Monday, November 30, 2009

The Battle of Seattle: 10 Years Later

10 years ago today, thousands of activists gathered in Seattle, Washington to protest the meeting of the World Trade Organization. Anarchist-started riots and an over the top police response dominated the news headlines, but it seemed that this event might really change the world. Environmentalists, unions, local activists, and people from the developing world all came to Seattle to protest globalization. We wondered whether a new progressive movement had begun which would provide stiff resistance to neoliberalism.

And nothing happened.

Why did this movement die as it began? It's only 10 years ago, but for something that seemed so important at the time, virtually none of my students have even heard of it, and that includes the more activist students. This was amazing to me when I discovered it, but it makes sense. Why would they remember such an irrelevant event, even if it seemed so important at the time?

A common answer to why turtles and Teamsters alliances disappeared so quickly is 9/11. This line of thought says that September 11 and Bush's war on terror took national attention away from neoliberalism and undermined activists' ability to organize effectively, not to mention. Bush's crackdown on radicalism that created a climate of fear. I don't really buy this. I think it is a factor. But it's not as if the 2 years between Seattle and 9/11 really saw anything happening.

Another answer is that governments and international entities found ways to contain protest. The creation of so-called "free speech zones" and isolating activists into non-threatening zones while holding meetings behind tight security may play a small role, but an effective movement would find away around this, either through massive non-violent demonstrations that would rivet the world's attention, through violence (though this would have been a really bad idea), or through new organizing tactics. None of this happened. A real movement is not dependent on the ability to protest exactly where they want.

I think the far bigger problem is that there was no movement in the first place. That's why the event has quickly become irrelevant. 1990s protest events were an amalgamation of interest groups that occasionally came together. Environmentalists (and 20 different stripes of them), labor unions, food activists, indigenous activists, farmers, peoples from the developing world, and many others all came to Seattle in common cause, but that cause didn't extend beyond the confines of the city. While they might all have opposed free trade as it was defined 1999, they often had nothing in common beyond that.

There was a classic 2004 Daily Show sketch where Stephen Colbert went to the Democratic National Convention, brought activists from different movements into the same room and asked them what John Kerry should focus on first. They all chose their own movement and instantly began arguing. It was a classic piece on the disjointed Democratic Party, but is also a pretty good description of the constituent groups in Seattle.

I think we've moved beyond this a little bit. The Iraq War provided a unifying event that brought progressives of all stripes together. And I think younger people realize the mistakes of the past in building organization and community across traditional lines. The first year of the Obama Administration certainly hasn't reflected discord among progressives over what he should work on--foreign policy, health care, the economy all seem really important. This is less true of the gay rights movement, but then Obama could do real things for them quickly and hasn't to his discredit.

It'll be curious to see how historians see the Battle of Seattle. Will they see more long-term meaning than I do? Or will it seem like an isolated event of the late 90s that eventually led to very little.

Historical Image of the Day

This week's images will be of colonial New York City.

View of New Amsterdam, 1651 by Joost Hartgers

Deep Thought of the Day

Do Roman Polanski's defenders use the same arguments to defend John Demjanjuk? After all, it was such a long time ago.

Ross Douthat Understands....

Very little.

Douthat attempts to hold on to hope that his generation of young people will be Republicans. He cites a study showing that recessions make people less confident in the federal government; thus, even though recessions also make people distrust capitalism, that if the Republicans grind the government to a halt, they can then claim young people.

I don't think so, and for several reasons. First, young people are Democrats for many reasons. Even before the economy went south, young voters rejected Republicans. See the 2006 elections for an example. They rejected the Republicans because of Iraq, because of attacks of civil liberties, because they were embarrassed for their country. Young people are increasingly international. Many travel, many have friends from other nations. And it's hard to defend your country from your friends when you are invading nations for no reason. The economy adds to this, but it's not all of it.

