Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bad Days in American History: October 31, 1918

Some things are hard to date. Disease epidemics are one of them. Ultimately, in discussing them, you are often placing an arbitrary date upon a long-term epidemic. You don't usually know when it starts so you are kind of winging it.

That's what we are going to do today. By Halloween of 1918, death was not just something to mock and imitate. The nation was in a full bore epidemic of influenza. The dreaded Spanish flu had reached the United States in full force.

That year, an extra strong strain of flu was circling the globe. It's believed it started in China, but that is very difficult to pin down. In an era before rapid transportation (something that would contribute mightily to the rapid spread of AIDS), perhaps this plague might have remained in Europe and Asia. But this same year also saw the end of World War I. Soldiers were living in trenches in France, often in damp, horrid conditions. They caught this flu while fighting against the Germans. Ships were crossing the Atlantic almost daily, so long as they avoided German submarines. The flu quickly spread to the United States.

Today, we fear disease epidemics, but we don't really know what they are like. Swine flu (which I will perennially call it after that Israeli minister protested that this was offensive to his people, something that is so ridiculous as to be mocked for eternity) has the potential to reach epidemic proportions, but a true epidemic is a mass killer. This flu is an unusual killer only in the 24 hour news cycle. Pre-World War II America saw real epidemics--yellow fever, smallpox, influenza, cholera--and we have nothing to compare it to today except for AIDS, and that really only for those of us who remember the 1980s. Modern medicine is so far advanced that we can contain most potential epidemics; even HIV is not quite preventable, and we also developed high-quality medications to give those who contract it a fighting chance to live a long life.

The 1918 flu epidemic changed the world. An estimated 675,000 Americans died of the disease. Life expectancy in this country dropped by 10 years. The death rate from flu for those aged 15-34 rose by 20 times in one year. The war experience made everything worse--we already found our physicians and hospital facilities seriously overtaxed dealing with the thousands coming home with mustard gas lung burns and other war wounds. And we simply did not have the medical facilities we do today. People died all the time in 1918 of preventable illnesses anyway; to add a worldwide epidemic on top of it was a recipe for disaster. 1/4 of Americans and 1/5 of the world's population came down with the flu that year, including President Woodrow Wilson while he was in France trying to dictate to everyone what the post-war world should look like, selling out colonized peoples, and the like.

The lesson from the 1918 flu epidemic is that preventive medicine and technology can do a lot to help us. But it can't do anything. The technologies we have used to fight illness have had unintended consequences, particularly the development of drug-resistant super strains of illness. Eventually, we will deal with a real epidemic again. To our credit, I think we know this, thus the real worries every time we see a West Nile or SARS or swine flu. Less to our credit is the panic that results with each of these. It'd be nice to see rational policy-based responses to these problems and I think the government has generally done a good job handling these situations (with Reagan's handling of AIDS being a huge exception and arguably the worst thing he ever did, though union members and Central Americans would have something to say about that). But the 24 hour news cycle has acted with tremendous irresponsibility in covering these issues, whipping up a foaming panic with each death and creating a feeding frenzy of fear.

A lot of the details in this post came from this Stanford based website, which also has a lot of great links that you can check out if you want to read more.

Facial Hair of the Weekend

Der Bart (the Beard) of philosopher Karl Marx, who no doubt believed in the dialectical nature of facial hair.

Historical Image of the Day

Oil equipment, Golden Meadow, Louisiana, 1939

Friday, October 30, 2009

Historical Image of the Day

Huntington Beach, California, 1920s.

In Defense of Eric Wedge

While I liked him as a man, and while it was tough, I knew this summer that it was time to let Eric Wedge go. I bear him no ill will, and really hope he ends up somewhere else pretty quickly. Still, whether you loved or hated the man, I'll say this in his defense:

Any ball coach who listens to Merle Haggard is alright by me.

Apt Analogy of the Day

Joe Lieberman is the "balloon boy dad" of the Senate.

Agreement Reached in Honduras (?)

There have been so many reports over the months that an agreement between Micheletti and Zelaya was close, only to be wrong, that this almost seems hard to believe. Still, the New York Times and other news agencies are reporting it as if it were a done deal:

A lingering political crisis in Honduras seemed to be nearing an end on Friday after the de facto government agreed to a deal that would allow Manuel Zelaya, the deposed president, to return to office.

The government of Roberto Micheletti, which had refused to let Mr. Zelaya return, signed an agreement with Mr. Zelaya’s negotiators late Thursday that would pave the way for the Honduran Congress to restore the ousted president and allow him to serve out the remaining three months of his term.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed on Friday that Mr. Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti had approved what she called “an historic agreement.”
The "final details" have to be hammered out still (allegedly today), so I'm still not quite willing to believe this is a done deal. Still, there are not-illegitimate reasons to think this may take place. Micheletti has managed to stall to the point that Zelaya's final 3 months (if he is in fact to return) could be some of the lamest of lame-duck terms. If he wanted to prevent Hondurans from having more say in their government (something towards which Zelaya was moving), then Micheletti's tactics were most likely successful - if Zelaya's government is going to be a "reconciliation and unity" government, as one of the details proposes, I just don't think the previous quasi-populist bluster of Zelaya will be as strong as it was prior to the coup. That's not to say it won't happen at all, but I would be somewhat surprised.

Another particularly interesting point is the fact that this settlement is finally reached after Obama dispatched an envoy to Honduras to try to negotiate an end to this mess. I'm very curious as to why this agreement happened now - are the negotiators just that good? Were there some "suggestions" made that neither Micheletti nor Zelaya (and especially the former) could not refuse? What exactly made these two men come closer to an agreement than they had, and what role did the U.S. negotiators have? (And I suppose it's possible they didn't play a catalyzing role, but I find that highly unlikely).

Of course, if Obama's dispatching of the negotiators was the catalyst for this change, I can already imagine that many (especially on the left) will condemn Obama for not acting sooner. The reasoning will probably go as follows: well, the U.S. refused to get involved, and when it finally did, it was able to restore the democratically elected leadership, so it should have made this move back in July or August or anytime before the end of October.

This criticism will fall short for a few reasons. No doubt, many will ask why, if it just took some negotiators from the U.S. to resolve things, why didn't this happen sooner? But this way of thinking gives too much credit to the U.S. and not enough to other political contingencies and actors. For example, as I alluded to above, just because Micheletti has (apparently) agreed with these negotiators at the end of October does not mean he would have agreed with them in mid-July or late-August. Certainly, the global response against his regime has played a part in all of this; after all, many governments (including the U.S.) were saying they could not recognized elections that were held under a coup-installed government. For a man whose hope was that elections would allow Honduras to return to "normalcy," those were more than empty threats. Additionally, to blame the U.S., and the Obama administration specifically, forgets particularly important aspects of this whole timeline, such as the fact that Zelaya wasn't even in Honduras (and thus didn't have the negotiating power he currently has) until the end of September, when Zelaya surprised the world. At that point, the negotiation process entered a whole new phase, and I don't think it's unfair to say that Honduras had to try to work this out itself (with Zelaya's new, more powerful negotiating position) before actors like the U.S. could get involved. Thirdly, we cannot forget the importance non-political actors may have had in this alleged agreement. Certainly, the Zelaya supporters in the embassy and the demonstrators who had taken to the streets periodically over the last several months had made their voices heard, but they were not the only ones. I can't help but wonder if the country's business leaders may have also had a role in this. After all, they were the first ones to feel the economic pinch of the global condemnation of the Micheletti regime, and they have made efforts before to bring this to an end before. And to be clear, I'm not saying that they had more sway or importance than the thousands who took to the streets, often risking their lives, to protest the coup and make their voices heard. What I am saying is that I suspect that these negotiations were most likely much more complex and part of a much longer process than we could possibly know for certain now. Unless Micheletti or Zelaya (or both) come out and say, "well, we weren't going to do this at all, but then the negotiators convinced us," I don't believe Obama's action was the only one that had any role in this agreement being reached. And even if Micheletti and Zelaya openly say this, I won't necessarily believe them - to do so would be to refuse the power of the Honduran people themselves in this matter.

