Saturday, February 28, 2009

That fine line between talking and not talking about race

This article in the Washington Post aptly sums up the dilemma with finding that elusive middle between discussing relevant issues of race that still divide this country, and running into the danger of belaboring it – a point we discussed in our earlier posts about race relations in America here and specifically, Erik's post on the importance of Black History Month here.

Writing about Michelle Obama’s education of middle-schoolers about African American heritage at the White House, and Eric Holder’s controversial speech to the Justice Department, among other things, Krissah Thompson says that this sort of focus on race is getting mixed reviews from people on the left and right alike.

Thomas Mann, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution had an interesting point: "They definitely have to be careful. Better to have the president and his top African American aides serve as role models and achieve the broader objective by indirection."

He is not alone in thinking that top back officials in the Obama administration may be treading on dangerous territory by expanding the conversation on race, as many have voiced these concerns, including Maureen Dowd. I’ve often believed that talking too much about race may have a very real danger of diluting the issue, and have the effect of cloaking the real problems –such as economic classes as we discussed in previous posts - but I’m not sure if putting things in context, so that generation Y could get a better perspective about the history – and hence, the very real racial scars that have been left as a result - is such a bad idea.

Also, these incidents were part of the celebration of Black History Month, and not some out-of-the-blue forays into the subject. I would think it would be an important part of the commemoration to not only celebrate the milestones, but also to take the opportunity to allow those who have come this far to share their experiences and thoughts.

As Shawnta Walcott, a pollster quoted in the article put it:

“Holder, [Lisa] Jackson and Obama are the first African Americans in their positions, and it should come as no surprise that their celebration of black history is different from their predecessors.”

That is an important point. Even the Bush administration had several minorities in its cabinet, but mere appointment to high office is not going to solve the race problem if you don’t use their presence to actually address the issues, and worse still, simply use it as a talking point to prove that you’re not divisive. In that case, you not only don't deal with the subject, but also sidestep it by proclaiming that it is a non-issue.

Class Warfare, 2009 Budget Style

In the car a few minutes ago, I caught the tail end of an NPR story about Obama's budget and the plan to raise taxes on the top earners.

Publius already mentioned that the brilliance of Obama's tax plan is that it separates tax cuts for most of America--those of us earning under $200,000 a year--from tax cuts for the rich. By proposing to cut taxes for most of America while raising taxes on the rich, Obama is splitting Reagan's coalition.

Publius referenced this excellent NYT Magazine piece, and I'll requote:

Dating back to Reagan, Republicans have packaged tax cuts on high earners with more modest middle-class tax cuts and then maneuvered the Democrats into an unwinnable choice: are you for tax cuts or against them? Obama, however, argues that this is the moment when the politics of taxes can be changed.

To do this, he is proposing tax cuts for most families that are significantly larger than those McCain is offering, along with major tax increases for families making more than $250,000 a year. “That’s essentially a major part of our economic plan,” Obama said. “But it’s also a political message.” Economically, he is trying to use the tax code to spread the bounty from the market-based American economy to a far wider group of families. Politically, he is trying to drive a wedge through the great Reagan tax gambit.

Anyway, the mainstream media--even the publicly funded mainstream media--is used to treating every political move as one part of a binary. Obama debuts a budget, automatically the Republicans get to respond. This, I'm used to. It's not quite the Fairness Doctrine, but it's what passes for "balance," which is the closest we can get to "objectivity." (Never mind verifying the facts, that's way too hard).

But this story crossed a line. In addition to noting that the Republicans plan to "torpedo" the budget, NPR followed up by saying that nonprofits are concerned with Obama's tax increase because it will impact, and this is a quote, "high net-worth individuals," who are the ones who donate to nonprofits.

See, we shouldn't raise taxes on those "high net-worth individuals" because they'll donate money to the nonprofits that are going to take care of the soup lines we'll be having in the not-too-distant future.

The kicker, of course, is that they then have to admit that donations are already down just now when they're needed the most. Because even though those "high net-worth individuals" still have plenty of cash around (it's the economy! Really! it's sooo hard to buy less caviar!) they're not donating as much. With the Bush tax cuts in place.

The answer to all this is fairly bloody obvious, really. You cannot rely on rich people--even "progressive" rich people--to take care of poor people in an economic downturn (or any other time). When it's panic time, everyone takes care of herself first. The only entity that doesn't is the government.

But you know, even NPR has to recycle Reagan-era arguments that have long been disproved.

Sharpening the pitchforks, indeed.

Historical Image of the Day

Anti-gambling cartoon, "You Shall Not Press Down Upon the Brow of Labor This Crown," a play on William Jennings Bryan's Cross of Gold speech, 1896

Friday, February 27, 2009

Historical Image of the Day

Native Americans engaging in traditional gambling games, Celilo Village, Oregon, 1954.

Assault weapons ban? Meh.

Or so it seems-- even as Attorney General Holder causes gun-nut panties to twist is all sorts of hitherto unknown shapes, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi seems to be playing coy with respect to plans of reinstating the assualt weapons ban. Or maybe she's serious?

The assualt weapons ban was a fairly popular measure in its day. Even as the ban expired in 2004, polls consistently showed that the majority of Americans were in favor of the ban.

If the ban was popular in 1994 and 2004, why not now? Shouldn't reinstating it be easy? It could be that something is in the works and Pelosi isn't tipping her hand; consider for a moment, however, the possibility that the Democratic muckety-mucks have decided that the reinstatement of the assualt weapons ban (or other gun control legislation) is off the table.

Could it be considered an unnecassry distraction? Is this a strategic move? Or could it be that the Democrats have really just ceded the gun issue?

It will be interesting to see what happens with this (even if nothing happens; that will in itself be pretty instructive). I'm not a big gun control guy. I'm certainly not a gun guy-- I ascribe to the Al Franken school of thought with respect to guns (something to the effect of not wanting something in my house that is statistically more likely to kill someone unintentionally than intentionally). But gun control? Let's just say, after eight years of Bush, I understand the Montana militia point of view a little better. I'd be in full support of the assualt weapons ban, but not too excited about much more than that. I'd hate to see the Democrats lose seats in Congress because of gun control (and you know the NRA is just salivating at the chance for a showdown with Pelosi, Reid, and Obama).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

How History Has Ruined Everything

The introduction paragraph to Lynn Foster's A Brief History of Mexico, Revised Edition states 
"The democratic reforms in 2000 that ended 70 years of party domination in Mexican politics by the Partido Revolutionario Institutional (PRI) have swept in a new era in Mexican history..... The corrupt party leadership that so long ruled Mexico has ended, and everything from labor relations to indigenous rights has been affected.  Moreover, these momentous changes, unlike so many others in Mexican history, were accomplished peacefully.  The political confidence of Mexico today could not contrast more sharply with the ominous foreboding described in the earlier edition of this book."
Yeah, it's true that some things have changed now that there is a new party in power, but there is certainly no more "political confidence" now than when the PRI was in power, and the Mexican distrust of their government is not going to change any time soon.  If you ask any indigenous person, nothing has changed.  They are still discriminated by almost every government policy and regarded as backward people who don't want to "develop."  
We visited with some members of the indigenous community of Amatl├ín in the state of Morelos.  They told us that not long ago, some people from the government wanted to come visit the community to offer a proposal for a development plan, and the community welcomed them.  But when they proposed a program for developing fish farms in their town, the community members just laughed.  Every year, there is a period of 5 months where water is so scarce that they barely have enough for their basic needs!  How are they ever going to develop fish farms?  Of course they refused the proposal, and no doubt the government reps when back to their people and told everyone that those damn indians don't even want to develop...  So clearly, there are still problems with the Mexican government.
This is the problem capital-H History and history books in particular: they always portray history as a past struggle that has resolved itself already.  In elementary school, we learned (a little bit) about the struggle for women's rights, which basically went like this: "Women used to not have the right to vote.  Can you imagine?! But now they do!  Yay!  Thanks to the women of the past, women don't have to fight for their rights anymore!"  Similarly, the history of race relations in the US goes like this:  "Black people used to be slaves, but then they weren't!  Then they were segregated, but not anymore!  Yay!  Everything is perfect!"  History books teach us not to recognize current systemic problems because it only shows us how they have already been fixed.  No different than a fairy tale, history books only feed our need for a happy ending.
So basically, history teaches us to be complacent and to accept the status quo - Thanks!