Second, Douthat holds to Reagan's rise as evidence in his failure. But this takes a facile view of the 70s at best. Stagflation was bipartisan--Nixon handled it no better than Carter. Moreover, the rise of Reagan was at for at least as many cultural reasons as economics. Douthat points out that the generation who grew up under Reagan is the most Republican demographic out there. Sadly, I am part of that generation. But I think much of this can be explained in a reaction to the excesses of the 1960s and 70s and the sense that our parents had done some really stupid things and acted in really irresponsible ways. I'm sure it's more complex than this, but it also gets closer to the answer than Douthat. Moreover, he totally ignores Reagan's own recession which doesn't seem to fit into his paradigm.

Finally, I'm not sure that generations really switch allegiances much after they are made. Whether it's the Republicans of the Civil War years, the Democrats of the New Deal, or the conservatives of the 1980s, political identity seems pretty stable over time. Perhaps the one exception is the southern switch to the Republicans during the civil rights movement--but that makes sense when you think that the real political allegiance of the white South was to white supremacy. Even the Reagan Democrats weren't the New Deal generation--it was their kids. So given the massive shift to the Democrats among young voters, it's unlikely they are going to experience an equally massive shift back to the Republicans. Perhaps one can poke some holes in all of this--I only thought of it when I was walking to campus this morning. But I think it's pretty solid for an overgeneralization.


Sports Illustrated gave Derek Jeter its sportsmen of the year award? Why? Well, we all know why--his Jetertude, clutchiosity, and general leaderness.

Admittedly, Jeter had a very nice year. His defense improved from its normal abysmal self and he had a great offensive year. But this is totally absurd and reeks of Yankee love within the SI office.

The obvious candidate for sportsman of the year is Jimmie Johnson, who has now won 4 straight NASCAR titles. I don't even like auto racing, but this is clearly an amazing feat. The UNC men's basketball team would be a deserving candidate as well. If you want to go to baseball, honoring of the two MVPs, Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer, would have made solid choices. They are the two most dominant players of the post-PED generation; Pujols already has his hall of fame credentials locked up and Mauer is probably the best catcher of my lifetime.

And if you want a Yankee--what about Mark Teixeira or C.C. Sabathia? Those were the people the Yankees signed to put them over the top. They both had great years, especially Teixeira. But no, Jeterocity won the day.

Worst Blog Post of the Year

Treason in Defense of Slavery Yankee on the cop killing in Tacoma makes the "connection" that because left-leaning Evergreen State University is 30 miles away, it's probably some leftist tied to the school.

Meanwhile, in reality the killer turns out to be someone Mike Huckabee pardoned while governor.

In comments that TIDOS Yankee quickly deleted, I suggested a more plausible connection--that there are killer whales nearby in the Puget Sound and that they have declared war on local police. I also recommended that he go back to his more respectable posts--such as asking readers for donations after a wind storm broke his grill just after complaining about federal assistance to Katrina victims.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

An Outstanding Journalistic Report on the Favelas

Jon Lee Anderson (he of the definitive biography of Che Guevara) has an absolutely outstanding article up in the Guardian on life in one of Rio's favelas. It's fairly comprehensive - Anderson spoke with politicians, police, members of the drug network, and even the head of a gang in one of Rio's favelas. It's a very long article, and I may have more to say on it later (I don't always agree with some of Anderson's phrasings or some of the items he excludes), but overall, it's extremely good, and really provides a lot of insights into the social nuances and complexities of life in the favelas while simultaneously describing but not glorifying or simplifying the violence. Again, I cannot overstate how good the article is, and highly recommend anybody and everybody spend the half hour or so reading it.

Facial Hair of the Weekend

Continuing the "Mexican politicians" theme, Francisco Madero (1873-1913), the man commonly viewed as the leader of the early phases of the Mexican Revolution, helping to overthrow Porfirio Diaz and establish a new government. Madero's administration was plagued by ineffectiveness and conflicting interests, as he was too moderate for radical revolutionaries, and too radical for the moderates. He probably would not have been remembered as fondly as he was/is if an assassain's bullet hadn't turned him into a martyr for the cause in 1913.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hall of Fame Ballot for 2010 Induction

Baseball came out with its inductee-nomination list for Hall of Fame induction in 2010. Newcomers to the list include Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, in addition to players who were good enough to make the list and nowhere near good enough to even sniff the Hall (Ellis Burks and Kevin Appier, for example).

