Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Paraguay Finally Stops Paying Three Convicted Torturers

Somebody in Paraguay goofed up:

Three police chiefs imprisoned for torture have finally have been fired after collecting their salaries from behind bars since 1995, Paraguay's interior minister said Tuesday.

The former officials are serving 25-year terms in maximum security prison for human rights offenses under the dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, including the torture of opposition politicians.

I don't know why it would take so long to "fire" somebody who'd been in jail for 14 years; though it could have been accidental, I doubt it was. It's good that these three men aren't being paid for their crimes anymore, but it's still pretty appalling it took this long to get them off of the payrolls.

Hero of the Day

The U.S. needs more Alan Graysons.

"Clean" Energy and Water

So-called clean energy is seen by many as the solution to our problems. Again, we emphasize technological solutions for our problems. Cutting back on consumption is not acceptable to most Americans. We just need to find better and more efficient technologies, right?

Maybe. But they cause problems too:

In a rural corner of Nevada reeling from the recession, a bit of salvation seemed to arrive last year. A German developer, Solar Millennium, announced plans to build two large solar farms here that would harness the sun to generate electricity, creating hundreds of jobs.

But then things got messy. The company revealed that its preferred method of cooling the power plants would consume 1.3 billion gallons of water a year, about 20 percent of this desert valley’s available water.

Now Solar Millennium finds itself in the midst of a new-age version of a Western water war. The public is divided, pitting some people who hope to make money selling water rights to the company against others concerned about the project’s impact on the community and the environment.

Whoops! Western history almost seems like one long never-ending water war. Big entities who control water are often painted as the bad guys in the modern west (see Worster, Rivers of Empire or Reisner, Cadillac Desert as a couple of classics of environmental history that do this). But what happens when the supposed good guys also need water.

Producing any form of energy is going to create negative environmental impacts. Maybe the water of this Nevada valley is better spent on solar energy than individual people. Maybe that's a choice we are going to have to make. But we need to do it with open eyes. Because those who control water in the West also control power and there are definitely winners and losers. Could solar energy, producing green energy for our consumption, hurt local residents in real ways? Absolutely. And before we tout green energy as the technological solution for all our problems, we need to have these conversations.

Real Food Challenge

The Real Food Challenge is a nationwide effort to get college campuses to buy organic and sustainable food. There's no question this is a good thing. People should eat better food when they can. And many campuses, including my own, have made some really sensible moves to reduce our carbon footprint--for instance, getting rid of trays which cuts down on both food waste and water use, as well as eliminating styrofoam takeout trays and replacing them with recycled cardboard that you have to pay for. This is a concrete way that young people can challenge their energy to change the world and win real victories.

Nonetheless, I have a certain ambivalence toward this movement. Not on its merits, which of course are impeccable. But as is common, class is ignored in these arguments. In fact, the consumption patterns of the rich is seen as a good reason for the Real Food Challenge in this article by Anna Lappé in The Nation as a justification of the program (available to subscribers only, but The Nation is only $18 a year for an online subscription and really we have to start paying for some of our journalism or a lot of valuable publications are going to go away. So sign up. Damn it.)

The concept is simple, really. Students, some who pay as much as $100,000, or more, for four years at a private college, should have a say in what grub their schools serve--and that food should reflect shared values of fairness and sustainability. The Real Food Challenge provides an organizing tool to empower students to persuade their schools to make the move. Schools that join the challenge pledge to shift at least 20 percent of school food to "real food"--sustainably raised, grown with fairness, and from local and regional farms--by 2020.

What does paying a lot for college have to do with the food you eat? Or what should it have to do with it more precisely. Because in reality, it's rich kids using their power as wealthy consumers to push particular consumption patterns. In this case, they are good consumption patterns, but nonetheless, what about poorer kids? Now, many schools across the nation are adopting these standards, including some public institutions. But wealthy private school kids are leading the way, pressing for their own consumption choices first.

Much more disturbing is the disconnect between consumption and production. Lappé gives lipservice to the food being "fair," but there's no evidence in the article than students are pushing ideas of fair production as an important part of their movement. It's sad too. 10 years ago, campuses were all abuzz about labor conditions in sweatshops. Living wage campaigns and anti-sweatshop groups existed across the nation. That faded away pretty quick, and so has concerns about the people producing the goods we buy.

The Real Food Challenge would be fantastic if it also asked two questions of administrators and food suppliers.

1. How much are the people working in the cafeteria getting paid? Do they make a living wage? Can they afford the food they are serving us?

2. What are the working conditions for employees of food suppliers we contract with? Particularly with organic food, this should be an important consideration. If we are forcing administrators to change how food is procured, working conditions can and should be addressed. Organic agriculture has caused some major problems with food production. The United Farm Workers have had issues with some organic suppliers because when you don't use chemicals on plants, they required much more physically backbreaking labor. I don't think it's right that the food going into my body should be produced on the broken bodies of the world's poor.

I have two major worries here. First, that if administrators and food corporations balk at any discussion of working conditions and production outside of issues of what is organic, that students will sacrifice concerns of the working-class.

Second, the Campus Food Challenge is a great thing. The last thing I want to do is dampen the enthusiasm my students have to change the world. That's wonderful. I don't want to be too negative. But I also think it's important to remember people who don't have access to power when those lucky few of us who do have that access organize to make a difference. Let's make a difference for everyone, not just wealthy consumers.

Via Rodger.

Food Deserts

What is a food desert? It's an area where people can't buy decent food. Neighborhoods of color. Areas where poor people live. Indian reservations. Etc.

To give you a concrete example, when I lived in Atlanta during the summer of 1999, I was probably the only white person within 15 square blocks (literally). The neighborhood Kroger was atrocious. 2 miles away was a gay neighborhood. The food there was outstanding. We see this over and over again. Here in Georgetown, the old downtown area has a high Mexican population. Other than good Mexican products, the store is bad, especially the produce. Out in strip mall city to the northwest of downtown, the grocery is much better.

This is an environmental justice issue and serves to remind us of one of the major problems of the environmental movement--that it is based on providing consumer goods to rich people that poor people can't afford. In this case, it's organic food. Or even just fresh food. The stores themselves certainly deserve a great deal of scorn, as they often refuse to build or improve stores in economically disadvantaged neighbors. Albuquerque has tried for years to get a store to move downtown, but Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and any number of other stores consistently build in the northeast heights, 20 miles from downtown. Not only can poor people not get out there, but literally everybody has to drive to these stores. Sustainability indeed.

Via Miriam.

Just Wait Until 2056!!!

I sure am glad Mangini waited until right before week 1 to decide who his starting QB would be. Clearly, it was a decision he felt he could stick to.

Looks like my "fire Mangini" bandwagon is already getting pretty crowded...

....and now that Wedge is gone, Mangini can look forward to being the only Eric in Cleveland who has to worry about his job.


Go Cav.....oh, hell. Why even bother?

Historical Image of the Day

For the rest of this week, the images will come from the fantastic new Farm Workers in Washington State History Project website. Check it out for a ton of great images and information.

United Farm Workers rally, Washington, 1992

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Rich Cause Environmental Problems. The Poor Do Not.

George Monblot has an absolutely fantastic piece up at Comment is Free where he convincingly argues that all talk about population growth causing environmental problems is a chimera covering up the real problem: rich people.

While I'm not quite willing to say population growth isn't an environmental problem, Monblot correctly states that this is much more of a future problem than a current one.

But there has always been a strong current in environmental thought blaming poor people for environmental problems. In the early 1900s, poor people were supposedly responsible for declining wildlife populations. Meanwhile, Theodore Roosevelt and friends were dining on wild game at fancy New York restaurants. In the 1930s, dirt farmers in western Oklahoma were causing the Dust Bowl, not the logic of capitalist agriculture. Today, poor people cut down tropical forests, have too many children, and poach wild animals as opposed to first world demanding developing world natural resources, the wealthy flying around the world, and development placing wildlife populations in jeopardy in the first place.