Historical Image of the Day

Playing the slots, Atlantic City, 2008

Shorter English Parents - We Want Our Children to Be As Bigoted Towards the Physically Challenged As We Are!

Dear parents in England,

Instead of trying to pass on your own prejudices towards and fears of people with physical differences, why don't you use Ms. Burnell's television show as one more way to help your children learn that people are different, but that doesn't make some better than others. In a world where people still mock individuals with special needs to reinforce unfair stereotypes and create fear, rather than educate and unite, the BBC's hiring of Ms. Burnell is admirable.

Get over yourselves and let your children grow up to be more decent, respectful, and understanding people than you are.

Mr. Trend

Why Nationalizing the Banks is the Capitalist Thing To Do

I get the giggles every time I hear the term "Zombie Banks," which Krugman in particular likes to use. I've been pissed off about the bank bailout from the beginning, though I figured there wasn't much to do about it.

I've never been anything close to an economist--my studies were always more in political science and critical theory--but I've sure had a crash course since September. So now, I feel qualified to say that nationalizing the banks isn't only the best course, it's actually the proper capitalist thing to do.

Oh yes, I'll explain my thoughts here.

Krugman writes:

Lately the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has been seizing banks it deems insolvent at the rate of about two a week. When the F.D.I.C. seizes a bank, it takes over the bank’s bad assets, pays off some of its debt, and resells the cleaned-up institution to private investors. And that’s exactly what advocates of temporary nationalization want to see happen, not just to the small banks the F.D.I.C. has been seizing, but to major banks that are similarly insolvent...

And once again, long-term government ownership isn’t the goal: like the small banks seized by the F.D.I.C. every week, major banks would be returned to private control as soon as possible. The finance blog Calculated Risk suggests that instead of calling the process nationalization, we should call it “preprivatization.”

Handing out wads of cash to Citibank (how about some student loan forgiveness?) and the rest is exactly the type of socialism of which the GOP would've liked to accuse Obama. Those campaign claims sound pretty hollow when money-for-nothing isn't being handed out to poor citizens of color but to massive corporations.

Propping up institutions like these banks isn't the socialism I'd like to see--I'd much prefer health care for all, a public school system that works, public transit that is both greener and more efficient, oh, the list can just keep going. But instead of making tone-deaf arguments that government is always the problem like, er, Governor Bobby Jindal (disparaged in better detail below), I note that the government in this case has a perfectly legitimate rationale for taking over the banks.

Steve Waldman wrote:

But if we are dumb enough to force-feed credit into the economy, let's not hide that behind a bunch of puppet banks. And let's keep it very clear that we are not confiscating private firms in order to make them tools of the state. We nationalize reluctantly, when we have had no choice but to inject public money (or guarantee assets, which amounts to the same thing) in banks that otherwise would have failed. We nationalize because, in a capitalist economy, investors get to keep the profits they endow, even when the investors happen to be taxpayers.

In other words, in a capitalist society, when you shell out money, you get something for it. You don't just give handouts.

Republican opposition to this idea gives us the perfect opportunity to call them what they really are: less free-market idealist and more classist and racist. They don't oppose government handouts; they simply oppose government handouts to the poor.

The Random Good One Can Do in the World

My dislike for the environmentalist writer Edward Abbey is well-documented. Not only do I think he is bad for the environmental movement, he was a racist bastard.

Turns out my collection of racist Abbey quotes linked to above are on Abbey's wikipedia page. I'm surprised I haven't been hounded by his followers for attacking their hero. But if I turn one good environmentally-minded person from this anti-humanist than I've made the world a slightly better place. Abbey played a major role in turning the environmental movement away from connecting with large numbers of Americans over issues of pollution and the body and toward focusing on keeping humans out of "wilderness," whatever that actually is.

Wipe Yourself, Kill a Spotted Owl

We race through natural resources in ways that are so second nature to us that we don't even think about it. Take toilet paper. You are cutting down trees for this. Where do those trees come from? What is the effect on the Earth every time you (or I!) go for the extra soft double ply?

The environmental damage from toilet paper is massive.

Some of the paper comes from tree farms. But way too much comes from virgin or second-growth forest that we need for many other reasons--fighting climate change first and foremost.

What options do we have? Recycled toilet paper is a great idea. 19th century Americans used corn cobs, supposedly the origin of the term "corn hole." Maybe we don't want to go that old timey. But the great boreal forests of Canada are coming down every time you wipe yourself. We need to think hard about just how we impact nature and do what we can do mitigate the damage our existence causes. This is certainly one area where we can sacrifice a little bit of comfort, if that is indeed the right word for two-ply, super soft toilet paper, to take a significant step in saving the planet from destruction.

Conservation and Economic Collapse

The core of my pessimism about long-term economic recovery is summed up by this Times article, blaming conservation in Japan for that nation's continued stagnation.

Today, years after the recovery, even well-off Japanese households use old bath water to do laundry, a popular way to save on utility bills. Sales of whiskey, the favorite drink among moneyed Tokyoites in the booming ’80s, have fallen to a fifth of their peak. And the nation is losing interest in cars; sales have fallen by half since 1990.

So conservation kills economies. If this is true, we have two choices:

A. Consume to the end of time, use up all our resources, have a relatively brief period of economic growth, and then experience a complete collapse of our economy and civilization.

B. Conserve our resources and end up in a long-term recession like Japan.

Are these really our only two options? While I'm rarely comfortable with such stark choices, in this case, it may be true. People talk of the profits we can make on a green economy. No doubt there's a lot of truth to that, but only so long as those projects promote "green consumption." We still have to use lots of energy so those companies make money. We still have to buy new cars. We still have to buy shade-grown coffee and organic vegetables and free range beef. Cutting consumption, i.e., the real way to be green, is the worst thing we can do if we want the economy to expand.

Capitalism is predicated on unrestricted use of resources. We might conserve timber in this nation, but without a slackening of demand, it just leads to trees being cut in some other country's forest. We benefit locally, but globally the resource consumption has to grow if the economy is to flourish. We now face a situation where we simply don't have the resources to continue on this path. We are at peak oil, peak coal, peak rare minerals that go into computer, peak timber, peak everything. Commodity prices have fallen in the face of the recession. Theoretically, this should spur consumption, but if consumption reached the levels of 2 years ago, prices would again skyrocket.

So what do we do? How do we escape these twin disasters? How do we not destroy the Earth and also not live in poverty? Is there a way out?

I don't know. But if there we want to save the planet and live a decent life, we need to make major changes.

The first step has to be reorienting our economic standards. We need to rethink what a healthy economy means. This is hard and painful, as we are finding out during this recession. We need to find new ways of thinking about economic success that are separate from unrestrained resource use, personal consumption, and raw profit.

Take housing. Housing is at the core of our economic crisis--bad loans, inflated prices, etc. But even when the housing market was at its peak, many were crying out over the massive problems this causes--uncontrolled suburbanization, air pollution, use of oil, climate change, the paving over of America. These are terrible things. Yet our society privileges housing starts as the gold standard of success. Measuring economic growth through housing starts is a terrible idea--it encourages single family units, unsustainable sprawl, and climate change. Moreover, what do housing starts mean in terms of satisfaction in life? Wouldn't other measurements do a much better job of measuring people's satisfaction and the overall health of society? Instead, we need to promote multifamily housing, small spaces with community gardens, parks, and green space, and vibrant urban centers and then find a way to take their measurements to judge how we are doing.

The Japanese people interviewed in the story don't seem unhappy, though unemployment problems persist that cannot be ignored. If people want to conserve, regardless of the reasons why, shouldn't society promote that instead of calling it a problem that threatens to undermine the future?