Firstly, Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven absolutely belong in the Hall, and hopefully, this question is rectified this year. I also would put McGwire in - maybe not this year, but eventually. As has become increasingly apparent, steroids were simply part of the game for 15 years, and while I hate that fact, hatred won't undo it; if as many people "juiced" as it now seems, then there's still no denying that McGwire was one of the best at that time.

As for the newcomers, Alomar should be a lock for certain; he was, simply put, one of the greatest all-around second basemen ever, a marvel to watch at the plate and in the field. I imagine some still hold it against him for the John Hirschbeck incident in 1996, but Hirschbeck forgave Alomar a long time ago; baseball writers hopefully have done the same.

I would also put Edgar Martinez in. I'm tired of the stupid "there should/shouldn't be a DH" argument. It's been over 30 years, and it's a part of the game, whether people like it or not. I just can't justify keeping a position that is legitimate within the rulebook out of the Hall of Fame, and there is absolutely no question that Martinez was the greatest DH ever up to this point. Even if you don't like that he never played in the field, it's just really hard to deny the power of his numbers (he's one of eight players who has career stats of over 300 homers, 500 doubles, a career BA of over .300, on-base percentage of .400, and slugging of .500; certainly, those aren't definitive stats, but neither are they anything to shrug off). Additionally, it was in no way his fault that Seattle let him spend years languishing in the minors just because Jim Presley was occupying third base. I suspect of the newcomers who stand a legitimate chance of eventual election, Martinez will be the most controversial, but for my money, he should be in.

If you'd asked me 5 years ago if McGriff should be in the Hall, I'd say no way. He was very good, but not great, and really, that quest for his 500th homer was kind of sad. But five years' perspective, particularly in light (again) of the steroids issue, have changed my stance somewhat. I'm still not sure he should get in, but his name has never been tied to steroids, and his figure certainly didn't seem to indicate his abuse of PEDs. It may be an inconsistency on my part (and somebody may eventually make an argument that makes me change my mind), but to my way of thinking, for the past 20 years, whether a player used PEDs shouldn't enter into the equation of election, but if players didn't use them, that actually should be considered. Put another way - McGwire's numbers were ridiculous, even with the PEDs, and he was amazing in the 90s (and much better than David Segui, who also used steroids); however, Dawson's (or perhaps McGriff's) numbers were so close without PEDs, I think there's also a case to be made there for their numbers without PEDs. This isn't to say I absolutely believe McGriff should get in; it will take convincing. But I'm not nearly as unconvinced now as I was five years ago.

Being a Cleveland/AL guy from Ohio, I was aware that Barry Larkin was in Cincinnati, and that he was apparently very good, but I just don't know if he was that good. I do look forward to statistical breakdowns on him, and analysis, and debate. Still, he's the second-best second-baseman in this year's eligible class; if Larkin gets in, I may or may not be OK with that, but I think Alomar belongs in first.

It will be fun to watch the debates erupt over this, hopefully breaking the monotony known as "football and basketball season" between now and spring training. I don't think it will end up this way, but if it were up to me, Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven, Mark McGwire, Roberto Alomar, and Edgar Martinez would be getting into the Hall of Fame in 2010.

Obama, Lula, and Iran: Understanding the Complexities of International Relations

One of the refrains I've heard from some in Latin American and in the U.S. is that Obama is no different than Bush in terms of policies. These claims are clearly laughable at face value, and every value beyond that. Still, some still make those claims, based mostly on a "reasoning" that (and I paraphrase) "Obama hasn't stopped the wars, and Obama's a leader of an empire, just like Bush was." Again, stupid and simplistic arguments, but they exist.

In the face of such baseless and unrealistic accusations, this week offered yet another reminder of just how different the two administrations are:

President Obama sent a letter on Sunday to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil reiterating the American position on Iran’s nuclear program, a day before Iran’s president made his first state visit to Brazil, an aide to Mr. da Silva said Tuesday.