I still write all of this with a bit of hesitancy; too many times, reports in this vein have emerged, only to break down at the last minute, and there's still a window of opportunity for another breakdown here. Still, this is being reported with more certainty and detail than any other previous "agreement," so this could happen. If it does, it will finally bring an end to what should have been resolved long ago (indeed, what probably never should have happened), and I suspect that it will be through the actions not just of the U.S. negotiators, but of the Honduran people, business leaders, Oscar Arias, the OAS, the European Union, Brazil, global economics, and numerous other factors and agents that make the whole process, from before the coup to the present and beyond, a very complicated series of events.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


This whole starting Pedro Martinez over Cole Hamels because of Pedro's history with the Yankees despite the fact that Hamels is hugely better than Pedro at this point thing had better work out. Trend can speak to Charlie Manuel's managing ability better than I, but this screams of the worst kind of managerial hunch that is completely unsupported by evidence.

I mean, the only thing on the line is the defeat of the universe's center of evil...

Historical Image of the Day

Oil drilling crew, Texas, 1931

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Where Things Are Made

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka writes a good op-ed talking about why it matters where things are made.

When I first saw this piece, I feared it would be a piece of quasi-nativist feeling that we not infrequently have seen from labor, arguing that things should be made in America because we are Americans and because our jobs matter more than people in Mexico or China.

But Trumka wisely avoids that pitfall and discusses why it really does matter where things are made--because it's really hard to create a functioning economy when you don't have manufacturing jobs. I totally agree with this. We are in this recession/depression. How to get out of it? Where are the jobs? We have literally torn down the infrastructure we used to have for this kind of work. We have devalued it in our culture and instead created jobs in the service industry and based around endless consumption. If that's no longer a way to build an economy (and frankly, it never was), where do people work?

Trumka notes that the American economy more closely resembles that of Monaco every day. It's an apt comparison in a nation that has tried to live a luxurious lifestyle based upon conspicious consumption, but the crash from this is hard and likely to keep getting harder. Trumka also notes that for all the discussion of a new green economy:

For example, the rest of the world leads in mass transit technology and the U.S. is home to only two of the 10 largest solar photovoltaic producers, one of the top 10 advanced battery manufacturers and two of the top 10 wind turbine producers. If we want to be world leaders in clean technology and have transportation systems to match then we must think strategically and at scale.

Precisely. Isn't actually putting people to work in this green economy the important part of the latter word in the phrase? Don't we have to create a robust economy for the green economy to be effective? We have exported manufacturing and all the positives and negatives that go along with it. We don't want to see the pollution our goods cause and we don't want to pay people living wages. But without that, the benefits of the green economy are going to go to other nations and the American working class will continue to suffer.

Obama Increasingly Involved in Honduras

Luis Vertiz notes that the Obama Administration is beginning to get more involved in Honduras. Obama is sending high-level negoitators to Honduras to try and work through the crisis, hoping to succeed where Costa Rican Oscar Arias failed.

A certain section of the left romanticizes revolution in Latin America and wants to turn every current conflict into a Cold War showdown between the good revolutionaries and the bad U.S. After the coup took place this summer, some of these people were screaming for the U.S. to stay out, etc. And the U.S. did play a backseat role for quite awhile. This was good. Outside of Micheletti and the coup leaders, as well as Jim DeMint and other wingnuts in Congress, there aren't responsible voices who think the U.S. has played an imperialistic role in Honduras. Certainly I'd have trouble arguing that it's not time for the U.S. to get involved, particularly as the coup leaders move toward more repressive measures to hold on to power.

Bad Days in American History: October 28. 1919

On this date in 1919, the United States officially went insane. That day marked Congress' overriding of President Woodrow Wilson's veto of the Volstead Act, for all intents and purposes banning the consumption of alcohol in this nation.

It's hard to stress how loathsome the temperance movement was. While it's true that early Americans were extreme drunks (as demonstrated amply in W. J. Rorabough's The Alcoholic Republic), the temperance movement moved beyond reforming extreme behavior and into a moral crusade that saw alcohol use as an overarching explanation for everything wrong with America. That included immigration and there were many connections between the temperance movement and the anti-immigration movement that succeeded in closing America's gates to most immigrants by 1924.

Now, one might think that Wilson vetoing the Volstead Act reflects well upon him, but he certainly didn't veto it out of principle. Rather, it was on technical matters concerning its relationship to wartime prohibition. Wilson had supported prohibition as part of the New Freedom when he was elected in 1912. As I was researching this, I was hoping to finally find something worthwhile about Woodrow Wilson; alas, I was again foiled in this quest.

The Volstead Act also demonstrated the worst characteristics of Americans: nativist, puritanical, simple-minded, insular. We became the laughing stock of much of the world (though in fact we were not the only nation to attempt banning alcohol during these years). Of course, prohibition had massive unintended consequences that its priggish supporters neither anticipated nor had any answer for. It made drinking cool again for the first time in decades. It created a massive surge in crime. It led to a huge black market. Police corruption became an epidemic as guys who didn't want to enforce the law found it really easy not to do so. Politicians and other societal leaders rather openly ignored it. Prohibitionists' reaction was simply to demand greater enforcement and tell everyone to go to church.

Prohibition played a major role in the standardization of bad beer in this country. I am just beginning research on a book length project on beer and local breweries in America and I understand that up until Prohibition, local breweries around the nation made a wide variety of sometimes very high quality beer. I hear the original recipe for Coors produces a quite delicious beer, though I have not had it. But after years of not drinking beer, the public had largely lost its taste for complex beers by 1933 and in order to survive, the breweries who managed to reopen after fourteen years found it in their interests to produce weak lagers that appealed to wider audience. I need to research this phenomenon in significantly more detail, but if we have the Volstead Act to blame for Miller Lite and Keystone, I am going to be even more full of rage than I already am.

Of course, the Volstead Act is hardly the only time the nation has decided to criminalize a drug for less than rational reasons. Many of the Volstead Act's less savory elements have contributed to the current War on Drugs. Combine this with a far more advanced police state than we had 90 years ago and you see the elimination of the 4th Amendment from providing any real protections for people, a skyrocketing prison population, and the forcing of perfectly decent people into lives of poverty and stigma because of harmless crimes.

All in all, I wonder if October 28, 1919 isn't one of the very worst days in American history. I know it's not quite on the same level as FDR's executive order placing Japanese- Americans in concentration camps or the founding of the KKK, or the election of George W. Bush, but it's pretty nightmarish. A social and political disaster, it reeked of the most disturbing and close-minded trends in American life that we still have to fight today.

Historical Image of the Day

Exxon Valdez oil spill, Alaska, 1989

"I don't fear death, I fear political silence"

I don't even have much to say about this: Malalai Joya is 31. A year an a half-ish older than I am. She's already been a delegate to the Afghan Loya Jirga, the convention that wrote the post-invasion constitution, been elected to her country's parliament, and escaped five assassination attempts.

She's friggin' amazing.

Watch it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Joe Lieberman's desire to prove he's an absolutely awful, despicable piece of shit knows no bounds. Maybe this will finally be the move that leads to Harry Reid stripping Revoltin' Joe from all of his leadership positions and his role in the caucus, but I know better than to get my hopes up.

Honduras and Colombian Paramilitaries

I thought Trend might have talked about this, but I can't find it if he did, so I'll mention it.

Reed Kurtz has an excellent piece up on how the Honduran elites are hiring Colombian paramilitaries to fight for their side in the coup
. This is disturbing on multiple levels. As Kurtz notes, "

Supposedly "demobilized" in 2006, the AUC [the Colombian paramilitary organization] has largely continued to carry out its drug-dealing activities and campaign of violence and intimidation against campesinos, indigenous peoples, stigmatized social groups such as homosexuals and prostitutes, labor organizers, critical journalists, and human rights advocates."