That our addiction to unrestrained consumption means constant growth of unsustainable products to survive makes me extraordinarly pessimistic about our future. If the Japanese doing crazy things like not buying new cars every 3 years and reusing water is a disaster, then I just don't know where we are headed as a society. People need jobs and we as a society need to conserve. I feel the only way out is to completely reconsider our values as people and work to make people happy in local communities, working together to ensure a decent standard of living, good health care, safe food, and strong communities for all.

To choose otherwise means complete disaster for civilization within a century at the outside.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Since we can all agree that Jindal sucks...

Thought I'd post this response to Jindal's response. James Perry, candidate for mayor of New Orleans, tells Bobby where to stick it. I like this guy.

My New Favorite Photographer Must Really Like to Count...

My friend just showed me this artist: Chris Jordan.  His collection called "Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait" looks at contemporary US culture through statistics.  And the numbers are staggering (3.6 million SUV sales in one year and 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries every month), but they really don't mean anything until you can see them.  His giant photographs are composed of thousands or millions of smaller photographs to correspond with the statistics.  I would post some of the pictures, but you really have to go to the website so you can see the zoomed-in versions to really get an idea of what they are showing.  They are clearly not meant to be seen on the computer instead of in person, but sometimes you have to work with what you have...
Because a lot of his pieces have to do with consumption and over consumption, Jordan has been labeled an environmentalist - which I'm sure he is.  But it interesting to me that pictures of oil barrels and junk yards inspire more of an environmental ethic than landscapes.  Landscapes are mass-produced and sold in stores like Hobby Lobby so people can hang them above their couches, but they certainly do nothing to inspire an environmental consciousness.  And landscape painters have certainly never been called environmentalists.  Why is it that images of the thing we are supposed to be protecting (nature) do not affect us, but pictures of our trash can be so profound?

Also, here is a link to a video of Chris Jordan speaking.

My own take on the Slumdog win (and backlash)!

Slumdog Millionaire was the best movie I saw all year until I got to The Wrestler, which was far better (and Mickey Rourke was robbed, but that's another post).

Anyway, I've read lots of criticisms of the film, and a lot of the backlash seems to me to miss some of the point. I certainly find it problematic that it's a movie written and directed by white men telling an Indian story, but more than that, I disagree with a lot of the critiques.

M. Leblanc at Bitch, Ph.D. had a good post up about it yesterday.

On the one hand, the film is so clearly a fantasy story, that I don't know that it's trying to convey a "message," about social justice or anything else. It's unrealistic. It does not attempt authenticity. It employs flashbacks and shifts in time to create a wonderland-effect which is at odds with the gritty realism of some of the images (not, mind you, the cinematography, which is very polished and cinematic). I think people make the mistake of assuming it's trying to present something "real" because movies don't usually feature or address poverty, especially third-world poverty, unless they're trying to convey something "real" and convey a "message."

I totally agree. She also references Samhita's post at Feministing.

I guess I have more questions than I have answers. And the questions I ask were certainly not the ones considered by the Academy in choosing this film. To be clear, I loved this movie and I saw it twice. The second time I brought my family, and my father a staunch Indian nationalist, hated it. He didn't like the way it portrayed India. I do not hold the same politics as my father and I felt that it actually held more truth about poverty and corruption in India than we would like to admit. But once you sift through the amazing imagery, adorable kids and soundtrack you are left with a coming of age story, only the story is not really for Indian audiences.

But the question that occurred to me when reading all of this was:

Is it colonialist of us to expect Slumdog Millionaire to be a social commentary because it's set in a slum?

I watched it and wrote a review of it in which I pretty much gushed all over it. I haven't watched it again, and I'm fully aware that I'm watching it through white American eyes.

Although I did take a certain message from the film, I don't think it was the one that people expected. I read it as a parable about how random success is. Jamal is not a “Christ-figure” as much as he is the Holy Fool, someone who screws up again and again and haplessly stumbles through the world by being good. It's still a Western character archetype placed in India, which is probably colonialist in itself. And Leblanc and Samhita point out the problems with the Latika character so I'm not going to here.

But the story is NOT a 'pulling-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps' fable. In fact, the character who does pull himself up, Salim, pulls himself up by falling into crime. Jamal, on the other hand, stumbles into things and manages to get rich. Perhaps it shows my own bias, but I read this as a comment on the nature of modern capitalist society, that those who are on top often did not get there through their own work or the fairy tale of pulling oneself up by those damned bootstraps.

Also, the story was told through Jamal's eyes and so is tinged with his own views. The riot from which Jamal, Salim and Latika flee as children? It isn't presented with context because that's how it would look to the kids running away. They weren't running for their lives thinking, “Gee, the Hindus are really taking out this geopolitical strife on us!” They just ran.

And so I come to the question that I always run smack into: does everything have to be social commentary? Does one film set in India have to portray the whole of Indian experience, because it's the rare Western film set in India, or should we instead be arguing that we should see more films set in India (insert other commonly Othered country here)?

Sylvia critiqued it as well, here, and I can see her point, as I can see many of these points. I just don't know if I agree.

This, however, does indeed bother me. Even though stories came out later that noted it wasn't as bad as that story made it sound.

Historical Image of the Day

"Betting a Negro in the Southern States," from William Wells Brown's slave narrative Clotel; or, The President's Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States, 1853.

The newer and scarier (?!) face of GOP

We all know that’s always possible.

Rachel Maddow made an important point last night about the familiar theme among the “new faces” that the GOP has chosen to project the last few months, one of them of course being Bobby Jindal.

Jindal, son of Indian immigrants, raised a Hindu, and a teenage convert to Catholicism, infamously – or famously, depending on your perspective – wrote about his experiences participating in an exorcism in 1994. In 2003, he declared in the Time Picayune,“I am 100 percent anti-abortion with no exceptions. I believe all life is precious.” This would mean that Jindal does not make an exception even if the woman were raped or if her life were at risk.

This would also mean that he actually makes Sarah Palin look reasonable, with her exceptional ability to consider exceptions for life-threatening situations.

Then there’s Michael Steele who has declared in no uncertain terms that he believes that embryonic stem cells are “life” and is absolutely opposed to embryonic stem cell research. He is staunchly pro-life including in cases of rape and incest.

Of course, we are all used to Republicans that espouse these views, but what makes this scarier is that like Maddow and Ana Marie Cox said last night, this new face is changing in terms of color of skin and gender, but the viewpoints are still the same.

For instance, Jindal opposes hate-crime legislation - a brown-skinned son of immigrants who grew up in Louisiana - wants to repeal laws that would mandate penalties on crimes inspired by hatred toward certain groups or races. These younger, fresher, "more diverse" faces are probably going to inspire younger Republicans from all backgrounds to follow suit, and think it's OK to have ideologies that make no pragmatic sense. That's why it's scarier.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Student Loans

Higher Ed Watch reports that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is leading a fight to prosecute people who have defaulted on student loans as a way to bring money into the government.

Should this really be a top priority? I totally agree that people should not default on their loans. But most of these people want to pay them back. They just are poor. Shouldn't the government be working with them rather than prosecuting them?

Moreover, in a time when we are giving bailouts and stimuli right and left, it seems that one might consider a bit of relief on student loans. If you wanted to raise my consumption, you'd take that $450 a month off my plate. That would raise my consumption in some serious ways. Now, I'm not saying that would be good government policy. But I'm not sure it would be worse than many other ideas.

Moreover, I'm not sure that coming after the poor, regardless of their education level, is the best policy in times of hardship. Hopefully the Obama administration rethinks this idea.

For those who actually can pay the loans back and are not for some reason, that's a different story.

What Populism Isn't

When I have more time and brain space I plan to take populism back up. But tonight, NPR's Mara Liasson was discussing "populist anger" with bailouts and such, and referenced that damn Santelli rant.

"if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages or would we like to, at least, buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road. And reward people that can carry the water instead of drink the water."