Not surprisingly then, Monblot points out that the wealthy are spearheading the anti-population growth movement. Meanwhile, what are those very same rich people doing?

While there's a weak correlation between global warming and population growth, there's a strong correlation between global warming and wealth. I've been taking a look at a few super-yachts, as I'll need somewhere to entertain Labour ministers in the style to which they are accustomed. First I went through the plans for Royal Falcon Fleet's RFF135, but when I discovered that it burns only 750 litres of fuel per hour I realised that it wasn't going to impress Lord Mandelson. I might raise half an eyebrow in Brighton with the Overmarine Mangusta 105, which sucks up 850 litres per hour. But the raft that's really caught my eye is made by Wally Yachts in Monaco. The WallyPower 118 (which gives total wallies a sensation of power) consumes 3,400 litres per hour when travelling at 60 knots. That's nearly a litre per second. Another way of putting it is 31 litres per kilometre.

Of course, to make a real splash I'll have to shell out on teak and mahogany fittings, carry a few jetskis and a mini-submarine, ferry my guests to the marina by private plane and helicopter, offer them bluefin tuna sushi and beluga caviar, and drive the beast so fast that I mash up half the marine life of the Mediterranean. As the owner of one of these yachts I'll do more damage to the biosphere in 10 minutes than most Africans inflict in a lifetime. Now we're burning, baby.

Someone I know who hangs out with the very rich tells me that in the banker belt of the lower Thames valley there are people who heat their outdoor swimming pools to bath temperature, all round the year. They like to lie in the pool on winter nights, looking up at the stars. The fuel costs them £3,000 a month. One hundred thousand people living like these bankers would knacker our life support systems faster than 10 billion people living like the African peasantry. But at least the super wealthy have the good manners not to breed very much, so the rich old men who bang on about human reproduction leave them alone.

Damn, that's some good anti-rich writing there. However, I do think Monblot lets the western middle class off a bit too easy. I have no doubt that his analysis of what rich people do nature is spot-on, but the imitation of the wealthy by hundreds of millions of people in the western world and east Asia also causes massive damage. It's not just CEOs. It's you and me who drive SUVs, fly around, eat lots of beef, and contribute far more than our share to climate change and other environmental problems.

The environmental movement has largely failed in providing any sort of class analysis since it's beginning. It has done a great deal to preserve consumer prerogatives and invent supposedly "green" products that don't address consumption at all, but simply claim to make that consumption less harmful. Plus, the environmental movement has long relied on the wealthy for funding. So I'm skeptical that the mainstream organizations are ready to take this analysis on as their own.

But, I am tremendously confident in the next generation of environmental leaders to integrate much more of this analysis into their work. I teach these people and I find them incredibly refreshing, not just because they are young and full of energy and hope, but because they have a much more sophisticated understanding of the connections between class, race, and environment than than elders and a much better honed idea of environmental justice. They understand that you have to center people in any effective environmental movement. Blaming poor people of color for having lots of kids is no way to build a movement or create a sustainable world.

Via Globalisation and the Environment

U.S.-Myanmar Relations

Brian McCartan has a good piece up on the U.S. beginning to engage with Myanmar's leaders. I think this is a good thing. As I discussed in my Honduras piece yesterday, American foreign policy struggles with countries who simply refuse to cooperate. Myanmar is a primary example of this. The military junta has ruled with an iron fist for the last 20 years. It's unlikely to change soon, though when Than Shwe finally dies perhaps things will thaw. The U.S. and other nations have implemented widespread sanctions against the nation, something supported oddly enough by the tourist boycott that has existed for over a decade.

What has all this accomplished? Nothing.

Sanctions rarely work and are not generally an effective foreign policy tool. Certainly limited sanctions on arms and other such items make sense. But little else. The tourism boycott has done nothing at all to free Aung San Suu Kyi or to free up the Burmese people in any way. If anything, it's isolated them even more. The sanctions have only placed the Burmese people in greater poverty.

I'm certainly not confident that closer relations with the Myanmar junta will help bring any semblance of freedom to the nation's people or lead to free elections. But how can it possibly hurt? The junta's response to last year's typhoon was unconscionable and shows how uncaring they are. But more sanctions aren't an answer. Talking to them and engaging them can only help. Allowing tourism will bring information to the Burmese people and help get their stories out.

Considering all of this, it seems clear that the new U.S. stance toward Myanmar makes a lot of sense.

Historical Image of the Day

Chinese-American man, Denver, early 20th century.

I love the weird background to the picture. I guess it's supposed to represent the Rockies or the western wilderness or something.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Film Review: The "Teddy" Bears (1907)

The bizarre world of silent film can hardly be explained. Really you have to watch the movies. However, I'm going to give you the plot of 1907's "The 'Teddy' Bears" as an example of why more people should watch these films.

It's basically Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Except that Goldilocks has brown hair. But whatever.

The Three Bears (in Victorian clothing naturally) go for a walk.

Goldilocks walks in. She eats the porridge. But before she sleeps in Baby Bear's bed, she happens to open a door. This door reveals a weird but cool bear claymation dance scene.

OK then. And then she sleeps.

Then the bears come home. Baby Bear has been bad. So you get to watch him get spanked. Then they discover Goldilocks in their bed. She escapes through the window and the bears chase her. Rightfully so too. She stole one of Baby Bear's dolls (a teddy bear of course). And she was guilty of breaking and entering. I mean, really what did she expect.

So Goldilocks runs away. Then she runs into Theodore Roosevelt (someone playing him of course which I shouldn't have to mention but then in silent film, it's entirely possible that he would show up). TR then shoots Mama and Papa Bear down, killing them each with one shot. Then he captures Baby Bear and puts a chain around his neck. Whether he'll be sold into a circus or a zoo or what is not explained. Then Goldilocks and Roosevelt go to the Three Bears' house where she takes the rest of the bear dolls.

End of movie.

Coaches' Poll

It's fashionable to bitch about the BCS, and for good reason too. But I think the most egregious part of the BCS is the use of the Coaches' Poll as part of its calculations.

Who thinks college football coaches even watch other teams' football games? These guys have never seen the teams play unless their own team has faced them. They usually pawn the task off to some underling, who probably hasn't watched the teams play either. This system leads to all sorts of nonsensical rankings. Meanwhile, the AP Poll consists of writers who increasingly take the job seriously, watch the games, and base the rankings on what they see. Which would you prefer?

This problem is exacerbated by polls even existing before the 3rd or 4th week of the season. The first poll of the season goes a long way to deciding who will be ahead at the end of the season. That's because teams who start off high can afford to have a loss and still work their way back to the top. Meanwhile, a team farther down the poll might lose one and win eleven in a row and they might not make it high enough because they lost their ranking until the 5th week of season.

This week we see all sorts of absurdities in the coaches poll, some of which reflect these preseason rankings. Oregon completely clubbed California on Saturday, 42-3. Oregon lost its first game in a bad fashion, deservedly dropping them out of the top 25. They hadn't made it back in until this week. The writers placed Oregon at #16 and California at #24. Pretty sensible. Both teams have one loss and one beat the other. The coaches however didn't even try. Cal is still #19 while Oregon is at #25. Six spots lower. Really? Did they even watch the games? Oh yeah, of course not.

Similarly an undefeated Iowa team that just beat Penn St. is at #17 in the Coaches poll while the Nittany Lions are at #13. Why? Because Penn St. started the season higher.

Even the non-power conference teams benefit and suffer from this. It seems likely to me that Houston and quite possibly TCU are better than Boise St. Yet because people thought Boise would be good at the beginning of the season, they are at #5 while TCU and Houston are much lower. The coaches actually have Houston at #15, despite victories over Oklahoma St. and Texas Tech. Meanwhile, Oklahoma St. is #12 in the Coaches poll.

Infuriating for any marginally sensible college football fan.

The Bizarre Complexity of American Racial Politics

The Daily Mirror finds this tidbit from 1909 in Marshfield, (now Coos Bay) Oregon. Having multiple racial groups whites discriminated against in the same place has often led to them fighting amongst themselves over who was truly at the bottom of the barrel. Blacks fighting to keep their kids out of schools that had Chinese students is a great example of this and also reminds us just how despised Chinese immigrants were in the American West during the mid 19th through early 20th centuries.

