. Bush has threatened to veto the bill, which would also create another House district that would go to Utah until the next census. Because Washington, D.C. is not a state, he says, they have no right to representation in the House.

Yes, it's good to hear from that bastion of constitutionalism, George W. Bush. I'm sure glad he has also made sure that other parts of the Constitution, such as freedom of speech and protection from cruel and unusual punishment, have also been protected.

It's this basic--Washington, D.C. is a majority black city. It is a certain seat for the Democrats. Thus, the Republicans will do everything they can to not allow these people to have equal representation.

It's racism, pure and simple.

Not Good

I'm no expert on German law nor the Koran. Maybe Matt would have something more intelligent to say about this.

But I am shocked by that German judge Christa Datz-Winter ruled against granting a divorce to a Muslim woman on the grounds of spousal abuse because she said the Koran sanctioned wife beating.


It seems that Datz-Winter seriously misinterpreted the particular passage of the Koran in question. Even Muslim scholars are saying so. But what I think is happening here is that we have a judge trying to be as culturall sensitive as possible in a nation with tense racial issues. However, not only is it clear that under German law the Koran has no power, but Datz-Winter is just wrong. There is a place for cultural sensitivity in the world. But there are also definite standards of right and wrong. Spousal abuse is one of those things. I don't care what the cultural issues are. Nations simply cannot allow people to abuse their partners legally. Nothing good can come of this.

My favorite thing about the case is this quote from a spokesmen for the court, “The ruling is not justifiable, but the judge herself cannot explain it at this moment,” he said. Ah.

Very, very disturbing.

Historical Image of the Day

Alexander Haig. Photo by Arthur Grace.

"Damn Proud"

That's how John Bolton says he feels about his successful efforts as UN ambassador to delay a cease-fire during last summer's Lebanon War. Bolton says it was "perfectly legitimate...and good politics" for Israel to continue a bombing campaign which ended up killing over 1000 Lebanese civilians, as well as destroying power stations and water treatment facilities, gutting entire neighborhoods, and displacing over 700,000 people. Heckuva job, Johnny.

Oh, but there's more. As a result of their not being wiped out, Hezbollah emerged from the conflict with credibility massively enhanced, and, in the eyes of many, have established themselves as the new vanguard of Arab resistance. The displaying of Nasrallah's picture alongside Nasser's, the face of militant Arab Shi'ism next to the face of pan-Arab socialism, represents the most significant development in Middle East politics since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, probably even longer. Does this improve Israel's security, or diminish it? Is this better for democracy in the Middle East, or worse?

Heckuva job, Johnny.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Morons, Idiots, and Traitors

I thought I'd see what the Confederate sympathizer reaction is to the John Sims anti-Confederate flag exhibit in Tallahassee is.

It's predictably insane.

Check out Southern Knight. Great name, eh! This "Christian pro-life libertarian" (clearly showing the meaningless of the term "libertarian" today) is upset. After all, he says, "Who decides what being a southerner means ... someone deep in the bowels of the NAACP beast?" Clearly, he means that the people who should decide what being a southerner means are neo-Confederate racist white males. Right on! He goes on, "I am sick and tired of organizations like the NAACP and of people like Sims who insult the south, southerners, and southern culture in order to give themselves a raison d'etre." Sad isn't it? What is a good pro-lynching white guy to do in Florida these days? As for his "Don't Tread on Dixie" flag he has on his site. Might I suggest burning it? Or perhaps dropping it in a vat of pesticide?

The comments to this story at American Renaissance, a blog that seems to be devoted to protecting America's "white heritage" are great too! A couple of first-rate examples:

< style="font-weight: bold;">“Visual terrorism."What I think of when I see four or more young black men wearing certain colors and flashing hand signs walking down the street

Wonder if Sims is Black? They (blacks) are always saying our Founding Fathers are “dead White males” and they were nothing but racists anyway. Typical black “thought processes”.

The official record proves that it was, in fact, the
LINCOLN government which was the REAL embodiment of evil, not the South.

Oh boy...

I'm surprised that our old friend Treason in Defense of Slavery Yankee hasn't commented on this yet. Too bad. I miss his ultra-intelligent discussion of American history...