Santelli, a former futures trader, made his now-famous rant from a Chicago commodities trading floor. Bastion of Real America, that. But he had the stones to declare, "This is America!" because he was cheered. Because we know from the McCain campaign that the Real America is whichever part agrees with you.

But Michael Hiltzik at the LA Times schools Santelli with two sentences:

Well, no. America is a place where 8 million families are threatened with losing their homes, not a futures pit filled with braying traders.

Populism: Hiltzik doin' it right.

Here's Your Clean Coal For You

Clean coal.

What a joke. Not only is it an environmental oxymoron, but it contains the blood of workers.

Ken Ward tells the story of Bud Morris, a Kentucky coal miner killed in 2005. He was hit by an underground coal car, losing one leg and having the other crushed. He might have survived. But he was denied even the most basic medical care. He went for nearly an hour without medical treatment, basically bleeding to death in the mine.

Morris' death led to new legislation in Kentucky requiring at least 2 medical technicians in a mine at any time. Of course, the coal companies are fighting that legislation, trying to reduce the number to 1 in small mines.

If it's coal, you know it's evil.

Historical Image of the Day

Notice for all gamblers to leave Vicksburg, Mississippi or face the consequences, 1835. In fact, several gamblers were killed when they did not follow this advice.

This is from Joshua Rothman's excellent article "The Hazards of the Flush Times: Gambling, Mob Violence, and the Anxieties of America's Market Revolution" which you can read in the latest issue of The Journal of American History

Hilda Solis

I've been meaning to write about this for ages and haven't gotten around to it, so this is going to be shorter than it deserves.

The Senate is FINALLY voting on confirmation of Hilda Solis, Obama's labor secretary-designate. Solis is one of the few real, solid progressives in the cabinet. She's a representative from the 32nd District in California, and she's got ironclad labor creds. Which, of course, is why the Republicans don't want her in the position.

From John Nichols' piece in The Nation:

"Lost in all the Washington procedural mumbo-jumbo since the Solis nomination is the recognition that this is truly a historic moment for all of America's workers. She is a true champion of America's workers. Solis will not be your boss's secretary of labor -- she will be YOUR secretary of labor," says the AFL-CIO's Marc Laitin.

"As the child of working class immigrants who both were members of labor unions in California, Hilda Solis is uniquely qualified to lead the Department of Labor during the current economic crisis," adds Laitin. "With hundreds of thousands of jobs being lost every week and millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet, we desperately need someone who will fight for America's workers, not just the interests of CEOs."

They've trumped up some BS about taxes, but unlike certain other people :cough: Geithner, Solis's husband's few thousand in taxes has been paid back--and was before she was nominated.

Just a few of the bills Solis introduced:
H.R. 468, Communities of Color Teen Pregnancy Prevention Act of 2007, which would provide grants to non-profits to do community intervention against teen pregnancy.

H.R. 2847 – Green Jobs Act of 2007, which was included in the energy reform bill signed in 2007.

H.R. 4129 - Homeless Access to Recovery Through Treatment (HART) Act, to increase access of the homeless to mental health care and proper living spaces.

The fact that this hasn't been a bigger issue in the left blogosphere has quite frankly, pissed me off. But once again, labor concerns are often left on the back burner because the blogosphere is not largely populated with people who have to deal with them on a daily basis.

I wish I'd written more about this, other than when Hilda was announced. I've been Twittering action alerts and links to articles, but I should've done more.

You can help here by contacting your Senators. Or call their offices and make sure they know to support Hilda. This is indefensible.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Brazil - Only Newsworthy During Carnaval When Some Women Might Be Topless!!

Though I often put news stories and commentary up on Brazil, it's really hard to find many stories that are available in multiple mainstream media sources in the U.S. Usually, my posts will involve one link because that's all you can find usually find.

Apparently that "Brazil isn't interesting enough for mainstream media" rule flies right out the window during Carnaval, though, as several other journals (and those three are just a small sampling) are picking up the AP's report on a dancer who has allegedly set the record for "smallest genital covering ever." Nor is it limited to this - all of a sudden, a quick Google news search on Carnaval in Rio (ending this week) brings up numerous stories selling sex and dancers and little else. Nevermind that, as I've said before, Carnaval is a complex social event that involves enormous planning and preparation, detailed floats, parades, competing social clubs, celebration, somber topics, and societal issues. I haven't seen Brazil covered in the news this much since Bush traveled to Brazil back in 2007.

And yet, now that Brazil is back in the news, what do a majority of the stories focus on? The near-nakedness of some of the women. Does Carnaval include topless women? Yes. Yes, it does. But to say that that is the single thing that characterizes Carnaval is like saying that the Detroit Lions' football game is the single thing that characterizes Thanksgiving. There is so much that is going on in terms of complex societal relations, politics, and culture, all of which is worth celebrating and discussing and which goes well above and beyond a handful of scantily-clad women in a nation of well over 180 million people. And the U.S. decides to report on some good old-fashioned T&A.

Hey, American media - way to perpetuate steroetypes of the "exotic other" in Brazil.

The Shock Doctrine 2: The Torture Lab

Edit: Go check out Matt's post on this chapter, including some more linkage to the shock experiments Klein wrote of.

(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, click the Shock Doctrine tag below to take you to the first installment and the introduction.)

Chapter 1 of The Shock Doctrine may be one of the hardest things I've ever had to read. Naomi Klein is investigating the ideology of torture, and drawing comparisons with the ideology of radical capitalism.

I call it radical capitalism because in some sense, so far, the point that I've taken from the book is that this type of Chicago-boys disaster capitalism is a revolutionary ideology. And the problem with ALL revolutionary ideologies, whether they be this type of capitalism, the communism in opposition to which it was defined, or even radical feminism, is that they require a blank slate upon which to build. And it is impossible to create that blank slate without utter destruction of what was there before.

(Once again, I will refer to Obama's pragmatism and the quote from his inaugural address, "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.")

Erik asked in comments on my first post if capitalism was the last ideology, and I don't know. What I do know is that if news reports like this one are to be believed, the neocons haven't given up yet on their radical capitalism, and are blaming Bush, in fact, for not being ideological enough. And so we still discuss.

Matt noted in his first post that this kind of capitalism was "(Creative) destruction in order to cleanse the world of corruption." And in this chapter Klein delves into literal shock therapy and torture to draw frightening conclusions.

Torture is not incidental to Iraq war policy, Klein shows. Instead, it is an outgrowth of the very same ideology, which Klein sums up so well:

The problem, obvious in retrospect, was the premise on which his entire theory rested, the idea that before healing can happen, everything that existed before needs to be wiped out. (57)

By telling the story of Gail Kastner, a woman experimented upon and broken by CIA-funded experiments at McGill University, Klein brings painfully home what was done to people. Again, she knows how to make the story stick and make it personal. And the most frightening thing that she tells us isn't just that our governments conspired to torture innocent civilians who made the mistake of seeking help for anxiety, but that the people who did this believed they were doing good.

It is easy to write off the neocons as evil. Dick Cheney provides a particularly easy punching bag for those of us on the left. But Klein shows us both that these policies were in effect long before the rise of Cheney and Bush (the shift not being in policy but being in openness about policy), and that these people quite often do think in a strange way that they're helping.

Because yes, capitalism is predicated upon greed and the people who force it on the rest of the world are thinking about their own enrichment. But they are also true believers, and this is what's so scary.

Historical Image of the Day

This week, we will look at images of gambling in American history.

I actually really hate gambling except in small poker games with low limits on how much I can lose. But I won't let that affect the images.

Nevertheless, we'll start with this anti-gambling tract entitled, "The Ruinous Consequences of Gambling" from the 1820s.

The Times, They Are A-Changin'

God, I hate using such a cliche for a post title, but it's pretty apt for a couple of issues. It's worth reminding ourselves from time to time that things are getting better.

Dustin Lance Black's Oscar acceptance speech for his screenplay of Milk is a good example. He said:

When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas, to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life; it gave me the hope that one day I could live my life openly as who I am and that maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married. […] Most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told they are less than by their churches, or by the government, or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value. And that no matter what everyone tells you, God does love you, and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours.