Higher Education Leadership for the 21st Century!!!

Commentator Elizabeth alerted me of this Times interview with University of California president Mark Yudof. I guess Yudof didn't consult with his press agent before giving this interview. Or he just didn't care. Some lowlights:

Q: U.C. is facing a budget shortfall of at least $753 million, largely because of cuts in state financing. Do you blame Governor Schwarzenegger for your troubles?
A: I do not. This is a long-term secular trend across the entire country. Higher education is being squeezed out. It’s systemic. We have an aging population nationally. We have a lot of concern, as we should, with health care.

Q: And education?
A: The shine is off of it. It’s really a question of being crowded out by other priorities.

Q: Already professors on all 10 U.C. campuses are taking required “furloughs,” to use a buzzword.
A: Let me tell you why we used it. The faculty said “furlough” sounds more temporary than “salary cut,” and being president of the University of California is like being manager of a cemetery: there are many people under you, but no one is listening. I listen to them.

Q: The word “furlough,” I recently read, comes from the Dutch word “verlof,” which means permission, as in soldiers’ getting permission to take a few days off. How has it come to be a euphemism for salary cuts?
A: Look, I’m from West Philadelphia. My dad was an electrician. We didn’t look up stuff like this. It wasn’t part of what we did. When I was growing up we didn’t debate the finer points of what the word “furlough” meant.

Q:When you began your job last year, your annual compensation was reportedly $828,000.

A: It actually was $600,000 until I cut my pay by $60,000. So my salary is $540,000, but it gets amplified because people say, “You have a pension plan.”

Q: What about your housing allowance? How much is the rent on your home in Oakland?
A: It’s about $10,000 a month.

Q: Does U.C. pay for that on top of your salary?
A: Yes, and the reason they do that is because they have a president’s house, it needed $8 million of repairs and I decided that was not the way to go. Why the heck would I ever authorize $8 million for a house I didn’t want to live in anyhow?

Q:What do you think of the idea that no administrator at a state university needs to earn more than the president of the United States, $400,000?
A: Will you throw in Air Force One and the White House?

Wow, talk about dialing it in. Yudof just wants to get paid. The shine is off education, so why bother fighting for it. Instead, he'll just hang out with celebrities.

Higher education in the 21st century! Fantastic!

Honduras Spiraling Downward

As Trend has been reporting, the situation in Honduras gets worse with each passing day. Roberto Micheletti and the coup leaders have surpassed even my expectations for vileness. Thumbing your nose at the world after you commit a coup is one thing. Not caring when the world shuts off foreign aid is hardly surprising for a group of rich white men who never concerned themselves with the nation's poor. But threatening to cut off diplomatic relations with clearly radical left-wing nations like Spain and Mexico (Mexico!!!!) is totally insane. Going into full military repression shocks the world. Blaming it on Brazil, as Trend pointed out, is laughable, but then the coup leaders are simply creating narratives that work for them, as they know the world opposed them. All of this, including shutting down news agencies that air Manuel Zelaya's statements reeks of Cold War-era repression.

But then again, isn't that what large segments of the Latin American right want? Clearly, the rich white Bolivians who hate Evo Morales wish the U.S. would come in and eliminate him. So do Chavez's opposition in Venezuela, though to be fair Chavez at least acts like a left-wing Cold War leader. Honduras has simply taken matters into their own hands; if the U.S. isn't going to support their actions, they'll do it themselves.

I had hoped that the crisis would dissipate after November elections, but that seems increasingly unlikely. Suppressing anti-coup media outlets sets the table for fraud in the coming election, meaning that the international community isn't going to recognize it. What happens in November is an open question.

This then leads us to the question of what to do. And this is a situation where I think the current international relations paradigm fails us. U.S. invasion is off the table, as it should be. No one else is going to intervene with their military either, though one would have to wonder at Brazil's response should the Honduran military invade their embassy. Sanctions don't work. The Honduran poor suffer every day from poverty. The world has cut off aid, but as we saw under Hussein's Iraq and many other examples, sanctions don't put pressure on leaders and only hurt the poor. If the Honduran elites simply do not care about the international community and they don't care about the poor of their own country, where does that lead us?

Finally, I want to reiterate a point I made in my coverage in Honduras during the coup--Zelaya is really a pain in the ass. He came back to Honduras without a clear plan and his statements to the media outlets willing to spread them have been inconsistent, seemingly depending on his mood. His progressive credentials have been way overhyped by many left-leaning outlets during this crisis, as the pro-Latin American left in the United States reads romanticized views of revolution into any new movement.

However, give Zelaya credit for one thing--he finally forced the issue. The U.S. has criticized Zelaya for reentering Honduras without a peace agreement. But Zelaya also knows that agreement is never going to come. He knows that Micheletti has a just say no strategy and that they would never let him come home. After all, what strategy does the U.S. have here? None except to hope it all goes away. He relied on the international community to make a difference and they didn't, so he did what he could to go home.

Historical Image of the Day

Sung Lung Washing and Ironing House, Salem, Oregon, 1889.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Micheletti Blames Brazil for Excessive Honduran Police Violence

Give me a break.

Honduras is accusing Brazil's government of instigating an insurrection within its borders, and gave the Brazilian Embassy 10 days to decide the status of ousted Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya, who has taken refuge there.

"Since the clandestine arrival to Honduras by ex-president Zelaya, the Brazil embassy has been used to instigate violence and insurrection against the Honduran people and the constitutional government," the secretary of foreign affairs for Honduras' de facto government said in a statement late Saturday night.

Really? Brazil instigated the violence and insurrection? It should be clear how ridiculous this is. Brazil did not order Honduran troops to illegally remove Zelaya in the first place. Brazil did not order Honduran police to attack Zelaya's supporters. Brazil did not order Honduran police to punch handcuffed women in the face. Brazil did not order police to shoot and kill 18-year-olds who called the police what they in fact are ("golpistas"). Indeed, reports indicate that Brazil only knew about Zelaya an hour before he showed up at the embassy, and Lula's advisors believe Hugo Chavez "schemed" to help get Zelaya to Honduras and to the Brazilian embassy.

The plain and simple fact, as it has become increasingly clear, is that Micheletti is demonstrating the worst characteristics of an authoritarian leader who refuses to let go of his power. He's curtailed freedom of the press; he's established curfews; he continues to simultaneously insist that he's open to "negotiations" while declaring that he will have Zelaya arrested immediately. He has repeatedly sent the military to attack and repress protesters through brutal violence. To lay the blame for this at Brazil's doorstep is more than disingenuous; it's offensive, ridiculous, and absurd. It's yet another painful reminder that Micheletti and his administration are unable to either accept any responsibility for their actions or behave even remotely like adults.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Depressing Human Rights News from Colombia and Honduras

Yesterday, Colombian prosecutors made a grisly discovery:

The chief prosecutor's office said Friday it has unearthed the remains of 17 peasants tortured and killed at a ranch that belonged to the since-slain, far-right militia leader Carlos Castano in Colombia's northwest. [...]

The peasants were believed slain 10 to 12 years ago by men under the command of Jesus Ignacio Roldan, alias "Monoleche," a Castano lieutenant who later participated in the 2004 murder of the right-wing militia leader, the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Castano was apparently killed because he was upset that other militia warlords had turned his anti-guerrilla movement into regional drug-trafficking criminal mafias and they were afraid he would betray them to U.S. drug agents.

All the bodies found at the "La 35" ranch in the Uraba banana-growing region "were dismembered and showed signs of torture," the statement said.
Of course, since Castano is dead, prosecutions are out of the question. Still, one can't help but suspect that this was and perhaps still is a common tactic among paramilitary groups and leaders, who can act safely, knowing that Uribe won't do anything about it.