Mr. Obama did not explicitly criticize Mr. da Silva for hosting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, implying instead that he hoped Mr. da Silva would use the occasion to express support for the international effort to forge a compromise on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, according to two American officials.

In the three-page letter, Mr. Obama restated his support for a proposal by the International Atomic Energy Agency that would try to steer Iran into developing nuclear energy for peaceful, civilian purposes. The proposed accord calls for Iran to export most of its enriched uranium for additional processing into a form that could be used in a medical reactor in Tehran.

The differences between Bush and Obama should be fairly clear here. In Bush's black-and-white, with-me-or-against-me vision of foreign relations, I just don't see how he would have been nearly as nuanced in his letter-writing (if he even bothered to write a letter). Instead, we probably would have gotten some tired mashup of the "axis of evil" rhetoric, with no efforts to use Ahmadinejad's trip to Brazil to try to emphasize the policy we felt should be taken (which, to be fair, called for war against Iran during the Bush years - not exactly a policy to push at any time).

Under Obama, we get a cordial letter that clearly shows a far more nuanced understsanding of how international politics work not just between the U.S. and other countries, but between other countries and other countries. It's a far more multi-lateral position that understands and acknowledges the importance of other countries in the global arena without ever "conceding" the U.S.'s own role. Indeed, I think it's safe to say that Obama's move, while it may not be effective, was rather brilliant: he found a way to try to get the U.S.'s message to Ahmadinejad without ever having to talk directly to the Iranian president. Whether Obama's letter came up in conversation between Lula and Ahmadinejad (and what the nature or tone of that conversation was) may never be known, but moves like this should obliterate any declaration that Obama and Bush are "the same thing."

And as for Ahmadinejad's trip to Brazil, while it has sparked controversy, it hasn't been on the level of Chavez's alliance to Iran. Earlier this month, Lula met independently with Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas and with Israel's president, Shimon Peres, in an effort to try to increase negotiations for peace in the middle east. Lula has made little secret of his goal to use Brazil's newfound diplomatic presence in the global community to try to work towards peace in the region, and has even gone so far as to recommend the Brazilian national soccer team play a friendly game against an Israeli-Palestinian team. From Lula's point of view, Ahmadinejad's visit is a part of that broader effort. While the U.S. media has grossly misrepresented the Iranian president's trip to Brazil, declaring the trip, as Time magazine did, to be in "defiance" of the U.S., Time's own report indicated otherwise, and revealed Lula's motivation for hosting Ahmadinejad:
Lula enjoys considerable respect internationally, and the incorrigible talker believes problems can be resolved through dialogue. Before Ahmadinejad arrived, Lula pointedly declared, "It is important that someone sits down with Iran, talks with Iran and tries to establish a balance so we can get back to a kind of normality in the Middle East."
Exactly. Treating Iran's trip to Brazil as some isolated incident totally misses the point. Lula isn't meeting with Iran to thumb his nose at the U.S., or to show his support for "terrorism," or any such matter. The Iranian visit is part of a month-long effort to accelerate peace efforts in the Middle East, and Lula is well aware that Iran would be central to any such efforts. And it's not like it was some sycophantic, "best friends forever!" trip:

Of course, Lula has plenty of differences with his guest from Iran. He has made it clear he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has made a point of repudiating all acts of intolerance or terrorism, and has subtly criticized Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust and of homosexuality in Iran.

Those are messages that Ahmadinejad needs to hear from friends, notes Anoush Ehteshami, a professor at the Centre for Iranian Studies at Durham University in England. Since Iran does not appear to be listening to the West, especially not the United States, on the issue, the emergence of interlocutors who could help bridge the gap between the two sides ought to be welcomed. "Hearing [these messages] from Lula will be a little bit better received than if it were coming from U.S. President or E.U. leaders," Ehteshami says.

Once again, that's exactly right. This latest trip is just another example of Lula's model of diplomacy throughout his career. Diplomacy depends on talking, on dialogue, and not on rejecting other leaders or countries simply because you disagree with them. And any effort towards peace, no matter who is leading it, is a valuable step. Sometimes, other countries may be in a better position for these kinds of talks than the U.S. is, and this is one of those instances. And anybody who insists Brazil is suddenly "palling around" with terrorists or directly contradicting the U.S. intentionally simply has no understanding of how diplomacy and foreign relations do and should work.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Historical Image of the Day

Sperm whaling scene painted by unknown artist of the 1830s.