This is really important to remember. Milk was killed 30 years ago. Look at far gay rights has come since then. In another 30 years, I have every faith that we will see, at the minimum, federally protected domestic partner benefits, many openly gay politicians, and 15-20 states with gay marriage. This is really incredible and a wonderful thing.

On a related issue, recent polls suggest a dramatic shift toward the legalization of marijuana. The stupidity of the drug war is mind-numbing. Given that a huge number of Americans under the age of 40 have and do smoke pot, I have been wondering when we would see a strong movement toward legalization. I think that NORML has possibly retarded this effort somewhat by stigmatizing the use of the drug as something a bunch of hippies do, when of course it is much larger than that. Medical marijuana is a great issue and obviously should be legal, but that it is serving as a clear front for people who just want to get high on the streets doesn't help. Nonetheless, two recent polls have shows that around 1/2 of Americans believe marijuana should be legal. Both polls show at least a plurality. This is an important step in ending the stupidity of marijuana criminality.

So like with gay rights, I think that in another 20 to 30 years, you are going to see real positive changes, including decriminalization of marijuana, at least in many states. No doubt the DEA will fight like hell to stop this, and they probably will have success at first. At present, there are no major politicians willing to openly support legalization. But these numbers don't lie and there is absolutely no reason that pro-legalization numbers won't grow. Young people are strong believers in social libertarianism and whether it is gay rights, drugs, tattoos, or any number of other issues, they want the government to let people do what they want if it is not hurting anybody.

More Blogging Drama

Well, I'm certainly not going to try to create it.

Having drinks with Karthika and Trend last night, as well as our buddy Scott from LGM, I noted an interesting pattern. The drama that's been blowing up the feminist blogosphere for the past week or so has not spilled over almost at all into the larger liberal blogosphere. (At least, in my highly unrepresentative sample of blog-nerds.)

This makes me wonder a few things. First of all, there are a few feminist blogs that are almost always blogrolled at the larger lib blogs--Feministing, Feministe, Pandagon and Bitch, Ph.D. Yeah, they're on our blogroll too, but I've tried to spread the wealth and include feminist bloggers of color, of diverse viewpoints and backgrounds. (Please do read our blogroll.)

But a lot of the drama that's happened in the last couple of weeks seems to devolve fairly quickly from an argument about ideas--you're not really going to make me link that Professor What If post again, are you?--into personality conflict. I'm just wondering what that says about the feminist blogosphere itself.

I decided recently, after having been blogging here for a while now, that I ought to be doing all my work over here. The personal is political and all that, right? Also, there are two competing tendencies I see among feminist blogs. One is to reach out, get bigger, engage, expand, write for external outlets, what have you. I don't see any problem with that--in fact, I do so myself.

The other tendency is to narrow one's focus and one's circle down, to shut out, to disengage. And I can sympathize with that feeling, too. Some days I don't want to explain why something is racist for the hundredth time, or try to argue that yes, this IS a feminist issue, or whatever.

But when I noticed that issues simply are not spreading past a small circle, it makes me wonder. Have we done this to ourselves? Why did I feel for a while that I couldn't or shouldn't post my sparklepony feminist defense of lipstick here at Alterdestiny? It certainly wasn't anything that Erik said to me or did.

It seems that every so often in the femisphere there's a similar sort of blowup. And we do it all over again. We talk about sex and sexuality, and a whole bunch of people feel qualified to pass judgment on a whole bunch of other people. We talk about race, and women of color get told who and what they are by a bunch of white women. (Bonus points there for the erasure of and condescension to transgender women--and men.) We talk about class, and the term "jealous" gets tossed around like it's an answer.

And meanwhile, the world goes on. And even in the larger left-leaning blogosphere, people who aren't intimately involved in the conflicts aren't even aware that they're occurring.

And I wonder why this all happens. Why we have the same circular arguments every few months, and nothing gets solved, and we splinter off into our little factions. Someone will declare that they're not calling themselves feminist anymore, and it makes me sad because I think feminism needs a bigger tent, not a smaller one. I think that we here at Alterdestiny ARE a feminist blog, as well as many other things, I think that you can't call yourself a progressive without embracing feminist principles (as well as anti-racist principles, and in general civil rights principles FOR ALL).

And I want solutions, not the same old conflicts. Yet I have none to offer for this. I don't know why this happens. I choose, at this point, not to get into these arguments on various comment threads, and I haven't really posted about any of this until now. I don't know what the solutions are. And once again I was tempted to post this at my own little space, but I don't think that's the answer. I don't think getting smaller is the answer.

I do know that while one side of the blogosphere was exploding, I was having fabulous conversations about books and music and movies, and most of all about politics and action, over here on this blog. With relatively little drama.

(Also, Shock Doctrine post later today. This sort of grew into a monster. Sorry.)

From Colony to Superpower, Part XII

This is the twelfth installment in the 20 part series Rob Farley and I have commenced to review George Herring's From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776. See the Herring Review tag below for previous entries. You can see Rob's entry for the week here.

This week covers Franklin Roosevelt's administration up to Pearl Harbor. According to Herring, the Great Depression turned American inward in a way they did not in the 1920s. Usually, the 20s and 30s are seen as a general period of isolation. Herring argues against this, but I'm not entirely convinced the Depression represents as sharp a break as he claims. I don't have strong examples in my favor, but Herring just sort of says this without really showing it. It makes sense that the nation would turn inward as a response to massive economic crisis, but it also seems that there are a lot of continuities between the two decades.

Roosevelt's foreign policy was dominated by dealing with the Depression and then preparing for World War II. Roosevelt recognized the Soviet Union, a positive step, although it certainly didn't lead to long-term good relations. He also instituted the Good Neighbor policy in Latin America, preferring stability to expensive American invasions. The Good Neighbor policy rightfully comes in for a lot of criticism. It allowed dictators like Fulgencio Batista to come to power in Cuba. Rather than push for democracy or some kind of more responsive government. Cuba was trying to work this under under Grau, but American interests in Cuba undermined his popular movement. The long-term implications of Batista and US policy set the stage for Castro.

On the other hand, a US government not blatantly riding roughshod over the rights of Latin America was a pretty welcome change after 35 years of invasion. Moreover, it would seem like a better time from the perspective of postwar Latin America, when the CIA and American military are active everywhere fighting "communism," broadly defined as "people demanding the rights that Americans enjoy everyday." This of course was unacceptable in the Cold War context and would lead to some of the most reprehensible US foreign policy actions.

Of course, the dominant issue of the period was the rising tide of German and Japanese militarism. Herring shows how ineffective the world was in dealing with both countries. When the Japanese invaded China, they rightfully believed the League of Nations would do nothing. That the United States was not part of the League didn't help, but there's certainly little reason to believe it would have made much difference. In Europe, FDR recognized some of the potential problems fairly early but faced a hostile domestic climate for any U.S. involvement. It really took the invasion of France to wake the nation up.

Herring is critical of much of Roosevelt's policy over these issues, but I think this is a little unfair. He was rightfully focused on domestic issues during his first two terms--after all, the fate of the nation was at stake here. I suppose he could have handled issues like the Italy-Ethiopia war better, but ultimately this was of pretty minor interest for the United States. Spain definitely went bad. Trying to stay out of it meant handing the nation over to Franco. But again, working with the Soviets would have been extremely difficult in 1937 and there was the same widespread domestic opposition to significant involvement. Certainly Lend-Lease furthered U.S. interests in important ways, as did the expansion of the American defense zone into the mid-Atlantic.