I think I have to shower now. I feel dirty.

John McCain Gets All Old-Timey In His Foreign Policy Speeches

John McCain, in a speech to veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion, warned against the creeping tide of socialism in Latin America. His examples--Hugo Chavez, Castro, and Evo Morales.

Now, attacking Castro is old hat and silly at this point, but whatever. Attacking Chavez--well, I don't agree but he's an easy target. But it's McCain's slam on Evo Morales that makes me angry. First, Morales hasn't even had a chance to prove anything yet. McCain is going back to an old-time version of US-Latin American relations when any leader who tried to improve the quality of life for his people, at even the tiniest expense to US interests, was overthrown. Morales wants to legalize coca production. Good for him. If the US really wants to stop cocaine use, let's work on the demand. It's not as if Morales is planning on flooding American streets with oceans of cocaine as part of a socialist plot to overthrow capitalism and democracy.

But John McCain might believe he is. And while it is bad enough that US politicians still pander to the Miami Cubans, actually speaking for an audience of Bay of Pigs veterans is way over the top.

Each and every day, John McCain demonstrates how much he sucks.

Historical Image of the Day

Image from Burr-Hamilton duel, 1804

Baseball Predictions - Umm....Thanks?

Sports Illustrated predicts the Indians will win the Central. I can't help but be excited for this year after the enormous letdown of last year, but...

Sports Illustrated also has the Tribe losing to the Yankees in the first round. I know there's a reason they play the 162 games, instead of just doign paper-winners, but if that's how it ends up...well, I'm not sure my physical form will be able to maintain the sheer energy force that will be my Yankee hatred if the Yanks beat them in the playoffs (think the Emperor's death at the end of the Return of the Jedi - we're talking that kind of hatred).

Still, at least they didn't pick the Tribe to win the World Series. If I recall correctly, the last time that happened, the Tribe lost over 100 games back in the 80s. Good times...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tuesday Forgotten American Blogging: Bella Abzug

One of the most disturbing aspects of Forgotten American Blogging is how quickly people are forgotten. Bella Abzug died 9 years ago. Yet who remembers her today? Some of you readers? No doubt. But if I were to ask my undergraduates who Bella Abzug was, I would be shocked if any of them knew. In fact, if I were to ask the master's students in U.S. history in my program, I would bet not so many of them would know anything specific about her. Will Gloria Steinem even be remembered a decade after her death? I doubt it. So sometimes, I feel the need to talk about someone whose history is recent and who should still be remembered by lots of people today as a key person in American history, but who is not.

Bella Abzug was born in 1920 in New York. Early in her life, she showed herself to be a leader. When her grandfather and father died, there was no male left to say the year of mourning prayers for her Jewish family. Although women were not supposed to do this, she went to temple and did so anyway. From the beginning of her career, she pushed for women's rights, labor rights, and civil rights. She was a professional pioneer, graduating from Hunter College with a B.A., then getting a LL.B. from Columbia. She was admitted to the bar in 1947 and immediately began practicing law, something far from common among women of her generation. Many of her early cases were in labor law, including the United Auto Workers. But she only worked with labor lawyers for two years because, in her words, "I left those dopey labor layers because they treated me like shit." Labor was more than a bit sexist at that time and most of these lawyers could not deal with a woman sitting at the table with them on an equal footing. A secretary, OK. But not a lawyer.

Abzug became a leading light in national campaigns to fight for civil rights, against the Vietnam War, and for the Equal Rights Amendment. She became counsel for several people forced to testify in front of HUAC or McCarthy's Senate committee. She really made her name though testifying for Willie McGee in the 1950s. In 1949, McGee was arrested in Mississippi for having sex with a white woman. He was found guilty of rape and sentenced to death. In reality, the relationship had been consensual and had gone on for three years. The woman charged him with rape when McGee decided to end the affair. The NAACP and the National Lawyers Guild took up McGee's case. The NLG asked the thirty year old Abzug to go to Mississippi to defend McGee in 1950. She argued that McGee was sentenced to cruel and unusual punishment. She succeeded in obtaining a six month stay of execution. She returned to argue a second appeal but could not find a place to stay in Jackson because the Klan was looking for this communist Jew defending a black man. The appeal was denied. A pregnant Abzug suffered a miscarriage. McGee was executed in 1951.