Meanwhile (and h/t Randy), on Wednesday, Honduran police shot and killed an 18-year-old. His crime? He shouted out "golpistas!" (coup supporters) at the military. So, for shouting one word at the military that accurately described what they did (an illegal coup), the police killed the young man exercising freedom of speech in a non-violent way. And I expect that prosecutions against the police who committed this act are about as likely as prosecutions against the dead Castano, which is to say, not likely at all.

Brazil's VP Suggests Brazil Develop Nuclear Weapons (But It's Not Going to Happen)

Brazil's vice president, Jose Alencar, made some waves this week in international politics, declaring that Brazil should work on building nuclear weapons. In an interview, Alencar went on record as saying "The nuclear weapon, used as an instrument of deterrence, is of great importance for a country that has 15,000 kilometers of border to the west and a territorial sea" that has deep oil reserves.

While this has raised some eyebrows, it's not too much to be worried about. Lula and his spokespeople made it clear immediately that those opinions were Alencar's and Alencar's alone, and in no way reflect the goals and opinions of the administration, something Alencar also declared through an aide.

What is more, the production and/or possession of nuclear weapons is illegal in Brazil - the 1988 Constitution expressly prohibits nuclear weapons. Boz has a list of other reasons why this is a bad idea, and I agree with his points. However, I don't think this is anybody's "idea" - it's just an opinion that Alencar has, and he is a tiny minority not just within the government, but within Brazilian society generally, in his belief.

Facial Hair of the Weekend

Once again, Civil War facial hair, this time with Union general and American hero Ulysses S. Grant.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Historical Image of the Day

"Chinese American Children in Traditional Dresses," photograph by Arnold Genthe, San Francisco, early 20th century.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Tragedy of Van Jones

As most of you know, last week Van Jones was forced out of his job as the head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. More precisely, Obama caved to Glenn Beck and the other proto-fascists in classic weak Democratic fashion. But that's not why I am writing. Losing Jones is sad, particularly as he is one of the only leading African-American environmental voices in the country and as he is a man with excellent ideas for connecting working-class people and environmentalism.

I'm writing because Jones' dismissal exposes a deep flaw in our political system. He was attacked for saying all sorts of radical things in his youth. Now, we all say we hate politicians. They are shallow, soulless, corrupt, robotic, etc. But to no small extent that's because they have to be in today's climate. How many of us have made political statements we later regret? How many of us have said radical things on the internet? How many times have I done these things on this blog? If I were appointed to a political position and some right-wingers wanted to see me eliminated, they'd have enough material from posts I wrote when I was angry or drinking or just when I didn't phrase something as judicially as I might have to banish me from public life for 10 lifetimes.

If we hate politicians but we tolerate the blackballing of good people from politics who come from outside the political class because they were angry or rallying people to action and said something stupid or flirted when radicalism when they were young, where does that lead us? With the same old political class. These are people who decided to be politicians when they were 16 years old and stuck to it. They've never put themselves on the line or went to the mat for a cause or said anything in public that could come back and haunt them 20 years later. I've know these people. It's really sad.

Thus the tragedy of Van Jones is far bigger than the man itself. It's about who can and cannot hold prominent positions in the American political system.

American Consumers and the Economy's Future

The Times has a pretty interesting round table of academics talking about what the world economy is going to do with American consumers not spending. It's not pretty. Of course, it was all a chimera anyway because this spending was fueled by unsustainable debt and an absurd housing bubble. I do want to focus on a couple of the individual participants in the round table though. A few of them blame China for not spending or for keeping the yuan so devalued. I say, whatever. It's not as if the U.S. hasn't gamed the situation in the past for their advantage. I have a hard time buying this line of reasoning; moreover, it doesn't get us anywhere.

Lawrence Glickman, a historian, rightfully suggests that America's relationship with thrift is pretty tenuous at best. We start buying as soon as we can and we pretty much always have. I think this is true. If American history tells us anything about this crisis, it's that we will start shopping the second we feel stable in our jobs.

However, I'm not sure this isn't a different kind of crisis than any before in American history. I think Glickman is correct, but I'm not sure we will see the same result. That's not because of any change in Americans' attitude, quite the contrary. Rather, let me quote the sociologist Juliet Schor:

But relying on a consumer boom is foolhardly for a much deeper reason. Our problem is not a shortage of walk-in closets, cell phones or calories. We’re up against climate de-stabilization, and we can no longer deny that business-as-usual growth has brought us to the brink of catastrophe. We have about five years to get serious about a low-carbon economy, and start expeditiously transforming our dirty energy, food and transport systems. In standard economic terms, what this means is that we need to ramp up investment, rather than consumption.

Right, and on top of the environmental catastrophe we face are peak resource issues. Even if the economy does make a full recovery, the fact that we are running out of oil and any number of important minerals means that commodity prices will rise right along with the recovery. It seems pretty self-evident that scarcity is going to undermine any recovery. Perhaps not immediately, but within a few years. I'm not an economist, but it seems to me that most economists and financiers have not come up with useful answers to this crisis. Certainly in this round table (a limited sample size if there ever was one) the historian and the sociologist make a heck of a lot more sense than the economists do.

What we do about this intractable problem, I have no idea.

Pandas Aren't Facing Extinction Due to Evolution; They're Facing Extinction Due to Humans

Certainly, it's hard when anybody says, "just let the species die." Yet that's exactly what one British naturalist is saying about Pandas, declaring that it costs too much to keep them alive, and that they've worked themselves into an evolutionary "cul-de-sac." Even setting aside my primary disagreement based on the fact that for whatever reason, I really like pandas, I have to disagree with him for one very simple reason that this article highlights:

Giant pandas are confined to forest areas high in the mountains of southwestern China and have to consume large quantities of bamboo to survive.

They number around 1,600 and are threatened by agriculture, logging and China's increasing human population.

It seems to me that they aren't so much "doomed" due to the evolutionary path that they've taken. If left alone to their environment, they would have more than enough bamboo and land to continue surviving just fine. Unfortunately, deforestation, logging, and farming are destroying the panda's otherwise-supportive habitat. That's not an evolutionary cul-de-sac; it's one more example of humanity doing all it can to destroy other species, ecosystems, and the environment in the search of short-term profit.

Historical Image of the Day

Chinese American railroad workers

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Abortion in Poland


A Polish court has awarded $11,000 (7,400 euros) in damages to a woman likened to a child killer by a Catholic magazine for wanting an abortion.

The article also compared abortion to the experiments of Nazi war criminals at Auschwitz.

Alicja Tysiac had been warned by doctors when she became pregnant that she could go blind if she had her baby.

But she was denied an abortion - illegal in most cases in Poland - and her eyesight subsequently deteriorated.

I guess this is the pro-life fantasy. Being pro-life means that you only care about people until the moment they are born. At that point, they turned into evil sinners who deserve a lifetime buring in Hell. Or something.

At least the courts supported the woman, though I doubt $11,000 makes up for blindness.

Around Latin America

-While in Brazil, I commented on the disadvantages many Brazilians with disabilities and special needs face compared to a more accessible (if far from ideal) situation in the U.S. This week, disabled Brazilians and disability groups took to the streets of Rio to bring public awareness to the issues they face.

-Polls may or may not mean anything at any given moment. That said, the news that leftist candidate Ciro Gomes is now polling ahead of the PT's Dilma Rousseff in the latest round of polls for the Brazilian elections next year (which are still more than a year off) is interesting (the PSDB's Jose Serra still has a strong hold on the lead at this point). While I was in Brazil, many were pegging Gomes as the left's next big post-Lula hope, so this is interesting news, though certainly meaningless in terms of predicting how next year's elections will actually turn out.

-In a very grim statistic, Ciudad Juarez has already set a new record for murders in the city this year, with 1701 homicides in 2009 already, shattering the record set in 2008. And there are still three full months left in the year. Very sad.

-Argentina is preparing to send families to the Malvinas islands to commemmorate the official inauguration of a cemetary for those Argentines who died in the Malvinas (Falklands) War of 1982.