Finally, there is the issue of Pearl Harbor. Herring is also critical of American foreign policy toward Japan in this period, saying that we ended up with a 2 front war when we weren't prepared for 1 front. Perhaps, but what were the alternatives? To continue trading with a hostile power bent on taking over all of Asia? If you define all foreign policy questions as whether it is the U.S.' narrow interests to further policy, maybe you can criticize FDR. And certainly there were some clunky moves. But if you at all think the U.S. has some obligation to limit its trade with openly hostile nations, cutting off supplies to Japan makes a lot more sense. Yes, it did help convince the Japanese that it was in their interests to declare war on the United States. But the other side would have been aiding and abetting Japanese militarism.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Top 10 Films of 2008

It's Oscar Sunday and that means it is time for my list of 2008's top films.

First of all, what a bad year. I guess 2007 was so great that anything pales in comparison. But this is a pretty weak crop by any standards. I'm not even watching the Oscars tonight because I just don't care about any of the movies. Nonetheless, there were some good films this year. Of course, some of them I haven't been to able to see yet despite living in the Austin area. Wendy and Lucy just started playing Friday and even though I hoped to see it before I put the list up, it didn't happen. I haven't had a chance to see Waltz with Bashir yet either. But I did the best I could.

1. Tell No One. Far and away the best film of the year, this French thriller almost had me shaking in the theatre. Some have criticized it for being too complex and trying to do much but I really disagree. This was the only film I saw all year that left me fully satisfied. I cannot recommend this highly enough.

2. Forgetting Sarah Marshall. People have already forgotten about this film and I don't know why. It's really freaking hilarious. By far the funniest movie I saw this year. The scenes making fun of crime dramas with Billy Baldwin were incredibly hilarious. Almost everything about this movie works really well. Maybe it's forgotten as just another movie from the Apatow machine, but that's unfair.

3. The Edge of Heaven. This Turkish-German film is a very good meditation on immigration and belonging. I enjoyed this a great deal, though possibly not as director Fatih Akin's previous work, Head-On. Nonetheless, well acted and directed and very moving in many ways.

4. Rachel Getting Married. I don't even like Anne Hathaway, but she was really good as an utterly self-centered drug addict getting out of rehab to go to her sister's wedding. Acting was excellent throughout. The movie was mostly ignored by the Academy, which is too bad given that it was crazy enough to give Benjamin Button 13 freaking nominations. Yawn. Great music as well. I rarely expect too much from Jonathan Demme at this point, but this is a very strong film.

5. Reprise. Joachim Trier's film on two young writer friends and their ability/inability to deal with fame and life as successful writers. It would be absurd as an American film because fiction writers aren't famous. But in Norway, I'll believe things are different. These guys are jerks, but nonetheless not so loathsome that you don't somehow root for them to succeed and change their ways and learn to deal with the world. Trier is a very promising young director and I look forward to seeing his future work.

6. The Wrestler. This is just a great character study of two aging people whose live on their bodies. But their aging and they are being chewed up and spit out by society. My favorite scene is when Rourke and Tomei have a drink and talk about how awesome the 80s were. The good time 80s also led to a lot of people unable to put that aside. They've made some bad choices and now they have to live with it. I didn't know Darren Aronofsky had this kind of film in him. It makes me feel better about his future.

7. Gran Torino. People always want to attach messages to Eastwood films. Conservatives love it because it's about an old white guy kicking the asses of non-whites. Liberals say that it is about Eastwood renouncing violence in the end (which they also said about Unforgiven). I'm uncomfortable about all of this. Yes, I love to see old man Clint being a total bad-ass. That's awesome to watch. But the best part of the film is watching him and the young Hmong boy become friends and seeing Clint realize that his people are the working-class Hmong living next to him. There are legitimate criticisms to be made about this film. Eastwood's family are nothing but caricatures. There are weak moments in the film. The Hmongs in the film aren't the greatest actors in the world. Last year, this would have been an honorable mention film at best. But in a weak year, this stands out as a pretty satisfying film experience.

8. Wall-E. I was cold on this movie in the beginning, but I've warmed up to it a lot. The beginning is a homage to silent films, and while film critics love it, it also means that the film takes a while to gain momentum. I'd be curious to know how children received the film; it seems to appeal to smart adults more than kids. But the animation is great, the story comes together beautifully in the end, and the message is first-rate. Now, that it has a good environmental message is hardly a reason to recommend the film, but as our constant assault upon nature comes to bite us in the ass, it's going to be interesting to see how popular culture responds.

9. August Evening. This is really beautiful little film about a migrant Mexican-American family living in Texas. Dad and Mom live with their daughter-in-law. The son/husband was killed in a car crash some years before. The daughter-in-law has yet to recover. The parents have two other children who live in San Antonio. The daughter has tried to leave her life of poverty behind, marries a white guy and lives in the worst kind of suburban San Antonio subdivision you can imagine. The son has a family of his own and barely exists above the poverty line, but he's no closer to the parents. The mother dies and turmoil tears up the family. When they briefly move in with the son, they try and set up the daughter-in-law with a single friend of there's. Will she fall in love? What will happen with the father? This is the whole of the movie. Very simple, but also very much like an Ozu movie. The day to day life of the family is enough to keep the film going. There's no false tension and no explosive moments. This film might not be for anyone, but on its own limited terms, it's a beautiful testament to life.

10. Milk. The best of the Oscar nominated films. There's nothing really that special about Milk, but it is a very solid bio-pic, well-acted and with a powerful and timely story.

Honorable Mention:

Synecdoche, New York. I liked it when I saw it more than I do now. The more I think about, the less I care. Good enough, but not great.

Encounters at the End of the World. The Werner Herzog documentary about the Americans who work in Antarctica is quite interesting and intermittently beautiful. A little too much Werner talking about how much he hates humans though.

Still Life. An interesting and sad Zhang Ki Jia film about people who's lives are torn up by the Three Gorges Dam. Worth seeing for sure. Many people loved it. It didn't blow my mind, but I do recommend it.

Up the Yangtze. A documentary about similar subject matter. The film looks at 2 young people working on one of the boats taking people around the Yangtze. Probably the best documentary I saw this year. Some extremely powerful scenes about how the government doesn't care about the average person and about how young people react to the vast changes overtaking their society.

Paranoid Park. Actually a more interesting film by Gus Van Sant than Milk, but also a little film with some pretty poor acting. Still, it's good to get Van Sant looking at the underside of Portland again. It served him well 20 years ago and this serves him much better than much of his recent work.

Love Songs. A French musical about a threesome. It almost sounds like a joke. And it is very French. But it also works pretty well too. Plus how can you not love Ludivine Sagnier?

My One Wish about the Oscars

I wish that the Academy Awards were like old-time boxing, in which the mafia ran the show and people threw bouts. Except, in this case, the mafia would build up some picture to be a big winner (Slumdog Millionaire), and when all the bets were in, another picture seemingly came out of nowhere (say, Frost/Nixon, though I haven't seen it) to win. This happens occasionally, (*cough*Brokeback Mountain*cough*), but not often enough. Mob origins would sure make inexplicable decisions not only more explciable, but also seedier and, therefore, more fun.

Food History Blogging: 19th Century American Recipes

These are just links to old posts of mine, but since most of our readers (or writers) were not around when I first posted these recipes, I thought I would link to them as the second post in the food history blogging series. If you ever wanted to know the best way (or at least a seemingly disgusting way) to bake possum or how to make your tainted meat tasty again, this is the post for you. 


Historical Image of the Day

To close our set of Gilded Age Supreme Court judges with awesome facial hair, we have Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II of Mississippi. Appointed by Grover Cleveland in 1888.

You might think that the nation would have barred leading secessionists from serving on the nation's highest court, but you'd be wrong. Lamar was a member of Mississippi's secessionist committee in 1860 and then became a Confederate officer. Despite this, he was back in the House of Representatives in 1873. When Grover Cleveland became president in 1884, he named Lamar Secretary of the Interior and then promoted to the Court near the end of his first term. He served until 1893 when he died, having left no discernible mark upon the Court.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rio's New Mayor Launches Blatant Class Warfare

The AP ran a disturbing story (courtesy the LA Times, though I originally read the article on my Wii news channel, which will probably merit a blog post of its own in the near future) about the new tactics and policies of Rio's new mayor, Eduardo Paes.