Now Honduras is importing this to their nation. Kurtz notes how Micheletti and the coup leaders are also importing the guilt by association used by the AUC to taint Zelaya:

The right's problem with Zelaya has never been that he tried to reform his country's deeply flawed constitution ("the worst in the world," according to Costa Rican President Óscar Arias), but because, according to Micheletti himself, he "became friends with Daniel Ortega, Chávez, Correa, Evo Morales. ... He went to the left." In other words, Micheletti is using the same tactics of "guilt by association" that his AUC allies use to justify their violence, only this time the "guilt" consists of association with other popular, democratically elected heads of state in the region. Nevertheless, the message and the effect are still the same: If you oppose us, and what we stand for, we will take you down with force.

It's all quite disturbing. Kurtz closes on an optimistic note, claiming:

But whereas the reactionary elites in the region are disposed to using violence, intimidation, and the contracting of paramilitaries to impose their will, those on the Latin American left, the people for whom Morales, Chávez, and Zelaya are merely elected representatives, have increasingly turned to strategies of nonviolence, popular organization, and civil resistance in their struggles for justice and democracy. The degree to which the popular left—and its leaders—continue to adhere to the values of peace, justice, and solidarity will ultimately decide whether or not the popular movement achieves its goals, not only here and now in Honduras, but in all of Latin America.

I'm not entirely convinced of this. I'm hardly romanticizing revolutionary violence, but it's unclear the extent to which nonviolence works in the face of forces who absolutely do not care about worldwide public opinion, sanctions, or other forms of rebuke except military invasion which is obviously not going to happen in Honduras. There may be cases where violent resistance makes more sense. I'm not saying that Honduras has reached that point yet, but the importation of the AUC makes me increasingly pessimistic.

Steve Phillips

So I really don't care who sleeps with who in the world. I certainly don't much care about a jerkish baseball announcer. But the case of Steve Phillips really bugs me because his sheer existence in the broadcasting world has irked me for years.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Phillips, one of ESPN's leading baseball announcers, was fired this week for sleeping with a young staffer.

OK, well, I certainly don't like people in power sleeping with people they have power over. This is why I find teacher-student romantic relationships so revolting. But what did ESPN expect? Phillips has a history of sexual harassment that stretches back over a decade. He oozes slime when on the screen.

Moreover, Phillips bugs me because the only reason he got a broadcasting job is because he was general manager of the New York Mets. Was he the GM of the Royals or Brewers or Pirates, he wouldn't be seen within 10 miles of a TV screen. This bothers me on multiple levels. First, the hiring of ex-jock sports announcers these days is predicated entirely on a perception of market share. It has little to do with quality and everything to do with their fame during playing years. This creates scenarios where absurdly unqualified people like Emmitt Smith get high profile jobs. Meanwhile, any number of brilliant but lesser known players are never considered for this position. To their credit, ESPN has one recent hire like this, Orestes Destrade, who was an extremely marginal first baseman in his day. He was probably hired to appeal to Latino audiences, but that's fine. Playing days fame has always mattered for these hires, but never so much as the present. People like Dave Campbell, Steve Jones, Harold Reynolds, and even Cris Collinsworth had marginal national fame during their playing careers. Collinsworth was excellent, but played in Cincinnati, meaning he would never get considered today.

Plus, who actually tunes into a game because they liked one of the announcers when he played 10 years ago? Does anyone really watch sports for this reason? Oh, I have to know what Keyshawn Johnson (arguably the most overrated football player of the last 20 years) has to say about the game? Meanwhile, the superb Tom Jackson, a good but not star linebacker from the Broncos teams of the 80s, gets increasingly marginalized because he wasn't a #1 overall pick and general pain in the ass for a decade.

The other problem with Phillips' lack of qualifications for the position to begin with is that he was completely incompetent as a general manager. He got fired for making such brilliant moves as trading a young Scott Kazmir to the Rays for the legendary Victor Zambrano. Phillips was a horrible GM and therefore I have no ability to respect anything he says about players.

Oddly, I consider the case of Matt Millen totally differently. Millen of course is probably the single worst general manager in the history of the NFL. He turned the Detroit Lions, already a bad franchise, into a national joke and kept his job for years because the Lions' owner thought Millen was a good Christian. Now Millen is in the booth and it's hard to hear him talk without snickering. The difference between him and Phillips though is that Millen was a great announcer before he took the GM job; had he remained in the booth, he and not Collinsworth would almost certainly have replaced John Madden on Sunday Night Football this fall. He has amazing insight and great presence. He just can't run a team. Phillips was not good in the booth or as a GM. He was just a super tanned guy from New York.

Of course, it's unlikely that ESPN will pick a decent 3rd guy to join the Jon Miller/Joe Morgan Sunday Night Baseball team. Phillips was put in there as a way to mitigate Morgan's idiocy and assholeishness in the first place. The other guy considered for the job was the loathsome Rick Sutcliffe, a sexist bastard. Meanwhile, high quality guys like Orel Hershisher or Dave Campbell will continue to receive second-rate assignments. Hershisher is at least famous and it's surprising he hasn't been bumped up; perhaps he is too good and would embarrass Morgan. Campbell was a crappy second baseman and although one of the best color men of his generation, will never get that top spot.

Pro-Capitalist Propaganda, circa 1948

This is absolutely fantastic. Very much worth your 9 minutes. I love Cold War propaganda. There's an excellent set of Soviet animated propaganda on DVD. It's out there in part because people see it as so quaint today that there's a market for it. This is just as bizarre. Really there's little difference except that the artistic merit of the capitalist propaganda is less than the communist stuff.

Via Sociological Images

Obama Allowing Wreath To Be Laid On Arlington Confederate Monument

Ed Sebesta's tireless work in fighting neo-Confederate movements in the U.S. has no end. He is currently working to get Obama to stop the federal government from sending a yearly wreath to honor the Confederate dead at their monument in the Arlington National Cemetery. Obama of course ignored his letter. In fact, this is precisely the kind of cultural issue Obama avoids at all costs, even though it honors people who fought to keep his people in slavery.

This is a worthy cause and I highly recommend informing yourself about it.

Baby Einstein Doesn't Work?

You mean that if I plop my child in front of a TV with all the right videos, they won't turn into Albert Einstein? I'm shocked. You mean I actually have to parent and spend time with the kid? I can't believe that! I was sure that if I just played Mozart to them, they would turn into brilliant scientists!!!!

Note 1: This is a prime example of how we fetishize technology as the solution to all our problems.

Note 2: If you don't have time to actually teach your children, maybe you shouldn't be having children, though of course, things happen.

Note 3: The whole idea of Baby Mozart and Baby Beethoven and all of that is deeply offensive because it turns classical music into background music that supposedly makes you smarter, but really is something no one wants to think about.

Note 4: Just because your child doesn't turn out to be a genius, you know that's OK. If they are plumbers or secretaries or cooks or whatever, they are still really valuable people so long as they treat the people around them with love and kindness.

Note 5: Even though these videos are totally worthless, they are also racist. They all promote European culture as the be all and end all. Where's Baby Lao Tzu? Baby Kurosawa? Baby Mandela? Baby Frida? Actually, I'd totally buy Baby Frida. The weirdness of that is fun to contemplate.

Historical Image of the Day

Oil wells, Summerland, California, 1915

Brazil to Establish a Truth Commission for Its Dictatorship Period (1964-1985)

Well, this is interesting news:

Twenty four years after the military left power in Brazil, the government is to create a Truth Commission to investigate crimes committed by the security forces between 1964 and 1985.

Brazil is the only country in Latin America which has not investigated deaths, disappearances and torture which took place during its dictatorship, or put alleged perpetrators on trial.

Anytime a Truth Commission is established, it's good news for multiple reasons: it forces governments and societies to recognize the horrible crimes some sectors have committed (and many more supported, tacitly or explicitly); it frequently allows closure for victims' families who still don't know the fate of their loved ones; and the sheer act of a truth commission hopefully deters such actions from future governments (though it's in no way guaranteed).