-Also in "Dirty War"-related news, Spain has arrested a Dutch commercial airline pilot for allegedly piloting "death flights" during the Dirty War. "Death flights," in which Argentina would take arrested victims on airplane or helicopter flights, pushing them out of the planes into rivers or the Atlantic, where their corpses would not be recovered. [Update: for an excellent explanation of and quotations about death flights, see Lillie's post.]

-The abortion debate in Jamaica continues. The country currently allows doctors to decide to perform an abortion if they think the patient's life is in danger, but there is no regulation of abortions, making conditions dangerous from place to place and hospital to hospital, and some groups are pushing to outlaw it altogether.

-Guyana's president has struck upon a novel idea for protecting the forests of that country. He's offering to protect the country's swath of rain forests, based on one condition: that the richer countries of the world pay for preserving the forest. According to his plan, the money from rich countries to protect the forest (which they rhetorically say has to happen) could then be used to sponsor green development and help provide alternate jobs and incomes for Guyanan families that might otherwise participate in deforestation for their living.

-Finally, talk about a movie series I'd love to watch: a series of films "focuses on Latin American freedom fighters key to their respective countries independence from Spain and is timed to coincide with the bicentennial of most of South America's independence from the colonial power." The first two entries (focusing on Jose Marti and San Martin) are already completed. Brazil's entry will focus on Tiradentes, a national hero who tried to lead an independence movement in Brazil at the end of the 18th century.

Worst. "Art." EVER.

I'm pretty sure this is what hell will look like.

And incidentally, I'd like to point out that Lincoln, the least "Republican" of these men in terms of what "Republican" actually means now, is the only one with his back entirely to us. Clearly, the artist was uncomfortable with his own lie that Lincoln and Reagan were of the same ilk (nevermind Nixon), and couldn't bring himself to make that association face-to-face.

And my favorite comment: "'But honestly, I really did care about the plight of the Negro' Lincoln said, as the room erupted in laughter"

In Case You Thought the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Standards Were Too High

Among this year's nominees--both KISS and Genesis. I just don't see how any institution is legitimate without those two bands. But where's Styx?


Is there anyone less funny than Jay Leno? Sorry, I don't think showing how stupid people are is very funny, particularly when that's your only bit.

So I'm happy to see that his new show is not doing well in the ratings. Here's his performance on Monday compared to other shows in the 18-49 demographic:

6.5 House
4.6 Big Bang Theory
4.4 Two and a Half Men
4.3 CSI Miami
4.1 Dancing With The Stars
3.5 How I Met Your Mother
3.2 Accidentally On Purpose
2.7 Heroes
2.3 Castle
1.8 The Jay Leno Show
1.2 One Tree Hill
1.1 Gossip Girl

This is really good news. NBC is trying to be lazy and not develop new programming. Leno takes 5 hours a week off the table for them. While I doubt their replacement shows would be good, at least they wouldn't be Leno.

Via Reel Fanatic

Now That's Disgusting

If you want to say you like fried food, fine; but don't say it tastes "better" that way, or that it's "good for you." Oh, and putting a hot dog in a zucchini and then frying it?

Yep - this man hates food.

Historical Image of the Day

Chinese American Telephone Exchange, San Francisco, probably early 20th century.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Honduran Police Confront Zelaya's Supporters

It certainly didn't take long for things to get ugly in Honduras:

Honduran police used tear gas Tuesday to disperse supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya outside the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, where Zelaya has sought refuge since secretly returning to the country, TV news reports showed. [...]

One image broadcast on the station showed a policewoman punching a handcuffed woman in the face.

The station also showed video of water cannons being used to scatter Zelaya supporters and the ousted president's backers throwing rocks and other objects at police.

I'm not surprised at the military's quick response here (police and military often being part of the same branch in Latin American countries).

It's looking like Micheletti's trying to do the one thing left in his power, namely, isolate Zelaya inside from his supporters outside, and continue stonewalling. It may work, but Micheletti has successfully thrown away any last remnant of legitimacy or of anything resembling a decent political legacy that he may have had.

If the coup, repeated curfews, censorship, and bombarding the Brazilian embassy with noise in an effort to root out Zelaya didn't assure that, then certainly video footage of police punching in the face a handcuffed woman unable to defend herself will do the trick.

Uncovering Lesbian History, circa 1909

Larry Harnisch uncovers a real gem of a story from 1909.
Two women in Los Angeles were arrested for dressing up as men. There were laws on the books against women dressing as men. One woman supposedly was going to ride the rails from LA to San Francisco to visit her husband. She figured she couldn't ride them in her dress so her and a friend dressed as men. Then they started drinking beer with some other women, made a lot of noise which caused someone to call the police, and then were discovered and arrested for violating the crossdressing ordinance.

This is an incredibly fascinating stuff. First, I don't believe the visiting the husband story for a minute. I suspect this was an alibi in case these women were caught by the police. Second, we know much more about gay history than lesbian history because gay men were harassed by police much more. Because gays and lesbians couldn't really talk about their lives publically in 1909, we don't know much about it except through police records. So to see more information uncovered about early 20th century lesbian history is fantastic. Even if these women were not lesbians and really were just dressing as men to ride the rails, we still have an anti-cross dressing law on the book that at least applied to women, if not men. The women were released by the cops, but only by promising to leave the city, which suggests that a) they were poor and b) the cops really did see them as a threat.

Great stuff, if sad as well.

Tom Waits Hilarity

Tom Waits is often hilarious, but Tom Waits + Martin Mull + Fred Willard = awesomely insane.

The Myth of the Ecological Indian, Ecuador Style

In the new Ecuadorian constitution is a provision granting rights to nature. Specifically:

“Nature, or Pachamama . . . [now] has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.”

What does this mean in reality? That remains to be seen. Frankly, I'm skeptical it will add up to anything much. So long as Rafael Correa or people of his ideological ilk remain in power, I imagine the government will use the provision when it wants to crack down on foreign oil companies and other multinational corporations. I find it extraordinarily unlikely that they will use the law to prosecute local developers or everyday interactions between people and the land, regardless of how damaging they might be.

In a rhetorical sense, Ecuador's law is groundbreaking. And rhetoric matters. But I don't think we should read too much into it.

What we really shouldn't do is go down the path of this Utne Reader article and claim that became part of the Constitution because Ecuador's indigenous people are more in touch with nature than the rest of us:

Adopting Ecuador’s constitutional approach in many countries would require nothing short of “a fundamental change in both the legal and cultural atmosphere,” Margil says. The prevailing view that nature is property is deeply rooted in the Abrahamic tradition of monotheistic faiths, which include Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. This tradition shaped an understanding of nature as a divine gift to be dominated for the benefit of humankind. This is not, however, the only way to conceptualize the natural world.

Many indigenous cultures take a more eco-spiritual approach, positing nature as sacrosanct and viewing humans as members of a balanced, natural system. It’s no fluke, notes Earth Island Journal (Winter 2009), that the Andean earth goddess Pachamama, or Mother Universe, figures into the new constitution. The indigenous concept of sumak kawsay, or harmonious/humane living, also appears. With 40 percent of its population indigenous, Ecuador was almost certainly predisposed to becoming an early adopter of nature’s rights on a constitutional scale.

Oh boy. This is known as the Myth of the Ecological Indian. Off and on going back to the Enlightenment and Rousseau's idealized noble savage, whites have seen indigenous people as having a special relationship with nature. Note that this has rarely been supported by evidence, bur rather has existed as a philosophical construct to serve western needs to analyze themselves. In the late 1960 and early 1970s, the environmental movement resurrected this myth in order to critique how whites destroyed nature. Its most famous manifestation is the Crying Indian ad, seen here:

Native Americans have used this myth to further their own political aims, and good for them. This includes the indigenous people of Ecuador, which have effectively worked with environmental organizations over the past 20 years to fight petroleum companies who want to exploit their lands.

In the end though, the Myth of the Ecological Indian is just that, a myth. In reality, Ecuadorans want to control their own oil supply and not let Texaco or Shell come in and take all the resources and the profit. Who can blame them for this? But their own development of oil is hardly likely to be more nature-centric than Texaco's.