Eduardo Paes, the fresh-faced 39-year-old mayor who took office on Jan. 1, is energetically trying to reverse Rio's reputation as an anything-goes city where savvy citizens learn early that some laws exist only on paper and can be safely ignored.
But the mayor isn't giving up his campaign, even as more than 700,000 visitors crowd the streets. "We have to give a shock of urban order to the city, an organized posture, to recover authority and better conserve public spaces," he explained during the mayoral race.
"A shock of urban order" sounds rather extreme and authoritarian, perhaps, but let's see what his plans are. Who is Paes going to go after first?
His first targets have been the countless providers of what many citizens consider to be useful — if illegal — services in Rio's informal economy.

From men who sell boiled corn in the streets, to boys who demand coins to safeguard cars from thieves, to women hawking ice-cold beer from small coolers on Copacabana beach, hundreds of these workers have felt the pinch.

"I've been selling books here for 40 years," said Rubem da Consigao, 71, a wisp of a man whose small folding table held 100 used volumes in the posh Ipanema neighborhood. "Then last week, the police came, said I didn't have a vendor's license, took my books and said they would burn them. This country is full of thieves — if they take the bread from my hand, there is going to be one more."

Many such workers say they have been hassled by police. Almost all say they have little choice but to keep working illegally. [...]
Ah - going after people who harmlessly sell books, beer, or corn on the street! How brave! It's genius! Everybody knows - all of Rio's problems come from its informal economy!!! And who could argue with Paes's logic?
"Paes has said that Rio lost its luster long ago by allowing little crimes to tarnish its reputation: "I've never lived in the Marvelous City," he has said, invoking one of Rio's old nicknames."
Sarcasm aside, it should go without saying, but by appealing to the "Marvelous City" he never had, Paes is also appealing to the worst kind of elitism and repression of Rio's poor. Implying that the "Marvelous City" ("Cidade Maravilhosa," Rio's nickname) can only exist when street vendors are removed from the scene is patently, vulgarly, and quite frankly, unrealistically expecting to just wipe the face of poverty from the city of Rio. In effect, it's saying, "The city can only be beautiful when we keep the favelados and the poor in their own neighborhoods" where, let's not forget, they can easily find themselves victims of police occupations and violence.

Rio's facing a lot of problems, and certainly, some of the more major problems (like police corruption and the violence in the favelas) are, as the article points out, not within Paes's jurisdiction. However, concentrating his emphasis on street vendors and others who are involved in the informal economy not out of any huge entrepreneurship or search for the thrill of illegal activities, but for the simple reason that they are trying to make ends meet, is not only revolting, it's unrealistic. These efforts reveal Paes to be one of the most blatant elitists willing to wage obvious class war on his own city that I've ever seen any politician anywhere pull (as well as the micromanager's micromanager). The fact that he has no social program responses to offer alternatives to street vendors beyond "fines and/or jail" just makes it that much worse.

It should also go without saying that basing your "cleanup" program on Rudy Giulani's campaigns of the 1990s is a terrible idea - Giuliani oversaw, among other things, impunity in escalating police violence and an extreme widening of the income gap in a city that now has 1.5 million of its 8 million residents (that's 18.75%) living below the poverty line, due in no small part because of the Giuliani/Bloomberg policies of the last 16 years.

But hey - at least Paes isn't hiding his true colors.

Blogging and money

Because it needs to be said.

I can't tell you how many amazing offers I've had to write for outlets that follow it up with, "well, we don't pay."

And at this point, I have to turn them down. Because I have to eat.

I am tired of having to explain this to people. I am tired of having my economic situation be shocking to people who should know better. I am not rich. My family is decently well-off, but I'm almost 30 and they certainly can't afford to support me.

Writing is work. It is work that I've devoted years of my life to doing, to getting better at, and in fact it is bothering me that this piece is not going to be as good as it should be, because I'm angry and I just have to get it out.

Blogging isn't journalism. For a lot of us, blogging is what we do because we have to, because we have to get all these thoughts out and this anger out. There's a reason the liberal blogosphere exploded in the Bush years: because we were all so angry, so sad, and so isolated, often. The blogosphere was a community.

But real journalism, real investigative pieces like this one or this one or these, takes money. It takes more than a few minutes pissed off on my couch. Crowdsourcing and the like will never replace it, because it requires an investment of time and energy, passion and research, real hard work. And the people who do it need to eat the same as I do.

None of us, people like me who believe passionately in journalism, are planning to do it to get rich. Just like we didn't start blogging to make money, contrary to recent idiots' statements about blogs being a business. Because let's face it, blogs don't make money. The things that make money are sites like the Huffington Post, which I won't read partly because it's friggin' annoying, but partly because they don't pay their writers. And I'm tired of it.

I knocked this post out in 20 minutes, start to finish. I wrote a paid piece that took me probably 15-20 hours over the course of several days to report, write, stress over and edit, because I did individual interviews, background research--and still, that wasn't the kind of reporting I want to do.

News isn't dying--the existence of the blogosphere is proof of that. The problem is that actual reporting is dying and being replaced by commentary, whether that be pundits like Pat racist asshole Buchanan getting paid to sit on their pasty white asses and bloviate about topics about which they know nothing (like a recent commenter at Obsidian Wings noted) or bloggers who feel compelled to respond to each individual news story (and I'm as guilty as the rest of us).

Or it's being replaced by so-called citizen journalism, which is great as a democratizing influence and to get the few overpaid assholes in the pundit class humble, but has huge gaping holes because it relies once again on self-motivating people. Do you think the woman in that Mother Jones story I linked above has the time or the resources or anything else to be doing "citizen journalism" and telling her own story? No. She's more worried, once again, about whether or not she can eat.

So I'm sorry, but I am not going to write for free for your blog or your website, no matter whether we're friends or you have more traffic than me or whatever. I love Alterdestiny and I'm not going anywhere, and I value and treasure the blogosphere and what it's given me and done to shape my opinions over the past four or five years.

That whole "blogosphere as digital colonialism" pseudo-intellectual condescending drivel can eff right off, but there was one valid point to it and it's that there is still a very real economic barrier to this shit. I have to eat, and so I don't have time to spend running around the blogosphere dropping links and getting my name out there, and so the name that I so desperately need to build if I'm going to ever make a living as a writer--the ONLY thing I've ever really wanted to do--it goes largely unknown. And there are people who have far less free time and access than I do, with my grad assistantship and my new Mac laptop.

And so. I don't have any solutions. I wish I did, but if I had 'em, I wouldn't have to write this in the first damn place.

Historical Image of the Day

Supreme Court David Davis and his beard. Evidently the Waite court favored this sort of beard, as Chief Justice Morrison Waite had virtually the precise style.

Appointed by Lincoln in 1862, he served until 1877. He resigned that year and served a term as Senator from Illinois, from 1877 to 1883.

Friday, February 20, 2009

How Pork Changes History

One of the great things about being an environmental historian (and social historians at the very least can say the same thing) is that you realize how sometimes things like nature or food or sex or fashion or so many other things change history. Take the recent Israeli election. Netanyahu is taking over, the settlements are likely to be expanded, and more people are going to die. Political scientists are going to spill an endless amount of ink over analyzing these issues. But via Yglesias, Jeffrey Yoskowitz suggests what might have led to the far right Yisrael Beiteinu party being the key to Netanyahu taking power?


Specifically, that an ultra-Orthodox party that aligned with Likud alienated both secular and Russian immigrant voters who really like pork. These voters are the core consistuency of far-right, proto-fascist Avigdor Lieberman. And they vote for him in no small part because he supports their right to eat pork. He threw his support to Netanyahu. And there we have it. Lieberman rather than the extreme Orthodox party is making the government possible, thus making the Israeli government even more stridently nationalist than it already would have been.