I'd like to say what all can emerge from this, but I really have no idea right now. It's not like the country, human rights organizers, or historians are going to be incredibly shocked by the techniques of torture and of murder by state agents - those accounts have been well-known and well-detailed both through non-state-sponsored commissions like the "Nunca Mais" ("Never Again") project, as well as testimonials of many others who were tortured. As for the disappearances and murders, it's true that sometimes details are missing, as in the case of the Araguaia guerrilla war in the early-1970s, when the military killed and buried dozens-to-hundreds of guerrillas challenging the dictatorship.

Additionally, I really do hope the military archives are opened up. The military's line that the archives were burnt and destroyed years ago and don't even exist rings hollow for a number of reasons. First, the military's stance on this has shifted throughout time; first, it said the archives didn't exist anymore, then that they never existed at all, then that they were did, but were closed, and then that they were destroyed. I suppose this is possible, but I find it unlikely. Additionally, I fail to see how some central components of the military security apparatus remain in archives like the Department of Public Order and Security (DOPS) archives in places like Rio and Sao Paulo, as well as the Division of Security and Information (DSI) archive at the National Archive, both of which I've had experience with. While the security apparati in Brazil were varying and multiple, they all ran through at least some branch of the military, so I fail to see how the DSI and DOPS collections could survive and make it into archives, yet the "military archives" have been destroyed. Plus, if my research experience showed anything in general terms, its that the "banality of evil" and the desire to document everything, no matter how incriminating, is a frequent feature (not a bug) of authoritarian regimes.

That said, I also suspect this can only illuminate so much. Even if the commission reveals the general whereabouts of the bodies of the victims of the Araguaian war, for example, it was in one of the most forbidding and rapidly shifting environmental areas in Brazil, and tracking down the bodies' remains could be difficult (though the fact that some remains have been found is somewhat encouraging).

I hate to end on a pessimistic note, so I'll make it the penultimate point. One of the people quoted in the article points out that state agents still actively practice torture in prisons and against the poor, and he's absolutely right. However, I don't have much hope that a Truth Commission into the dictatorship period in Brazil will lead to an end to current practices of torture. Torture and "alternate" rights for the poor and marginalized in Brazil have existed since slavery; the poor and the rich/darker and lighter have always had alternate sources of justice, prisons, etc. Torturing the poor and marginalized has been a part of the landscape of Brazilian "law" since the late-1800s, and I just don't see why a commission studying just 21 years would suddenly lead everybody to support an end to torture today. Again, it's not like the practice and methods of torture in the dictatorship are some secret - most people in Brazil (and those studying the dictatorship) are familiar with the "parrot's perch," the "dragon chair," and other torture mechanisms. If society has known about these for more than 30 years, I really don't see how a truth commission will suddenly lead to an "awakening." I hope I'm wrong, but I just don't see it.

That said, the fact that the government and state apparatuses themselves are finally forcing themselves to deal with this dark period in Brazil's history is nothing but good news. Again, scholars and others have known much of this for decades, but new details are always valuable to historians and human rights activists, and especially to the victims' families, and the fact that the government is finally willing to confront its past is an important step, even if it is symbolic. If nothing else, Brazil's governments and state owe this to the families who lost loved ones in their struggles against a repressive, authoritarian regime.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Historical Image of the Day

This week's images will focus on the history of the oil industry.

Oil workers in Louisiana. No date, but probably the 1920s.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Understanding the Complexities of the Drug Trade in Rio's Favelas

Randy points us to this article in The Economist. The article does a great job explaining succinctly why A) there appears to be so much violence in Rio, and B) why it's in the favelas, and not a city-wide event:

"A further reason for Rio’s spectacular violence is that it has three large, competing drug factions, whereas in other big cities (including the largest, São Paulo) one gang is dominant. A recent study from Rio de Janeiro state’s government on the economics of the local drug business suggests that, because of this competition, far from living like characters in an MTV hip-hop video, Rio’s dealers are operating at “close to break-even”.

Using a conservative estimate for total annual drugs sales in the city, of R$316m ($182m), the study reckons that after buying the product from wholesalers, employing a sales force and investing in capital (guns, mainly), Rio’s dealers make combined annual profits of R$27m ($15m). The wage structure within the factions appears to be surprisingly flat, far more so than in the American gang analysed in 2000 by two academics, Steven Levitt and Sudhir Venkatesh. Rio’s dealers seem to be an exception to Brazil’s national picture of unequal income distribution."

It's a quick run-down, and does a good job distributing the blame. While many uninformed non-Brazilians, many racist/classist (no matter how much they deny it) Brazilians, and foreign media reports place the blame solely on the drug gangs (and the favelados more generally), the economist reminds us that there's a long legacy miscues (to put it euphemistically) from other groups as well, including governmental policy-making:

Past mistakes include making accommodations with drug-dealing factions in the hope of keeping them peaceful. Rio’s police force is also part of the problem. Some of the weapons used by drug dealers are sold to them by the police, and officers still execute too many people on the spot rather than bother with prosecuting suspects, making favela-dwellers regard them as no more a source of justice than the drugs gangs.

The article also mentions the existence of militias in the favelas and around them, though it doesn't mention that these militias are often composed of former and current members of the police. Nonetheless, the (brief) article is the first I've seen in the foreign press that really understands the complexities of the violence and drug economy in Brazil. These complexities are why last week's violence was not initially an attack on police forces in Rio (as many headlines and reports tacitly or explictly framed it), and are why the Olympics are not in any grave danger from these types of incidents. And if the media, both in Brazil and abroad, would take better care to understand and report on these complexities, then maybe bringing an end to the violence could be a more realistic possibility than it is when media reports simply frame the city as a place of extreme violence and treats all the urban poor and favelados as criminals. Maybe then, images like the one above will become more uncommon.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I have a real hard time not loving Alan Grayson. I know the left is supposed to be into civil discourse and all that, but we've been hurt for a long time by not being willing to punch back at Republican filth. Florida congressman Alan Grayson has no such problem.

On Hardball, Grayson had this to say about Dick Cheney

"Well, my response is -- and by the way, I have trouble listening to what he says sometimes, because of the blood that drips from his teeth while he's talking," said Grayson. "But my response is this: He's just angry because the president doesn't shoot old men in the face. But by the way, when he was done speaking, did he just then turn into a bat and fly away?"

Ha. I love it!

Facial Hair of the Weekend

Casey Blake may still have the best beard in baseball, but as the Philadelphia Phillies return to the World Series, I give you Phillie pitcher Chan Ho Park and his beard.

Soupy Sales, RIP

His career here.

As a remembrance, everyone should smash a pie in the face of someone they love.

Germany Is Not The United States

Some countries are different than the United States:

A group of rich Germans has launched a petition calling for the government to make wealthy people pay higher taxes.

The group say they have more money than they need, and the extra revenue could fund economic and social programmes to aid Germany's economic recovery.

The man behind the petition, Dieter Lehmkuhl, told Berlin's Tagesspiegel that there were 2.2 million people in Germany with a fortune of more than 500,000 euros.

If they all paid the tax for two years, Germany could raise 100bn euros to fund ecological programmes, education and social projects, said the retired doctor and heir to a brewery.

Signatory Peter Vollmer told AFP news agency he was supporting the proposal because he had inherited "a lot of money I do not need".

He said the tax would be "a viable and socially acceptable way out of the flagrant budget crisis".

While this idea has not exactly caught fire in Germany, can one even imagine such a movement in the United States, a nation which sees taxes as evil and yet demands the state to do any number of expensive things for the people? What would the right-wing bloviators say!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bad Days in American History: October 22, 1962

47 years ago today, the Cuban Missile Crisis began. Specifically, Kennedy gave his public warning to the USSR and Cuba on this date in 1962.

It's amazing not only how close the world came to nuclear war, but how absolutely blinded by Cold War rhetoric the Kennedy administration was. That the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed that attack and invasion was the only solution to the problem is mindblowing. I know that the Cold War seems like a long time ago and the choices people had to make at that time very different from the present, but that no other option was seriously on the table, even though Cuba and the USSR hadn't actually attacked the United States boggles my mind.