In 1961, Abzug showed up at a planning meeting for the group that became Women's Strike for Peace, a mother's group determined to fight the poisoning of food their children ate by atmospheric nuclear testing. She quickly took a leadership position in the group, convincing the organization to start lobbying Congress instead of simply protesting. By the end of 1962, she became legislative direction for the organization. She helped turn the organization from nuclear opposition to fighting the war in Vietnam. She helped the organization become more politically sophisticated and led the evolution of the group into one of the most powerful women's organizations in the country.

She was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970, serving her Manhattan district until 1977. She won specifically on a platform of peace and women's equality, the first successful campaign on these grounds since Jeannette Rankin. She faced severe sexism within Congress. When she wanted to swim in the House swimming pool, she was told it was only open to women at 5 AM. She was told that she could not vote wearing her signature hats. She was given secondary committee assignments. She wanted a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her campaign platform. Instead, she was placed on the Public Works and Transportation Committee. Abzug did not do what most good freshmen congresspeople are supposed to: shut up. Instead, she became a national phenomenon as the most prominent woman in Washington (along with Shirley Chisholm, speaking of Forgotten Americans). She was featured in Life magazine. But of course these features were almost all sexist, as they were written by the good ol' boys club of the Washington press corps. She was frequently referred to as a "battleaxe." Norman Mailer said her voice, "could boil the fat off a cab driver's neck." Despite this bad treatment, Abzug proved an effective congresswoman. She co-authored the Freedom of Information Act and the Right to Privacy Act. She was the first member of Congress to call for Richard Nixon's impeachment.

How did the New York Democratic Party respond to Bella Abzug. They redistricted her out of her seat at the end of her first term! Determined to keep on, she ran a tough race against the popular liberal congressman on the Upper West Side, a decision that led to deep animosity against her within the New York Democratic Party. Ryan had cancer though and was weakening. He died before the primary. Abzug's enemies claimed that she had killed him. In any case, Abzug won the race. When she returned to the House, although she had enemies in New York that hated her, she had won the respect of Majority Leader Tip O'Neill, who made Abzug a deputy whip. During her third term in Congress, U.S. News and World Report named her one of the three most influential members of Congress.

She hoped to continue her career in the Senate but lost the 1976 Democratic primary to Daniel Patrick Moynihan in a very tight race. More than likely, the race was thrown to Moynihan when the New York Times withdrew its support for her at the last minute. The Times editorial board voted 8-2 in her favor but Arthur Ochs Sulzberger exercised his prerogative as owner and forced a switch to Moynihan. She ran for a few other offices in New York during the next several years but her political time had past and she left electoral politics, spending the rest of her life fighting for the causes she cared so much about.

Bella Abzug died in 1998, at the age of 78. Her death was noted in the United States, but was mourned internationally. Kofi Annan spoke at her memorial service at the United Nations, reminding the audience that Abzug has assembled the first women's caucus on the environment in Rio in 1992. Over 1400 people attended that service, remembering Abzug's work on environmentalism, peace, human rights, military policy, globalization, and of course, feminism.

A less classy quip came from George H.W. Bush, who when asked about Abzug, who was in failing health, attending the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, remarked, "I feel sorry for the Chinese having Bella Abzug running around China."

Much of the information for this essay comes from Judith Nies, Nine Women: Portraits from the American Radical Tradition. Abzug's journal, Bella! Ms. Abzug Goes to Washington and her book Gender Gap: Bella Abzug's Guide to Political Power for American Women are also worth taking a look at, even so many years later. I cannot find a full-length biography on Abzug, which is ridiculous.

Absurd Texts of American History (VII, f)

The final entry in this series on American food from Alice L. McLean's wonderful, Cooking in America, 1840-1945.

This, another from Elizabeth Fries Ellet's New Cyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, and Practical Housekeeper, from 1871.