Lieberman's core platform promised both the security of their borders as well as their culture--meats, cheeses, and all. It is not surprising, then, that Lieberman's gains in support coincided in a drop in support for Likud--which, according to the last published poll before the election (released the day before Yosef's speech), was slated to win a slim lead over the Kadima party. To be sure, many Russian immigrants were also attracted by Lieberman's ultra-nationalism; but the secular-religious rift embodied by the pig controversy seems to have been enough of a factor to siphon sufficient votes from Likud to prevent Netanyahu's predicted victory.

In an ironic twist, the likeliest governing coalition to emerge from the inconclusive election results is a right-wing alliance of Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Shas. But as illustrated by the pork posturing during the campaign season, the deep animosity between Yisrael Beitunu and Shas will make for a tenuous alliance that even security concerns may not be able to hold together for very long.


Food History Blogging: John Harvey Kellogg

I have in mind a few new historically based topics for the blog. You've been reading Crisis of Masculinity Blogging. Here is the second--Food History Blogging. Every now and again, I'll talk about some issue of food history, usually within the United States but sometimes around the world.

I'll start with a story that some of you might be familiar with, but maybe not. That of John Harvey Kellogg, the inventor of Corn Flakes and the founder of Kellogg's cereals.

Kellogg was a doctor who lived in Battle Creek, Michigan during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A Seventh-Day Adventist, Kellogg ran a sanitarium in Battle Creek based upon that religion's principles. Sanitariums were common during these times as places where a generally wealthy clientele could heal from their illnesses. Kellogg believed in a vegetarian diet and abstaining from tobacco and alcohol. He worried that meat eating caused sexual stimulation and fought against both of these things. This is a common theme of 19th century food thinkers--trying to restrain the unclean urges, be they food, alcohol, or sex.

Kellogg was a zealous campaigner against masturbation, something that worried a lot of people in the late 19th century. Campaigns against "self-pollution" were common. Kellogg drew upon medical sources that claimed that "neither the plague, nor war, nor small-pox, nor similar diseases, have produced results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicious habit of onanism," as one Dr. Adam Clarke wrote. Kellogg strongly warned against masturbation in his own words, claiming of masturbation related deaths, "such a victim literally dies by his own hand,"(!!!!) among other condemnations. He felt that not only did masturbation destroy physical and mental health, but the moral health of individuals as well. Kellogg believed that the "solitary vice" caused cancer of the womb, urinary diseases, nocturnal emissions, impotence, epilepsy, insanity, and mental and physical illness. He worked hard to "rehabilitate" masturbating children. For self-polluting boys, he suggested,

"A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys in circumcision....The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anaesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed."

For girls, Kellogg said "in females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement."

Kellogg was a strong proponent of eating nuts, believing they could save the world from hunger. He also believed in enemas. After the enema, they would be forced to undergo a second enema, this time with yogurt, while also eating yogurt at the same time, "thus planting the protective germs where they are most needed may render most effective service." He believed that the key to health and proper Victorian moderation was a well-balanced vegetarian diet favoring low-protein, laxative, and high fiber foods. Thus he and his brother invented corn flakes. Modern whole grain cereals were unknown to Americans before Corn Flakes came out in 1897. The rich ate meat and eggs for breakfast while the poor usually had some sort of porridge or other boiled grains.

Kellogg was a real true believer. His brother Will knew that what would really make cereals sell was to add sugar to them. John refused. In 1906, the two brothers split over this, Will to become rich and John to die in obscurity.

More on That Cartoon

I'm cross-posting here a piece that I put up at the Newsarama blog (comics website, for the uninitiated). I blog over there daily, and invite you all to come play, but this one seemed relevant to the AD audience, so I'm posting it here as well:

To build off Caleb's post below, as well as something I've written about before, today, Here and Now on NPR featured cartoonists talking about Obama and race.

Wednesday’s New York Post cartoon has sparked a national conversation about the role of race in cartooning. On Monday - two days before the Post cartoon came out - three editorial cartoonists shared their views on race in cartoons in a forum at the JKF Museum. We hear a piece of their conversation and then check in with one of the cartoonists, Joel Pett, to see if his opinion has changed in the light of the Post cartoon.

The audio is available on the site, and the segment on the cartoons comes in at 29:25. Pett notes that part of the reason to interpret the cartoon in a negative light is, frankly, the reputation of Delonas, the cartoonist.
"The guy was either so insensitive as to not be able to anticipate this reaction or he anticipated it and just didn't care. Either way it's a terrible cartoon."

"There's a difference between free speech--you can draw a stupid racist cartoon and walk around the streets showing it to people. But that doesn't mean that you necessarily get a place in the profession and get paid for it. If you do that, you gotta expect to be held to some kind of standard of decency."

Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post said on MSNBC (at about 3:55 of the video) that the problem might've been caught if there was better diversity in the workplace. For example, I'd be willing to bet that many of the people who defended the cartoon on Caleb's post were white. I'm not trying to beat up on anyone for being white--I'm white. But the thing is, being white, we simply don't deal with racism the same way. This is what diversity does: it provides multiple viewpoints, multiple frames of reference for the same subject. This doesn't mean controversial subjects should be avoided at all costs, but that fraught images like this one can be examined from different perspectives, and that perhaps a better critique of the stimulus package could've been produced.

Not to be too much of an academic wanker, but Judith Butler, one of my favorite theorists, wrote that “The speaker who utters the racial slur is thus citing the slur, making linguistic community with a history of speakers,” (The Judith Butler Reader, p 221). Her point is that insults draw on a vast history in order to have their power. Perhaps Sean Delonas really wasn't aware that there is a long history in this country of comparing African-Americans to apes. But the people protesting in the street with Al Sharpton (whatever you may think of Sharpton) certainly were.

The New York Post is hardly a newspaper of record, and I'm not suggesting censorship. One of the best things about free speech is it tells us a lot about the speaker, and in this case, those giving him a platform. I've defended the free speech rights of offensive political cartoonists in the past in this very blog. But you cannot cry "free speech!" and then complain that people speak out against you. As Colleen Doran noted in a panel at NYCC, it's not censorship to choose what you will and will not support.

Reich Defends The New Deal

The other day, I discussed why conservative talking points about the New Deal were absurd. But of course Robert Reich can do it much more eloquently.

1. The New Deal relieved a great deal of suffering by establishing social safety nets -- Unemployment Insurance, Aid for Dependent Children, and Social Security for retirees. Most have remained, a worthy legacy. But because the structure of the economy has changed (a much higher percentage of the working population is now employed part-time in several jobs or as independent contractors, for example), there are gaping holes in the safety net which a New New Deal should fill in order that the Mini Depression we're experiencing not cause excessive harm.

2. FDR's public works spending did help the economy somewhat. By 1936, U.S. the economy was showing some life. Unemployment was declining and consumers were beginning to buy. But FDR cut back on public-works spending, and the economy sank back into its former torpor. A warning to Obama: Don't worry about so-called "fiscal responsibility" when aggregate demand still falls far short of the economy's total capacity.

3. The Second World War pulled the nation out of the Great Depression because it required that government spend on such a huge scale as to restart the nation's factories, put Americans back to work, and push the nation toward its productive capacty. By the end of the war, most Americans were better off than they were before its start. Yes, the national debt ballooned to 120 percent of GDP. But the debt-GDP ratio subsequently declined -- not just because post-war spending dropped but because the economy continued to grow as war production converted to the production of consumer goods. Lesson: The danger isn't too much stimulus, it's too little stimulus.


Historical Image of the Day

Chief Justice Morrison Waite and his fine beard.

Appointed by Ulysses Grant in 1874, Waite served for 14 years. Like many of Grant's Supreme Court nominees, he worked to roll back racial protections for African-Americans. This makes me wonder why Grant's supposed belief in racial equality has improved his standing among both historians and progressives. Almost all of his judicial choices were terrible on race and you'd think that in an age when we pay so much attention to judges generally and the Supreme Court especially, people would take this into account. Those who promote Grant's presidency point to the Civil Rights Act of 1875 which he signed. But his own judges, including Waite, overturned the law in the Civil Rights Cases (1883). So I have yet to see a compelling case for the argument that Grant was a good president on racial issues.