In any case, the Myth of the Ecological Indian also dehumanizes indigenous people, taking power to control their own lives away from them. When native peoples haven't acted like environmentalists thought they should (for example, when the Makah people in Washington started whaling), environmentalists say they aren't acting like Indians. What does that even mean? It means that for 200 years whites have had very particular, if shifting, ideas of what "Indians" act like without actually considering that the might act just like you and me.

I was dismayed though not surprised to see this myth perpetrated once again. It's been under heavy critique in the last 10 years, but among a lot of young idealistic environmentalists it holds an awful lot of water. I try in my environmental history classes to beat this myth to a pulp, but it persists.

Update: Upon further research, I had forgotten that President Correa, who pushed for these changes to the Constitution, actually has been working with multinational mining companies to expand their operations in indigenous territory, leading to riots and deaths in the protests against this. All this shows is that the constitutional bit on the environment is almost without meaning and that the author of the Utne article bought into it hook, line, and sinker with very little research.

Technology is Not the Answer

The American technology fetish continues unabated and almost unchallenged. We think we can solve all of our problems through new technologies. This includes environmental problems. For instance, the Times is all excited about a West Virginia coal plant refitted to bury some of its carbon emissions. Basically, the carbon dioxide will be pumped into the ground several hundred feet below the surface. If this works, the argument goes, we can counteract many of our global warming issues. Clean coal indeed!

There are myriad problems though. As the article suggests in a brief respite from fawning over the idea, no one actually knows what's going to happen to that carbon dioxide. Will it stay in the ground? Some fear it could lead to earthquakes. What we do know is that it will lead to some kind of unintended consequences. All of our big technological projects throughout history have led to unintended consequences. The ultimate example is climate change; no one intended that this would happen or even guessed that it could, but it surely is despite that. Trend's discussion below of dams and the destruction of river deltas is another great example. Something will happen with that carbon. Burying it underground and then forgetting about it is not going to solve our problems.

In other words:

Technology. Is. Not. The. Answer.

We cannot continue to rely solely on technology to get us out of the messes we make because that technology usually creates more messes.

The other major problem with this technology is a continued focus on consumption rather than production as the real problem with burning coal. As a society, we do not care what damage natural resource production causes, whether that's oil in Kuwait, minerals in Bolivia, or coal in West Virginia. Out of sight, out of mind. It's the tangible signs of pollution that we care about--refineries belting out poisonous gases, discolored rivers, the feeling that each summer is warmer than the last. But the people of West Virginia are seeing their lives destroyed by the coal companies, the land undergoing permanent alterations that leave it a man-made desert. Isn't this important too.

Clean coal is a lie. Don't believe it. We have to get off coal as soon as possible. This needs to be a national priority. Technology is not going to solve our problems. Even switching to wind and solar energy will have unintended consequences. But nothing is worse than burning coal.

Historical Image of the Day

Chinese woman in California. No date, but probably 1850s or 1860s

Sinking Rivers, Dams, and Future Environmental Disasters

One more reason dams are not the solution to energy needs:

Most of the world's major river deltas are sinking, increasing the flood risk faced by hundreds of millions of people, scientists report.

Damming and diverting rivers means that much less sediment now reaches many delta areas, while extraction of gas and groundwater also lowers the land.

Rivers affected include the Colorado, Nile, Pearl, Rhone and Yangtze.

Others include the Rio Sao Francisco in Brazil, and the Colorado river. The former is no major surprise; Brazil continues to look to dams (and nuclear energy) as its energy source for the forseeable future, rather than turning to better environmental energy sources like solar and wind power. As for the Colorado, it's particularly problematic for Mexico, because while the delta of the Colorado runs off in Mexico, the U.S. dams and diverts much of the water for its own sources. It would be nice if the U.S. and Mexico could come to some sort of agreement that would witness more equitable water management, but that just won't happen; Mexico doesn't have the international presence of say a Brazil or a China, and there's so little of the river that runs through Mexico that the U.S. probably feels it has the right to all that water; what happens to Mexicans who live near the delta and who will be most impacted by the sinking river basin is of little importance to us. It's harsh, and it's ugly, but that's just how the U.S. thinks and has thought for years when it comes to shared water resources with our southern neighbor, and I don't see it improving any time soon.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Did Brazil Play a Minor or a Major Role in the Return of Manuel Zelaya?

More news agencies are reporting on Manuel Zelaya's return to Honduras, and there will be many interesting developments over the next few days and perhaps weeks, accompanied by a decent amount of speculation as to what might happen next.

However, one aspect in all of this may go relatively ignored, with little comment on, but it's something I raised in these comments. Specifically, what, if any, role did Brazil play in this?

As we all know, Zelaya is staying at the Brazilian embassy in Honduras, a brilliant move considering that embassy grounds are soverign soil of the country they represent. Thus, while the Honduran military did not mind breaking the law to exile Zelaya back in June, to try to arrest him at the embassy (as Micheletti blustered) would effectively be an act of war, and while Brazil hasn't been involved in an open foreign war since World War II, I know who I'd pick in a Brazilian-Honduran war.

That said, it's clear that Brazil has some role in this whole incident, obviously. There are three alternatives I can come up with (though there may be others I haven't thought of):

1) Brazil had no idea Zelaya was coming back, and when he showed up at the embassy doors, they just decided to let him in. This strikes me as plausible - Brazil, like the rest of the world, has held that the June coup was illegal and that Zelaya, and not Micheletti, is the proper president of Honduras. Zelaya may have gone there just hoping, and if it didn't work out, he could hope to get to another friendly embassy before he was arrested. This does raise the question that, if many embassies would accept him, why go to Brazil first? It may be because Brazil is a big power (bigger than, say, Costa Rica or Italy or most other countries), and he knew it was friendly to his cause. It may also be because, again, the Brazilian embassy allegedly sits next to Micheletti's private home. This would make it the obvious first choice of Zelaya if he wanted to thumb his nose at Micheletti.

2) Zelaya actually tried to go to other embassies for protection before Brazil's, but was turned down. This is possible, too, and could help explain why early reports said that Zelaya was in Honduras, but with no knowledge of where he was staying. There's not much that distinguishes this from the first possibility; still, I'm inclined to believe the first possibility over this one, primarily because Brazil seemed like such a sure bet in terms of friendliness, Honduras' inability to bully Brazil, and Brazil's high standing in the diplomatic community.

3) Brazil knew well in advance, through direct or indirect contact, that Micheletti was coming, and was prepared to accept him should he arrive safely in Tegucigalpa. Whether or not Brazil was active, they would make sure he was taken care of upon his arrival in the embassy. Perhaps they actively wanted to help undermine the Micheletti government, though this strikes me as the most implausible likelihood. Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim (who is in New York, preparing for the UN's meeting on climate change) denied any previous knowledge, and right now, I don't see any reason not to believe him. More importantly, if the Brazilian government was actively trying to undermine a regime, it would mark a major departure from Brazilian foreign relations over the last 7 years. If there's anything one can say about Lula's approach, it has been that he has been the consummate diplomat during his two terms; even politicians in neighboring countries look up to the way in which he conducts foreign relations. To suddenly throw all caution to the wind in any event seems extreme; to do so with the Honduran case in particular pushes the envelope of believability.

4) Brazil knew shortly before or after Zelaya's official departure (from where is still unknown) that he was coming to Honduras, and quickly prepared for his arrival. Again, I just don't see why they would do this; the foreign relations minister insists it's not the case, and again, it would mark a major departure from all that Brazil has stood for in international relations over the last 7 years under Lula.

Ultimately, of these four scenarios, the first one seems most likely to me, though I wouldn't be remotely surprised to learn that it was the second. If it's either three or four, I will be more than surprised, and were it to be either of those scenarios, it would raise all kinds of interesting (and perhaps troubling) questions about the direction Brazilian foreign relations were heading. Still, while not the most commented-upon aspect of Zelaya's return, it does offer some fascinating questions about that return as well as possible insights on the role of Brazil in Latin America, in the defense of democratic processes, and in international relations more generally.