I mean when Robert McNamara is the person on your foreign policy making sense, as he believed the 40 missiles in Cuba didn't change the equation between the US and USSR that much, you know everyone else is totally insane. And McNamara possibly deserves more credit than anyone during the missile crisis. He kind of blew that capital though.

Of course, the United States hardly deserves all the blame for the situation. The Soviets way overplayed their hand (as Khruschev knew). And Castro's willingness to allow his nation to be completely destroyed in the name of ideology is completely insane. Increasingly, I think the 20th century will be known as the century of ideology, which will not be a complement. Whether capitalism, communism, or fascism, people in the 20th century were willing to do things that were completely insane in the service of ideologies they believed explained all the world's problems and would lead their nation's people to glory. All one can do is shake their heads. I wonder if Bush-style neoconservatism and extremist capitalism isn't the last ideology. Maybe not, but is there really much difference between Cheney and Castro or Mussolini when it comes to how they see the world?

In any case, at least cooler heads prevailed in the fall of 1962, but the situation hardly speaks well of Kennedy's foreign policy or the state of the world at that time.

The Day Parody Died

If you were ever skeptical that Fox "News" misrepresents little details like "facts" and "information," your skepticism just suffered a major blow:

On August 18, 2000, journalist Jane Akre won $425,000 in a court ruling where she charged she was pressured by Fox News management and lawyers to air what she knew and documented to be false information.

The real information: she found out cows in Florida were being injected with RBGH, a drug designed to make cows produce milk – and, according to FDA-redacted studies, unintentionally designed to make human beings produce cancer.

Fox lawyers, under pressure by the Monsanto Corporation (who produced RBGH), rewrote her report over 80 times to make it compatible with the company’s requests. She and her husband, journalist Steve Wilson, refused to air the edited segment.

In February 2003, Fox appealed the decision and an appellate court and had it overturned. Fox lawyers argued it was their first amendment right to report false information. In a six-page written decision, the Court of Appeals decided the FCC’s position against news distortion is only a “policy,” not a “law, rule, or regulation.”

That's right - a court ruled that Fox "News" could continue "reporting" false information. Not "alternately interpreted" information. Not information up for debate. Pure, straight-up false information. As "news."

I'd comment more, but there's little more to be said. There is no depth deep enough, no bottom low enough, that Fox "News" won't sink to.

Blame Where Blame Belongs

This piece rightfully blames the Senate for not extending unemployment benefits. But the lead suggests that the blame falls on both parties:

One month after the House passed a bill extending unemployment benefits, the issue is still being debated in the Senate. While leaders in both parties are trying to negotiate a compromise, the bickering is costing people their benefits.

No, let's be quite clear on this: the Republican Party has decided to not let this past. While Harry Reid deserves excoriation for his weakness as Majority Leader, there is only one party who is denying people benefits. That is the Republican Party.

Is it asking too much for journalists to assign blame when one party is at fault? Or can they only do that when they can blame Democrats?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What We're In For

If Erik's post below makes me laugh at its veracity, this makes me want to slit my wrists, eat a shotgun, and hang myself, all in one swift cloud of death.

One of my favorite things is when people say that backlash against Jeter is "irrational." He's a hall-of-famer who's been a great hitter and a middling-to-terrible fielder. "Clutch" is the most overrated bullshit laziness ever, and the McCarver (and New York media) tongue-baths are enough to create a backlash.

But this? The Yankees haven't even even won the ALCS yet, and we're already being exposed to "unforgettable photos of Jeter off the field"? Not for any other player ever, but for Jeter before the Yankees even get to the World Series?

Hey - Sports Illustrated!!!!!


The Worse Article to Ever Hit the Intertubes

That Creed is a great band.

Published in Slate no less.

If people can publish this shit at major websites, how can I not make my living on the internet? Are my ideas actually worse than this?!

Via Lemieux.

The Inevitably of a New Yankees Dynasty

So I have this theory.

Every four years God and Satan have a meeting. They agree that there can only be some much good and so much evil in the world. It's a very yin-yang thing. But they have to decide how to split it up. So they consider the twin institutional towers of evil--the Republican Party and the New York Yankees. They chat, have a few beers, and figure out who will have what for the next four years. Because when Republicans are in power, the Yankees rarely do well. And when the Democrats control the presidency, Yankee dynasties almost always take place.

The Yankees have won 26 championships. Of those, 19 came in Democratic administrations. The Yankees dominated during the Roosevelt years. They were still great under Truman. They were excellent under Kennedy. They were bad for part of the 70s, but as soon as Carter took over, a new dynasty began. That ended when Reagan came to power, but the Clinton years were hell on Yankee haters. And now, after 8 years when Yankee evil was waning, it has come back with a vengeance under Obama.

Of the 7 Republican titles, 3 came under Eisenhower, which just goes to show that he wasn't a real Republican to begin with. The other four came in the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover years, when they were just another team and before their real evil was made known to the world

The real exception to this rule in Lyndon Johnson. The Yankees did not win a World Series in the Johnson years. I think this goes to show just what a great president Johnson was. The Great Society and Yankee sucking. How can one beat that? Moreover, this totally makes up for Vietnam.

That leads to another question--is the sacrifice of 58,000 Americans worth a bad Yankee team?

The answer is obviously yes.

Many societies have understood this phenomenon in one form or another. We think it's a big political question, wasting the lives of our young men, blah blah blah. Other peoples would call it sacrificing to the gods. The Aztecs clearly understood this, plus they were smart enough to capture people to sacrifice. Other societies have thrown young virgins into volcanoes. We fight pointless wars in horrible places. It really doesn't matter. It's satiating the gods desire for blood. Johnson's genius was understanding this and acting upon it. And Bush, as a former baseball owner himself, also understood it. After all, this theory is at least a good a justification for Iraq as the nonsense the administration actually offered.

Now Obama comes around, God and Satan have their meeting, good and evil realign and the Yankees begin winning again. I know we might get better healthcare out of it, but what's a little premature death in the face of seeing Derek Jeter get another ring? Obviously, the sacrifice is worth it.

So now I have to sit and watch the rest of the baseball playoffs, knowing that the Yankees will inevitably win. It makes me sad, though I would be happier if I placed large sums of money on the outcome like I should, since I have the secret.

Instead, I just have one thing to say: Palin/Bachmann '12! Do it to fight evil, do it for America!

Anti-Immigration Fanatics Using Environmental Arguments

The environmental movement has a long history of using anti-immigration arguments to push their agenda. This goes back to the late 19th century. The historical connection between the two movements has never entirely disappeared. A group called Californians for Population Stabilization is launching ads claiming that reduced immigration "will save the Earth."

This is ridiculous on its face. Any environmentalist knows that nature doesn't respect national boundaries. Keeping people in Mexico isn't going to keep environmental problems out of the U.S. Not to mention the fact that the real root of many environmental problems is massive consumption by the world's rich, not overpopulation. But these anti-immigrant racists don't care about facts; rather, they are just marshaling whatever they can to push their agenda of hate.

A Quick Question

Dear C.C. Sabathia:

Where in the blue hell was this back in 2007, in either game? That's some outstanding timing you have.

Thanks for nothing, jerk.


Just a Reminder...

...that Silvio Berlusconi is one of the most arrogant leaders in the world.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Uruguay's Amnesty for Dictatorship Struck Down

Most of the Southern Cone (Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay) countries, and even Brazil, have dealt with amnesties that forgave the culprits guilty of state-sponsored murder in one way or another. Chile managed to assure that Pinochet would never see an end to legal processes before he died; Argentina has begun prosecuting torturers and murderers from its "Dirty War," and has arrested leaders like Jorge Videla; Paraguay has literally begun digging up its past, and has some of the most extensive open archives on collaboration between right-wing dictatorships in South America; even Brazil has opened some secret archives, and while failing to ever go after torturers or the presidents, has stripped doctors who oversaw torture of their medical licenses.