Indian Immigrants in the American West

As a scholar of the American West (a hat I don't wear very often on this site, but one in which I have a ton of training), I have always been fascinating by the stories of nineteenth and early twentieth-century Chinese immigrants in the most isolated parts of the region. How did they get there? How did they survive being able to communicate with no one? What stories they must have--except there were so few people they could tell them to.

I am similarly interested today in the story of Indian immigrants to the region. Wherever I go in the West, Indians are running hotels. How do they end up in eastern Oklahoma, central Wyoming, or western North Dakota? What is up with that? Why? Is there some Indian hotel mafia assigning people to these places? How did they get involved in hotel operating to begin with?

Yesterday, I was driving to Albuquerque, where I am spending the holiday. I had just crossed into New Mexico on I-40 and I was getting hungry. I was thinking that another bland Subway veggie sandwich was in the offing. But as I approached the exit for San Jon, New Mexico, I saw a bunch of signs promoting an Indian truck stop. Wondering what on earth this could be, I pulled over. The Indians had closed the gas station, but were running a convenience store/restaurant. Indian food in San Jon, NM!!! What? The entirety of the buildings at this exit are the truck stop and a road maintenance station. I don't think the town really exists anymore. Where these guys are living, I do not know. Tucumcari, an isolated place in its own right, is about 20 miles west. Maybe they live there and commute to this god forsaken place on the high plains everyday. But I was absolutely floored by this whole scenario. The food wasn't the best Indian I've ever had, but it was certainly good enough to wish that Indians did this across the country and that I wouldn't have to eat at Subway ever again.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Move Over, Julia Child

You know what cookbooks have been missing for all these years? Lines like this one:

"This dish ain't just called Karate Meat because it's got an Asian kick to it. It's called Karate Meat because it will beat you up like a pigeon in prison."
If that didn't blow your mind, there's plenty more.

Oh, and that's right - Coolio has a cookbook.

Historical Image of the Day

John James Audubon's drawings of the great auk, a bird of the northwest Atlantic hunted to extinction by 1844.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Very Real Economic Effects of George LeMieux's Stupidity

Republican Senator George LeMieux's oh-so-brave, principled stand against Barack Obama's nominee for ambassador to Brazil, is having a negative effect on more than just our diplomatic relations:

Boeing Co. may lose a $7.5 billion jet fighter sale to Brazil unless the U.S. Senate lifts a four- month delay in confirming President Barack Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Latin America’s biggest country, a former top U.S. diplomat to the region said. [...]

“This will cost thousands of U.S. jobs,” said Aronson, who served as top envoy to the region from 1989 to 1993 for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. “It’s an insult to Brazil to tell them they’re not important enough to have an ambassador like so-called advanced countries but that we want them to buy our planes over the French.”

Boeing is working to prevent Dassault from winning a contract that analysts estimate could be valued at as much as 5 billion euros ($7.5 billion). The Chicago-based company delivered its final offer for the F/A-18 Super Hornets in October, after French President Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to Brazil and won a promise from his counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to open exclusive talks to buy Dassault’s Rafale jet.

That's right - because of LeMieux's pigheaded and completely unnecessary stubbornness, the U.S. may lose thousands of jobs when we desperately need some good news in the employment front. Not only that, we would lose those jobs to France, who just a few years back Republicans excoriated because France wouldn't support the Iraq war. Such moments as these often lead to hyperbole, but I'm not so certain that, at this point, calling LeMieux an economic traitor is too far off the mark.

Historical Image of the Day

Herman Moll, "A View of a Stage and Also the Manner of Fishing for, Curing, and Drying Cod at New Found Land," 1720.