Zelaya Back in Honduras

So, after the coup in June, events in Honduras had pretty much entered into a holding pattern - Micheletti refused to make any major concesssion, Mel Zelaya did a major PR push around the world and continued to get support, but Honduras continued to creep towards their election this year (more than 80 days have passed since the coup, and fewer than 70 remain until the election). It seemed as though things were going to just stall into the elections, with no real resolution to the coup.

Until Mel Zelaya apparently sneaked into Honduras overland and made it to the capital, Tegucigalpa, where he is now at the Brazilian embassy (which, last I checked, was Brazil's sovereign territory, and the Honduran military cannot invade it, though it's not like they haven't knowingly broken the law before).

Think that's interesting? It's even more interesting that apparently, Brazil's embassy is allegedly right next to Micheletti's house.

As both the CSM article and Plan Colombia point out, the question now is, "so....what's next?"

The one thing I'd say is, this makes Micheletti look even more ridiculous. His insistence that his government is legal has always been nothing less than laughable, and the only "authority" he really had was successfully keeping Zelaya out and blustering about "democracy" while stonewalling until the elections. Yet in spite of his continued suggestion that Zelaya could not return and if he did, he'd be arrested, Zelaya managed not only to return, but to get to the capital itself. Next to Micheletti's home. This is just egg all over the face of Micheletti, and now leaves him with virtually nothing. And his bluster now that he's going to have Zelaya arrested (in spite of Zelaya again technically being on Brazilian soil, where Honduras has no jurisdiction, and surrounded by supporters in the compound) makes him look like a five-year-old throwing a temper tantrum. Maybe Micheletti will rebound, but right now, he looks about as foolish as any politician and national leader can look.

Beyond that, it's tough to say what will happen. As Plan Colombia points out, it could very likely lead to a standoff, given Micheletti's intransigence, and that would be bad, as there would most likely be showdowns and violence in the heart of Honduras. Micheletti could relent and just step out of power, but that would be highly uncharacteristic in light of his actions up to this point. He could agree to negotiations, which is what Zelaya is asking; what those negotiations would look like is hard to say, though the failed San Jose accords would probably be a starting point.

Two things are certain: Zelaya is in a better negotiating position (and a better position overall) than he's been since the coup (and even before it); and whatever the outcome, what had previously been a static and frustrating situation in Honduras has suddenly had new life breathed into it, with an end to an illegal government and a return to the democratically elected government a not-unreasonable possibility.

Texas State History Standards

The crazy is heating up over the new Texas history textbook adoption standards. This is important because Texas is such a huge market that publishers will likely kow-tow to whatever the state decides. This means that a bunch of right-wing yahoos in Texas control history textbooks in the nation's public schools. Isn't that great!!!

Anyway, I'm going to try and cover this closely over the next weeks and months. We see today that conservatives are again pushing the argument that Thurgood Marshall and Cesar Chavez are not worthy of being taught. Certainly not as important as Newt Gingrich. Seriously, this is what some are arguing. At least progressives are fighting back.

Blowing Up Neo-Confederate Myths

Edward Sebesta does really wonderful work on his blog "Anti Neo-Confederate." This is the kind of writer that is really undervalued. Working in relative obscurity on incredibly important but rarely discussed issues, he does an invaluable service blowing up neo-Confederate myths.

Today he takes on the myth that in 1928 Congress declared the Civil War, "The War between the States." Even if true, I don't see how this bolsters the neo-Confederate case since dismissing ideas about the Civil War from the 1920s does not seem hard to do. Yet they use this anyway. From Sebesta's characterization of the argument:

"On March 2, 1928, Senate Joint Resolution NO. 41 was adopted by Congress and entered in the Congressional Record. It reads as follows: A war was waged between 1861-1865 between two organized governments: the United States of America and the Confederate States of America. These were the official titles of the contending parties. It was not a "Civil War" as it was not fought between two parties within the same government. It was not a War of Secession, for the Southern States seceded without a thought of war. The right of a state to secede had never been questioned. It was not a War of Rebellion, for sovereign, independent states, co-equal, cannot rebel against each other. It was the War Between the States, because 22 non seceding states made war upon 11 seceding states to force them back into the Union of States"

In any case, Sebesta simply went to the Congressional Record. Low and behold, it's not there. It seems to be a lie. Or at least a misunderstanding. But in any case, it's another neo-Confederate myth that is just that. A myth.

Historical Image of the Day

This week's historical images are dedicated to the history of Chinese-Americans.

Anti-Chinese cartoon by Thomas Nast, 1869

Food Activism for Lazy People

So I'm increasingly fascinated by the politics of food. I grow massively annoyed by the marketing of "green" as an upscale lifestyle choice--I'm out of work right now aside from whatever freelancing I can cobble together, and I cannot afford to buy my groceries at the local organic food co-op, which sells the same things as Whole Foods but is even more expensive (though at least it's not a rotten corporation). I buy cheap food at the cheap bodegas and might have to make a trip to the grocery superstore a few blocks over, and cheap food mostly translates to cereal, rice, pasta, and frozen vegetables so I don't die of scurvy.

I do spend a few extra bucks on fresh apples and other fruit, at the local farmer's market if I can manage it.

Then the other problem: I don't cook. I am almost 30 and I doubt that at this point I'm going to turn around and decide I love cooking, and though Michael Pollan's right about a lot, he's not going to be able to talk me into liking cooking the same way that hundreds of earnest people have not been able to talk me into liking the Beatles.

Much the same as the Beatles, I understand that cooking is important. I just don't enjoy doing it. Moreover, at this point I feel GUILTY for walking away from the computer to spend half an hour or more in the kitchen when I have work to do, and when I've reached my quota for the day, I don't feel like doing any more work.

And there are many people out there who have less money, less education, and less free time than I do.

So, where's MY cookbook? I don't need 30-minute meals, I need 5-minute meals. Organic farmer's markets aren't going to solve my food dilemmas as long as the food at the crappy corporate grocery is cheaper.

I'm interested in urban gardening and real food co-ops and ways that people can provide real food activism that isn't preachy and condescending. I'm interested in ways we can make our food better for us, better for the environment, and available to all. Eating healthy shouldn't be a privilege, and climate change will never be addressed if only the top 5% of the country can afford to "live green."

I'm betting Erik has some thoughts on this, since the intersection of his academic work--labor issues and environmental issues--is really what I'm talking about. But I want to hear from everyone. Unless you're going to tell me to learn to cook (or just listen to the Beatles one more time, man...)

Random Music Observations (XI)

-I actually enjoy Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music.

-There's only one good song that Noel Gallagher was involved with, and it wasn't even an Oasis song (it was this song).

-On a related note, of all the "electronica" albums that were "the future of music" in the 1990s, Dig Your Own Hole has held up the best (though Fat of the Land is still pretty good, too).

-Jimi Hendrix's live-albums are better than the studio albums (see, especially, Band of Gypsies).

-Tonight's the Night is great, but On the Beach is Neil Young's best album.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Least Surprising News of the Day

Miami Cubans are still idiots.

An Interesting and Troubling Apology from Former Tupamaro (and Uruguayan Presidential Candidate) Jose Mujica

Uruguay is gearing up for a presidential election here, and on the eve of elections, the leading candidate, Jose Mujica, had some interesting comments to make on his view of economic policies, the role of the government, and his role in the guerrilla/political Tupamaro movement in the 1970s.