The one conspicuous absence here is Uruguay, which still had in place a special amnesty for anybody who'd committed crimes during the dictatorship. Until today, when a court threw out the amnesty:

The Supreme Court ruling only applies to the investigation into the 1974 death in a military barrack of a young Communist teacher Nibia Sabasagaray, allegedly as a consequence of tortures and other abuses suffered while under arrest.
While that doesn't sound very hopeful save for the one case it deals with, the legal ruling for this case is based on the fact that the amnesty was not approved with a special majority vote, a requirement for this type of law in Uruguay, as well as the fact it violates the autonomy of the branches of government. As a result, while the court's ruling deals only with one case, its legal basis renders the entire amnesty illegal, opening the removal of amnesty to additional cases. On top of this, in the presidential elections this Sunday, Uruguayans also have a chance to vote on a referendum that would annul the amnesty law that Congress approved in 1986 (and that a referendum in 1989 confirmed).

In short, the one remaining amnesty law in the Southern Cone that had been relatively untouched and unchallenged is suddenly facing assaults from all sides, and this is nothing but good news for those interested in seeking justice for the crimes of Uruguay's military governments between 1974 and 1985.

Monday, October 19, 2009

On the Weekend Violence in Rio de Janeiro

This past weekend, violence in Rio's favelas flared up, with ugly results:

Some 2,000 police officers patrolled the streets of Rio de Janeiro Sunday after a bloody confrontation between rival drug gangs and authorities that killed 14 over the weekend, including two police officers. [A third died this morning, according to reports in Brazil - Trend].

Two suspected drug traffickers were killed and four were arrested in Sunday's operations by Rio de Janeiro's military police, the official news agency Agencia Brasil reported.

Of course, these events have led many in both Brazil and abroad to comment on what this means in light of Brazil recently being awarded the 2016 Olympics. Boz broached this subject earlier today:

It's not credible to think that Rio's drug gangs have a unified grand plan of Olympic disruption that they're implementing. However, their ability to create a climate in insecurity and harm Rio's reputation is certainly a greater factor with the Olympic announcement. I expect them to continue to challenge the security forces and attempt some more high-profile attacks in the coming year.

I absolutely agree with that first part of the paragraph. This wasn't some coordinated response to the Olympics; hell, it wasn't even an uncoordinated response to the Olympics. Some of the news stories have insinuated this clearly indicates that this is a threat to Olympic athletes, as the favela in question (Morro dos Macacos) is "only five miles" from where one of the villages will be, not taking into account that that's five miles by air, not five miles through mountains, lakes, buildings, and the world's largest urban forest. In grand terms, this means pretty much nothing in terms of the Olympics or the athletes.

I find Boz's final sentence more interesting. I certainly think the drug gangs will challenge the police, but it's not like this is the first time that they've challenged police,given the military tactics used against civilians in the favelas, where it's not uncommon to see images like this one (from the CNN story):

A policeman advances through an alley of Rio on March 25, 2009, during an anti-drug operation.

Indeed, I once ended up on a city bus that passed through a favela in downtown Rio, and while it was as uneventful as most bus rides (and less eventful than some that never went near a favela), I was still alarmed to see military men with assault rifles poised just hanging out on street corners, alert but not in battle. You want to know the dynamics of the favelas? That picture hits it perfectly - a small kid who probably has nothing to do with the drug trade, a very well-armed individual from the military police, and somewhere unseen, actual drug lords. And kids like the one in this picture, along with old women and plenty of others untouched by the drug trade, are often killed (with some estimates hitting the thousands of innocent civilians dead).

But back to Boz's comments. Yes, they will challenge the police, and they have in the past, but, in spite of the major framing of this story, that's not what this event was. Yes, a police helicopter was shot down. But this wasn't even a case of police raiding a favela and violence erupting. This was a battle between drug gangs. The helicopter was shot down when flying over the favela to see what was going on, and as Boz himself points out, the helicopter getting shot down wasn't even intentional; according to reports, the bullets that hit the helicopter were basically stray bullets, and they weren't even from .30 caliber machine guns (though I agree with Randy that it's disturbing the gangs have this kind of weaponry, though again, it's not like the police haven't shown a propensity to murderous actions, too). With all due respect to Boz, he mistranslates that passage of the article, which reads [and I translate], "the helicopter was hit by light fire - nothing that was fired from a .30 caliber machine gun or that could have been caused by a rocket-propelled grenade found in gangs' arsenals."

So while some pitch a fit over Brazil getting the Olympics over Chicago in light of this weekend's events, they're completely out of touch with what the history, the context, and the meaning of this weekend's events. As Boz says, it wasn't some coordinated (or even uncoordinated) response to the Olympics; it wasn't even an attack initially launched on the police. It was gang warfare located away from the sites of the future Olympics that ultimately included the deaths of 3 police officers as well as at least 14 "traficantes" (though, as always, that title and/or figure is questionable). Is it a threat to the Olympics? No more so than every other incident of favela violence has been a threat to the Olympics, which is to say, not at all. The favela violence is kept to the favelas, and regardless of what you think of that, it does not mean anything to the Olympics yet. And the Brazilian government is not just ignoring this problem - today Lula pledged an extra $60 million to Rio to help combat violence in the city. This wasn't an internal "protest" to the Olympics, and it wasn't an event that should make anybody reconsider awarding Rio the Olympics. It simply was what all the other incidents of favela violence have been - sad episodes of violence, with plenty of blame to go around.

Vandalism of the Year

Apparently, Vicente Fox's Statue used to be a giant hand that made the "V" symbol. I say used to because, as you can see, somebody with a wicked sense of humor and a decent understanding of politics modified the statue in one very important way. Courtesy pc.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Stop the Presses!

Derek Anderson has thrown a touchdown, making it two for the season!

Now, back to your regularly scheduled internet-surfing.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Facial Hair of the Weekend

In the midst of the playoffs, some baseball facial hair seems appropriate. Former Cleveland Indian great Casey Blake, now of the LA Dodgers, with what is hands down the best beard in baseball.

Puerto Rico On Strike

While CNN was obsessing over that damn Balloon Boy (who wasn't actually in the balloon and therefore was an even bigger waste of time than tea party protests), Puerto Rico had a historic general strike. Estimates range between 100,000-200,000 people in the streets marching. Of course, the corporate media ignored it. I wrote about it for Global Comment--as usual, I'll start the piece here and encourage you to read it over there, since they help pay my bills (and there's other stuff worth reading there as well!)

Fortuño’s plans fought: lessons from protest in Puerto Rico

I’ve seen a focus in the United States on mass political action in the past year like nothing I’ve seen in my lifetime. From the huge crowds at Barack Obama’s campaign rallies and the unprecedented amount of donors and volunteers that helped elect the man President to the recent cynical discovery of organized dissent by the Republican party, we’ve watched groups large and small take to the streets.

Whether this is a sign of a newly energized, engaged American body politic will take some time to say. After all, some demonstrations still receive more attention than others, with the right-wing media machine led by FOX News trumpeting the success and inflating the numbers of tea party protests while decrying protests from the left, and the purported liberal media spending a good chunk of time arguing those numbers and attempting to root out the funders behind the right-wing actions—often while genuine grassroots action goes on under their noses, ignored or even punished by those in charge.

Almost completely ignored this week was the one-day general strike in Puerto Rico following the attempted imposition of shock-therapy-style economic reforms by the new governor. Chief among those reforms was a decision to lay off more than 20,000 public employees. The layoffs would drive Puerto Rico’s already-astounding 15 percent unemployment rate to over 17 percent.

More than 100,000 workers took to the streets to protest on October 15–Eliseo Medina, Service Employees International Union Executive Vice President, told me he thought the crowd was over 150,000. “It was tremendous. I’ve been in the labor movement for 44 years and this was the most impressive event I’ve ever seen. It was up there with the immigrant mobilizations of 2006,” Medina said. “It was one of the most diverse events that I’ve ever seen in a society. Lawyers, workers, students, psychologists, priests and minsters and nuns and everyday people. It was truly an amazing sight. It was pretty clear, our rejection of Governor Fortuño’s policies.”