This bit is on adulterated sugar.

"The sugar, if it be brown, without taking note of such items as a little lead, a good deal of sand, some clay and flour is pretty nearly as thick as it can hold chips of cane and swarms of mites...For sugar, the best advice is--if you like to pay for dirt, and to mix it with your preserves, pudding, and pastry, and choose to believe that sugar which moistens even the thick paper they place it in, and which looks dark, smells strong, and sticks to your fingers, is richer in sweetening than clear sparkling white sugar, out of which none of the sweetening but all of the dirt has been washed--then buy white sugar."


Historical Image of the Day

Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivering his inaugural address. March 4, 1933.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Whiteness of Willie Bloomquist

Willie Bloomquist is a utility player for the Seattle Mariners. He is also terrible. It's no fault of his own. He works hard. He's fairly fast. He just does not have the talent to be a major league baseball player. Despite this blindingly obvious fact, the Mariners keep him on the roster and give him far too much playing time. While his suckiness causes me great suffering, that is not the point of this post. Again, it's not his fault. What I am interested in is why Bloomquist is so popular with the team's fans.

Throughout his tenure with the Mariners, now stretching back to a late-season callup in 2002, Seattle fans have loved this guy. Many of the team's more thoughtful fans have wondered why this is so. There is a clear reason for this: Willie Bloomquist is white. Not only that, but Bloomquist exudes characteristics that reinforce what many fans believe are core to their identity as whites: hard-working, shows up every day, overcomes an overall lack of talent to make the most of what he has, pulls himself up by his bootstraps, etc.
A bit of evidence here. Compare fans' reactions to Bloomquist and the vastly superior Randy Winn. Winn, an outfielder for the Mariners until a couple of years ago, is a solid player. He's now overpaid by the Giants, but he is a very functional outfielder. He is a decent defender in left, he runs well, he hits for a bit of power and good enough average. In other words, he is an average (or perhaps just below average) starting player in the major leagues. Yet fans could not have cared less about Winn. In fact, they'd often grouse about how Winn wasn't good enough. It should also be said that Randy Winn is black. Winn also plays hard. He also runs well. He also shows up every day and gives his all. Yet despite these characteristics, Mariners' fans never identified with him. Nor have they identified strongly with other excellent African-American players on the team, including Mike Cameron. I attended 3 Mariners spring training games last week. Bloomquist started in all 3. The fans cheered loudly every time he came to the plate. As for immensely better players like Kenji Johjima, Adrian Beltre, or even Felix Hernandez, the fans seemed indifferent. The only player who received comparable applause was Ichiro, who is the most exciting player in baseball. Willie Bloomquist is approximately the 500th most exciting player in baseball.
Some readers might complain that the Bloomquist phenomena is not exclusively about race. Perhaps. He is after all a local boy and the Mariners certainly love their local boys. But how often do local fans identify as strongly with locally-born black players as they do with white? It may not be all about race, but it is in part. It comes down to this: many white fans almost never identify with non-white players. They may really love their black or Latin players, but they don't identify with them. They don't project the same kind of relationship upon non-white players. This is particularly true among adult fans. As children, we seem to look at the best players as heroes, but as adults we seem to identify with the players most like us. Another example of this is a big white guy from Oregon the Mariners had a few years ago: Bucky Jacobsen. Jacobsen was a big palooka who could hit home runs and that is all. He had a big season at AAA Tacoma and then got a call-up to Seattle. People LOVED this guy. My Dad, who is only a marginal baseball fan, called me up to talk about him. Ignoring the fact that he was not a major league player, my Dad was enamored with this guy. Why? Again, because he had characteristics that white guys loved: he was big and kind of out of shape, he had something of a redneck persona (he was after all from Pendleton), and there was a perception that he worked hard. There have been hundreds of black and Latino players over the years with the same or better skills than Jacobsen. Many of them have played for Seattle. But no one cared about them.