For those on the right in the U.S. who get worked up into a Cold-War-level froth over the fact that Latin America is electing leaders from the left, Jose Mujica offers just one more example of how stupid that froth is. Mujica, a 74-year-old senator and the leading candidate for president heading into Uruguay's elections in October (where a run-off is likely), offered some comments that raised eyebrows this week, including his insistence that

“If belonging to the left means defending a strong government intervention in the economy and a strong state tendency in economic affairs, that’s not for me [...] I’m more a libertarian than a man who thinks the state is the solution. My Socialist ideas support self-management and I don’t mix it with the power of the state. The job of government is to help with social distribution, to avoid the accumulation of social rust-belts which the market can’t address, and they finish being extremely dear for the rest of the community.”
This is not surprising, as the U.S. press in general has shown a remarkable ability to totally misinterpret the political spectrum in Latin America and to paint broad homogeneous strokes over what is a very heterogeneous group of leaders and political parties. This misunderstanding not just of the Latin American left, but of Latin American politics in general, is easily understood - one simply have to know that Brazil's center-right former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso and his party, the PSDB, are often described as "center-left" by otherwise-respectable news sources in the U.S.

What's (perhaps) more interesting is Mujica's admissions about the Uruguayan dictatorship this week. In addition to being a senator and presidential candidate, Mujica was a leader in the Tupamaros, the urban political/guerrilla group of the 1960s and 1970s. Although the Tupamaros did participate in kidnappings and interrogations (always without the use of torture), and killed some (including an FBI agent who was involved in training the Uruguayan military how to torture), they were effectively weakened beyond any real threat by 1972 due to increasing repression. Although virtually finished as a guerrilla group by 1973, the Uruguayan military nonetheless used the Tupamaros as its raison d'etre for establishing its own military dictatorship in 1973. Once in power, the military began repressing all social sectors and political parties, using the Tupamaros as window-dressing for its broader authoritarian goals.

However, his role in the Tupamaro political/guerrilla group has not been a major concern, and this week, he made a fascinating admission. When asked what his greatest "repentance" is, Mujica responded, "That because of the armed struggle the (Uruguayan) people were condemned to 16 years of dictatorship and we couldn’t kick them out. I failed as a militant. Besides we learnt that when you try building a society without social classes, the bureaucracy monsters appears and gobbles all ideals, and you enter a world of disillusion."

What's interesting here is the notion that the Tupamaros are somehow the ones who are to blame for the (bloodless) military coup in Uruguay. Again, by 1972, the Tupamaros' "guerrilla" activities had effectively been halted as the military had begun cracking down under a democratically-elected president who was increasingly ineffective and a puppet to the military. Only in 1973, a year after the effective end of the previous phase of Tupamaro methods, did the military come to power. I don't know the full scholarship on what caused the Uruguayan military to take control, but from what I've read, the military only used the Tupamaros as a pretext for its own designs on power, something that I think the timeline supports. I don't know if this is an ego-trip on Mujica's part, or if it's genuine sincerity (it seems like the latter, though those two items aren't mutually exclusive, either), but I find it fascinating and mildly disturbing that a participant in the leftist movements of the 1970s is apologizing for the military's actions, actions over which he didn't really have control. Did the Tupamaro movement heighten the tension in Uruguay? Sure. But asking them to apologize for their "causing" the dictatorship is like asking Chile's Unidad Popular to apologize for causing Pinochet's dictatorship, or for the workers and students and Joao Goulart to apologize for Brazil's dictatorship. It's not just that it makes no sense; it's not even that it therefore asks participants in those movements in the past to have been able to predict the future in 1963 or 1973 or 1971. It's that it in some way puts the responsibility for the thousands of murders, tortures, and disappearances at the doorstep of groups that, at the time, felt they were doing what they had to do to fight for social and economic justice. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the actual policies and methods of the left in Latin America in the 1960s, 1970s, or even today, to lay the responsibility of those tortures and murders at their feet strikes me as not only offensive, but absurd.

Of course, this isn't what is raising eyebrows in Uruguay (it's his comments on Argentina's Kirchners, about whom he has little nice to say). And to be clear, I don't think that anybody else from the Latin American left in the 1960s and 1970s is going to be offering this kind of "apology." Still, I find it interesting and unique, and more than a little offensive to those whose actions were certainly part of broader processes that led to repressive, authoritarian regimes, but who were in no way singly "responsible" for those regimes or their subsequent actions.

Another Small Step in the Fight to Reign in Police Violence in Rio de Janeiro

It took four years, but this week, two former Rio de Janeiro police officers were sentenced to 500 years in prison for their roles in the massacre of 29 people in one of Rio's suburbs in 2005.

The ex-police officers joined three other former colleagues already sentenced to long terms in the case, which was dubbed the Baixada massacre after Rio de Janeiro's poor northern outskirts where prosecutors say a group of police officers fired on pedestrians, bar patrons and a crowd in a public square in 2005.
As the report also points out, nobody in Brazil can serve more than 30 years in prison, so the sentences for the two men (of 483 and 540 years) are obviously symbolic. Still, the fact that another case involving police killing innocents has resulted in prison is a small step in the right direction. Hopefully such cases will become more frequent, especially for those who kill innocents in the favelas.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Facial Hair of the Weekend

Continuing the theme of Civil War generals with facial hair, American patriot William Tecumseh Sherman. Too bad today's military code insists on the clean-shaven leadership.

Henry Ford, Bastard

Steve Gimbel asks a very good question

I am still at a complete loss as to why the name Henry Ford is celebrated and not vilified in American culture.

Indeed, and this bugs me too. I think there are two fairly simple reasons. First, his assembly line (which he did not invent) is a major event in our national technology fetish. We love technology and put its innovators up on a pedestal. Ford occupies the highest pinnacle of that and his personal behavior and loathsome actions haven't dented that much. Second, people still like Ford vehicles today and given how closely attached so many Americans are to their auto brand of choice (something I've always found strange), there's a lot of general good feeling toward the man by the public.

But he was a pretty horrible person. He's most famous for being the nation's most important anti-Semite and he was awarded (and he accepted) an Iron Cross by Hitler. But he also led the anti-union charge in America. He was a big proponent of 100% Americanism during World War I and hired cartoonists to draw anti-radical and anti-union cartoons for movie theatres during the war. He ordered brutal attacks upon UAW organizers late in his life. And he treated his workers like children, sending out spies and social workers to check on them and make sure they were living up to his moral standards.

Basically, there's very little that's good about Henry Ford. Despite this, he's a national icon.

Historical Image of the Day

Menu from wedding reception of Maria Ewing Sherman and Thomas William Fitch, Washington, DC, 1874.

I guess I wasn't aware how much turtle and oysters people ate in the 19th century. I think everyone of these menus has had multiple oyster dishes and most have had some kind of turtle as well. Another thing that has interested me, though I don't think it's on this menu, is the specificity of the species of duck people are eating.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Iranian Funk

Wow, this looks like some great lost music.

Also, it's fantastic that 70s album covers in Iran were as ridiculous as in the U.S.

Music Festivals

Sasha Frere-Jones is making sense:

I don’t go to lots of music festivals. If I need to lie on a big field with my friends, drink beer, and see into the eye of the universe, I can usually pull it off without the help of AEG Live. As for hearing music outside, the signal coming out of a big P.A. system faces many obstacles. Amplified sound has to battle with nature (noisily fertile wheat fields, rain) and man (cars being dismantled by meth-heads, talking). How can you deliver decent sound to all those people dispersed over a big, variegated area full of dead spots? Live sound engineers are brave and admirable people.

Sound is one reason I find it hard to love music festivals. The other reason is a logical take on the cost-benefit ratio. Bands who play these festivals also appear at indoor venues where sound is more easily managed; the particular bills of particular festivals never seem like magical opportunities. What’s the point of suffering through unpredictable sound, short sets, and spinners if you can spend less time and money seeing your band of choice in a venue designed for live music? (I can wait the extra months.) I like music and I like sunshine and I like people (within reason) but music festivals have led me to rethink these positions.

I feel exactly the same way. Is there anything good about music festivals? I guess you see a lot of acts for a relatively little bit of money. But you barely see them. They play for 40 minutes and you are 1/2 a mile away. It's usually hot or rainy. The sound usually sucks. You get bleedover from other stages.

Meanwhile, I could see these bands play when they come to town, get awesome sound, be 20 (or at least 200) feet from the stage, and get a 2 hour set. I know which sounds better to me.