Read the whole thing.

Historical Image of the Day

I am stealing straight from Dave Noon at LGM. These historical images also serve as a teaching archive and I have to remember this commercial.

Sadly, Argentina Makes the World Cup; Unsurprislingly, Maradona's Still a Jerk

I was really hoping against hope that Ecuador would win its game, and Uruguay would beat Argentina, keeping the latter out of the 2010 World Cup. That said, anybody proclaiming the glory of Argentina for barely sneaking in as the 4th of four qualifiers from South America (with a fifth up for grabs against Costa Rica) is delusional. That team has serious issues facing them going into next year, and if they don't get a #1 seeding (which they very well may not), they may not make it out of the first round, a la France in 2002.

That said, Diego Maradona is still a first-rate loudmouth buffoon, not just for acting like this is a true triumph, but for the way he expressed such "triumph":

Following the match which Argentina defeated Uruguay 1-0, Maradona delivered a expletive-laden tirade, broadcast on live TV, directed at reporters and critics whom he claimed had shown no confidence in his work.

“This is for those who didn’t trust this team and for those who treated me as garbage. We’re in the South Africa World Cup; with nobody’s held and with all honours. Those who didn’t believe in me suck it…” he told most of the Argentine media at the press conference following the match.

Classy - you barely get your team in the World Cup, are facing real issues with both your players' style and seeming lack of interest in playing while you're the coach; you've threatened to leave the team before the World Cup, throwing everything in turmoil; and now, you're neurons failed to stop what was going through your head from coming out of your mouth, and you're facing disciplinary action and possible suspension heading into the World Cup in less than 9 months.

I think it's safe to say who Maradona wants an Argentine World Cup victory for, and it isn't Argentina.

Randy has more.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bad Days in American History: October 16, 1859

150 years ago today, John Brown and his followers seized the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, hoping to inspire slaves to revolt across the South. This event went a long ways in precipitating the Civil War.

Readers of the site might be surprised to see John Brown's Raid listed as a Bad Day in American History. Brown was fighting to end slavery, the most miserable, disgusting institution in the history of the United States. Certainly I've spared no expense in attacking those who committed treason in defense of slavery.

While I may not impinge Brown's dreams, his actions set a dangerous precedent, which is why I am writing about this today. History is always reinterpreted to fit the present. Right now, Brown's actions resonate very strongly with the anti-abortion movement. In particular, extremists who want to kill abortion doctors see Brown as an inspiration who acted out of moral principle, even if his actions cost lives. I don't like this precedent one bit. In that light, it's easy to see Brown as a complete lunatic (which he was, regardless of how you feel about his actions) whose actions must be condemned so as to not be repeated. If you completely isolate Brown in his time, maybe one can say he was justified in his actions. But if people emulate him, what cause is it not worth killing for if you believe in it strongly enough? John Brown's raid scares me.

Historical Image of the Day

Clifford Berryman editorial cartoon depicting Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace as Adolf Hitler and American farmers as goose stepping Nazis, Washington Star, February 16, 1938

Thursday, October 15, 2009

3 Ways Not To Be A Good Parent

1. Name your child after a raptor.

2. Force your children to be on Wife Swap, not once, but twice

3. Allow them to play in the experimental flight machines you keep in your backyard.

That is all.

We Clearly Live in a Post-Racial Society

Good ol' Louisiana.

Keith Bardwell, Justice of the Peace in Tangipahoa Parish refuses to conduct interracial marriages:

Bardwell said he has discussed the topic with blacks and whites, along with witnessing some interracial marriages. He came to the conclusion that most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society, he said.

"I don't do interracial marriages because I don't want to put children in a situation they didn't bring on themselves," Bardwell said. "In my heart, I feel the children will later suffer."

If he does an interracial marriage for one couple, he must do the same for all, he said.

"I try to treat everyone equally," he said.

Race totally doesn't matter in America anymore....

Via Think Progress

Worcestershire Sauce, circa 1876

If the Times is going to start pressing Gilded Age recipes upon us, I demand some delicious ways to prepare passenger pigeon.

Historical Image of the Day

"Little Lefty," Cartoon from The Daily Worker, August 6, 1937

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

RIP - Al Martino and Captain Lou Albano

Al Martino (aka "Johnny Fontaine" from The Godfather) has died at 82, while Captain Lou has escaped the mortal coil at 76. Martino may have had a great singing career - I literally know nothing about it, which I suppose is a shame. That said, Johnny Fontaine was probably my second-favorite "secondary" character from The Godfather (after the baker who made the cake and helped Michael scare off Tattaglia's men). As for Captain Lou, he will rightly be remembered for his wrestling career and his associations with Cyndi Lauper. That said, he'll also always have a fond place in my heart as I watched his live-action Super Mario Brothers TV show as a child in the late 80s. I'm sure the show is really terrible (something a simple viewing of the show's intro has more than confirmed). I'd rather remember Albano, and Martino, fondly as minor-but-beloved pop culture figures from my youth.

Historical Image of the Day

"While Washington Makes Up Its Mind," cartoon by John T. McCutcheon, Chicago Tribune, 1930

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Baseball Playoff Predictions - ALCS and NLCS

Save for picking the Sox in 5 (oops), and suspecting the Cards could eke out at least one win against the Dodgers, the LDS worked out about how I expected (and I really had the least amount of conviction on the Sox-Angels series). That said, here are my quick picks:

Yankees (in 6) over Angels: I hate doing this. I really really really really really hate doing this. I spent five minutes sitting here, trying to convince myself maybe the Angels could pull it off. They certainly looked good against the Sox, even getting help from aging, semi-unlikely sources (why hello, Vlad Guerrero!). That offense is still good; the defense above average; and the pitching...

...hell, I can't do it. The Yankees just look better overall. I really do think the Angels' defense is better. But that bullpen. And the Yankees just have too much offensive power (fuck you, Mark Teixeira), too deep a pitching lineup. And in spite of my hopes that age would some day catch up with him (and it eventually will), there's still Mariano Rivera. I know the Angels have a recent history of being Yankee-killers in the playoffs, and words don't express how badly I want it to happen again. I think they'll get a couple wins, but I just don't see it happening, as much as I want it to.

Phillies (in 6) over Dodgers. On paper, these two teams stack up really well. The offenses are equally potent. The Dodgers' bullpen may have been more steady in the regular season, but Charlie Manuel's sticking with Brad Lidge and not undermining his confidence seems to be paying off, at least for the LDS. The Dodgers have a slight advantage in the bullpen still, I think, but the Phillies hold the edge in starting pitching. Cliff Lee is still a workhorse, and with a few days rest here and a good setup for pitching in games 2-4, I just like the Phillies a bit better here. I know I'm being redundant in picking two 6-game series' here, but I don't think any of the teams is so bad to get swept, and even if one of the two series only goes 5 games, it will be a close 5 games.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thank You, Tom Waits

Dear Tom,

Awhile back, I wrote you, asking for a new album. Apparently, those words were not idle, and while it's not an album of all-new material, a bonus disc composed strictly of your stage banter is more than acceptable. I can't wait to hear this.

Thanks so much. And I still can't wait to see you as the devil.


Mr. Trend

PS: And you're offering the first 8 of 17 tracks for free download at your site? You truly are the coolest man alive.

Bad Days in American History: October 10, 1973

I had this written to post on Saturday, but I have been at a conference in Denver that I assure you included no drinking of delicious Colorado beers, and I didn't have time to post this.

On October 10, 1973, Spiro Agnew, Vice-President of Richard Nixon, resigned in disgrace under investigation for a variety of crimes, including tax evasion, extortion, bribery, and conspiracy.

Of course, Agnew had always been a class act. The only reason he was on the presidential ticket in the first place was his first-rate race baiting, under the euphemism of law and order. He was the perfect compliment to Nixon's Southern Strategy and politics of white resentment. He served his four plus years as Nixon's attack dog. Not that Nixon wasn't good at that himself. But Agnew had a great way of hurling insults, insulting hippies and black people, and becoming a hero of the rising conservative movement.