The most obvious example of this phenomena is Cal Ripken. Ripken was the ultimate white player. He showed up for work everyday, even when he should not have. He was well-behaved and well-spoken. He screamed "Conservative Values." White people absolutely loved Cal Ripken and the Streak. It was all about the streak. White, middle-class men, identified with Ripken not because of his substantial, Hall-of-Fame talent, but because he showed up to work every day, a characteristic they want to embody themselves. There are lots of Hall of Famers out there, many of whom are white. But you didn't see any outpouring of love for Wade Boggs, Robin Yount, or Paul Molitor. No, Ripken was loved because he oozed whiteness out of every pore in his exceptionally talented body. The fact that he hurt his team in later years because he insisted on playing didn't matter--he showed up to work every day, by God, and we loved him for it.
All of this relates back to baseball's race problem. Trend recently posted on this issue. To put it bluntly, African-Americans are disappearing from the game. Players, ranging from Joe Morgan to Jimmy Rollins to C.C. Sabathia, have all addressed the issue but the Commissioner's Office doesn't seem to care much. Yes, some baseball academies have opened in inner cities, but it is hardly a priority for the game. For most fans, seeing Vladimir Guerrero is close enough. They see him and see a black man, not a Dominican. But for African-Americans in the United States, baseball is an unfriendly sport. I have heard repeated interviews with black kids saying that baseball is a white man's game. It discourages the individual showmanship they value, something that basketball and football strongly encourages. They don't see their peers playing the game, so they don't want to either. But mostly, they see it is a bastion of racism in American society. They know the story of Jackie Robinson, but unlike whites, who see Robinson as a symbol of racial progress and the slowly increasing tolerance of whites, many black kids see that story as an example of just how racist the game of baseball still is today. After all, basketball and football didn't have to go through the same kind of desegregation struggles, though racism pervaded those sports as well.
A big part of this problem is the makeup of baseball fans. Go to a baseball game. Tell me how many black people you see there. The stands are almost entirely made up of white people, even in heavily African-American cities. For many whites, going to a game is the only time they will venture into the inner-city. When they do go to a game, or if they are playing in it, they can hear the fans. They can hear how much they are harassed compared to how much a player like Bloomquist is loved. They can have whatever kind of character, skill set, talent, hustle, etc., they want. They still won't be loved by most fans, unless perhaps they are very, very good. While you don't hear much of the racism that baseball fans yelled in the 1940s and 50s, racial issues still pervade the game. Players know it and they avoid the game because of it. The emphasis on whiteness within baseball has done nothing to help the game and a whole lot to hurt it. Until this fades, it is really hard to see how African-Americans are going to once again embrace the game.
One last point--I know this might be something of an overgeneralization. Sure, players like Ozzie Smith and Kirby Puckett have been beloved in their local communities. That's important. And of course, not all fans are like this. Many value actual talent over qualities others associate with their white selves. I'm not entirely satisfied with this explanation. But I cannot come up with a better explanation for the Scrappy White Guy (i.e. Bloomquist) phenomenon or the disturbing decline of African-Americans in the game. I do think the two things are related. If you think you can come up with a more satisfactory explanation, I'd love to hear it.

Taking It to the Heart of the Beast

I love this art exhibit by John Sims now on display in Tallahassee. He sees the Confederate flag as "visual terrorism" and displays it as such. People in Florida are infuriated.

I'm not going to judge this as art. I don't have that ability. But I can judge its political statement. And I like it. The Confederate flag is a symbol of terror, slavery, and treason. Showing it as such needs to happen all over the nation. The display of the Confederate flag should be considered a treasonous act and punished as such.

Of course the Sons of the Confederate Veterans are pissed. They see the flag as part of their heritage. That is, they are proud that their ancestors owned people based on the color of their skin, killed and raped them at will, and stole their labor for hundreds of years. The commander of the local there, Robert Hurst, calls the display, "offensive, objectionable and tasteless." I would use those same terms to describe any display of the Confederate flag as a symbol of pride. And I would be right.

What I find infuriating is the Florida statute making it illegal to "deface, defile or contemptuously abuse" the Confederate flag. Am I the only person who wants to go to Mississippi, South Carolina, or Florida and start burning Confederate flags on the courthouse steps? That flag should be burned and defiled in all ways.

More at No More Mister Nice Blog. Including the language of the Florida law.