Agnew would have been a tremendously successful politician in the modern conservative movement. Almost totally without scruples except for self-promotion, Agnew almost reads as a precursor for Sarah Palin. Both had meteoric rises to nomination in a position for which they were completely unqualified to serve. Both rose politics of resentment to the top. Both relished personally attacking their opponents. Both had absolutely no clue about foreign policy, much to the worry of the top of the ticket. Both did not get along with the presidential candidate. While we don't know much about Palin's opinions of Jews, Agnew was a virulent anti-Semite. And both were corrupt to the core.

After Agnew's disgraceful resignation, he wrote a memoir published in 1980. In it, he claimed that Nixon and Al Haig planned to assassinate him if he refused to resign from the vice-presidency. While one hardly wants to put anything past Nixon or Haig, in this case, those guys seem pretty above board. Compared to Spiro Agnew, anyone sounds good!

Like a lot of bad things, it was tinged with good. Maybe it was a good day when Agnew resigned. Because I sure would rather have had Gerald Ford take over the Oval Office upon Nixon's resignation than Agnew.

Historical Image of the Day

"Work Promotes Confidence," WPA poster, New York Federal Arts Project

"Internet Left Fringe," eh?

I don't know if this is true, or if this is Harwood's own phrasing on something that a "White House source" said, but I'm going to take a few seconds to play with it in any case.

First off, the corporate media has far more reason to dismiss bloggers as the "Internet left fringe" than staffers of a president who was put in office on the backs of millions of "Internet left fringe" donors and volunteers. Yet it seems that Obama's staff, headed of course by one Rahm Emanuel, he of the "fuck the 50-state strategy, take the corporate money" thought process, has bought into the "Church of the Savvy" position that bloggers are a sad, silly minority of people online who will never be satisfied with anything.

Sure, I've seen people on the Internet whining that Obama is no different than Bush. It shouldn't have taken a Nobel Peace Prize for us to know that that line is objectively false. That doesn't mean that we don't get to be pissed when Obama's not living up to his promises. And as Jane Hamsher and the others who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for candidates to support a public option could tell you, the "internet left fringe" can move dollars and poll numbers and support.

As for the National Equality March, like other protests for social justice, it gets written off as "fringe" by the same mainstream media that fetishized the tea parties. It seems they don't have enough corporate sponsorship to be taken seriously. As usual, real grassroots is threatening to those in power, whether their power is corporate media or political insiderdom.

It's too bad, though, for Rahm and his cohorts and for Harwood and the rest of the media. The netroots got a taste of its own power (ironically, starting with its ability to put Obama in the White House) and it's not going away, it's growing. And more and more of us are leaving the basement, taking off the pajamas, and going to an office for a media job--to which we bring the same political ideas, the same social justice values, and the same drive to get the job done that we did when blogging was something we squeezed in in our spare time because we just cared so damn much.

(In other news, today's my first official day at the new job. Wish me luck!)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Facial Hair of the Weekend

To make up for my gaffe last week, the other South American leader with a full beard (though nowhere near as full or good as Lula's): Fernando Lugo, President of Paraguay.

A Modest Proposal

As the Honduras situation remains at a standstill, I offer the following suggestion. With the U.S. men's national team heading to Honduras for a World Cup qualifier, let "soccer diplomacy" settle it. If Honduras wins, Micheletti can stay in office; if the U.S. wins, Zelaya, with international support, returns to finish out his term.

I haven't figured out what to do in the case of a draw, though....

Friday, October 09, 2009


Dear Ed Rollins,

You're a grade-A hack, so I don't expect more of you. Still, if you do think the Peace Prize is cheapened with Obama's reception of it, I've got news for you. If you're looking for the moment when the Nobel Peace Prize was cheapened, it didn't happen today. It happened back in 1973, when a man who supported Pinochet (and would soon support a dictatorship that in just 6 years killed 30,000 people in Argentina) was given the award.

With historical perspective, I remain,

Mr. Trend.

Some More Thoughts on Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

To follow up on what Sarah said regarding the announcement of Obama's Peace Prize, I think a lot of her points are valid. Like the rest of the world, I was initially surprised. In face, my confusion may have outdone most others - I woke up to NPR this morning hearing the following: "Today, the following announcement was made in Sweden [long pause, during which I'm thinking, within the first 30 seconds of waking up, "Please say Philip Roth has finally gotten the Nobel Prize in Literature"]," only to find that Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Like just about everybody both left and right, my initial reaction (now within the first 60 seconds of waking up) was, "Really?"

However, I apparently seem to think this makes more sense than a lot of people (both left and right). I understand the arguments against it from both sides (well, I don't understand the total vitriol that's already coming from the right, but I expect it): it's too early, it's just a "here's a prize for not being Bush," "what's left if he actually does accomplish something?," "He has two wars going on and is about to escalate Afghanistan - how is that peace?" All of this makes sense to me, and I'd share those feelings, if I thought this was really just about Barack Obama the man's accomplishments.

But I don't. Not exactly, anyways.

This really does seem to be an award for a particular diplomatic approach that embraces more than multi-lateral talks and openness (though it certainly offers that, as well). Maybe others have forgotten, or maybe I've overstated its importance, but Bush's "cowboy diplomacy" approach was so appalling from an international relations standpoint and in terms of all reason and respect to the world, that Obama really does mark a major shift. Sure, he has failed at some important domestic policies (thus far, though to all those saying "a peace prize after only 9 months?? But he's failed at health care and reforms!", I'd remind them, "well, yes - but as you yourself admit, it's only been 9 months"). We have focused on this a lot, and rightfully so. But I think in doing so, there's been a (again logical) focus on the domestic side, what between the health care and the economy and don't ask/don't tell.

But from the international standpoint, I really can't emphasize enough how much a shift Obama is. He hasn't caved to pushes for more aggression against Iran, and even his apparently-possible escalation in Afghanistan seems to be actually well-reasoned and considered; even if you don't agree with it, it's not like he's just diving in, consequences be damned. And let's not forget - America was closer than it likes to think to electing a guy who joked we should "bomb bomb bomb, bomb Iran."

And while you can and should argue that in many ways, Obama's policies reflect a return to Bill Clinton's, I don't think that holds in the case of international relations. Obama has proven himself much more open and reasoned in his policy making than even Clinton did. It's about more than just being willing to talk to Chavez face-to-face at a meeting of the OAS, or have Bill Clinton pull some tricky negotiations to release hostages in North Korea, or find a path that the entire international community is willing to follow in dealing with Iran. Indeed, one simply has to look at Honduras since June. Obama has taken an approach to Latin American coups that the U.S. has never seen before - an open, non-partisan condemnation of what was clearly an illegal removal of a president, combined with a refusal to get directly involved by sending troops in. The U.S. had done this any number of times before, and every time, it was wrong to do so. For once, Obama relied on diplomacy, and even while condemning the actions, has refused to directly interfere in Honduras. Sure, he's had the State department take measures to restrict the aid and cash flow to Honduras from the U.S., but that's within his prerogative as president, all the while respecting Honduran sovereignty.

That sounds simple, unimportant; but from a history where the U.S. basically took every opportunity to meddle in, interfere with, and even directly undo democratic processes in Latin America from 1846 to 2002, this is a major, major shift. And it's representative of Obama's policies thus far - respect, doing what's within his power without overstepping the sovereignty of others, all the while working to maintain global relations. Honduras isn't the reason; it's symptomatic of the broader, subtle, but major shifts in how the U.S. is forging a new path in its diplomatic history under Obama.

In that regard, I think he's more deserving of the award than many. Is it too soon? I think that's a fair argument. Is it confusing? A bit (even after having awakened after a cup of coffee). Is there room for improvement? Of course - show me one person who's already perfect. That said, I think this is in part about Obama, and the (what I think is very real) change he brings to American foreign policy. But to focus on it just being about him is to miss the larger point, I think; it's also about embracing a major change in diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the world at large, a change that the U.S. initiated under the leadership of a particular man. And I'm fine with that.