Also, this the first time I've ever put up an image from the 1720s oddly enough.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Historical Image of the Day

This week's theme is the Atlantic Ocean in early America. Since I use these images to create a bank for teaching materials, I've been trying to add more pre-1865 themes in recent weeks, which will probably continue for awhile. It's easier to find images in the postwar period and laziness is always tempting, but I'll do this for awhile.

Map from William Bolan's 1764 book The Ancient Right of the English Nation to the American Fishery.

An Argentine-Chilean War?

This certainly would have been interesting had it happened:

The last Argentine dictatorship headed by General Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri had plans to attack Chile following the invasion and recovery of the disputed Falklands/Malvinas Islands in 1982 revealed on Sunday the former chief of the Argentine Air Force at the time, Brigadier Basilio Lami Dozo.
I'm not sure how credible or believable this is. So far as I know, it's the first time any mention of a possible Chilean-Argentine war has ever appeared. Certainly, it's not out of the question. Just because both countries were led by right-wing murderous dictatorships in the late-1970s and early-1980s did not mean that they were always on the same page, and diplomatic tensions flared up at the time over some border disputes. However, Dozo's narrative seems a bit strange (and his constant referring to himself in the third-person doesn't make it any more lucid). Argentina more than had its hands full with the Malvinas/Falklands War, and while the dictatorship definitely thought its victory would be quick and assured in 1982 (something recent primary documents from Brazil that I'd been reading support), I can't imagine why the military would want to then turn around and engage in a trans-Andean war with its neighbor. Again, it's not out of the question, and Dozo makes some vague references to hawkish elements. More documentary evidence (rather than just the claims of one former brigadier general among many generals) would really be helpful in understanding this relatively-unexplored aspect of relations between Southern Cone dictatorships. Still, even if Dozo is just making this up, the idea of the effects of a war between Pinochet and Argentina's dictatorship do offer some tantalizing counterfactual and hypothetical scenarios, even if at the end of the day they mean nothing.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Conservative Lit Crit

This is fantastic


Jason D.B. Kauffman has an excellent piece on grizzly bears leaving the Montana Rockies for the plains to the east and the trouble that is causing with locals. It's going to be awhile before the less than environmentally friendly ranchers of north central Montana get used to this and stop poaching the bears, but it's a good sign overall, both in terms of overall bear populations and in the expansion of the range out of the very marginal habitat of the mountains.

Elk Antler Blogging

Wyoming establishing a season on gathering elk antlers doesn't just smack of big government and their black helicopters, it threatens the civic identity of the town of Afton, home of the world's largest antler arch.

The Conservative Movement and the Progressive Era

Daily Kos has a little piece quoting Glenn Beck:

I’ve done a lot of reading on history in the last few years and I was amazed to find that what we’re experiencing now is really a ticking time bomb that they designed about 100 years ago, beginning in the progressive movement. And they thought, "you know what, if we just do this and this and this and this, over time if we do it in both the Republican and Democratic parties, we will have our socialist utopia." Well, I say again, two can play at that game. I am drafting plans now to bring us back to an America that our founders would understand. ... We need to start thinking like the Chinese. I’m developing a 100-year plan for America. A 100-year plan. We will plant this idea and it will sprout roots.

The original post doesn't emphasize this, but what's interesting to me here is the idea of the Progressive Era as where every thing went wrong. I've seen this repeatedly in right-wing rhetoric in the last decade. Karl Rove read Robert Wiebe's The Search for Order and saw in it the roots of everything he hates about America. In a New Yorker article several years ago, Rove stressed how the Gilded Age was America's golden age and Progressivism started the ball of socialism rolling. Never mind that Progressivism was more connected to the Republican Party than the Democrats and that no one was more important to this movement than Republican hero Theodore Roosevelt. Rove, Beck, and others are happy to trot Roosevelt out every time they want to invade a country of brown people or make spurious claims that the modern Republican Party really cares about the environment, but they want to forget about the regulatory state he helped build.

It seems quite clear that Rove and especially Beck have no real understanding of Progressivism; in fact, I'd bet Beck couldn't even tell you that Roosevelt was a Progressive. And the fact that these people think the Gilded Age was a wonderful time tells you a whole lot about what these people want this nation to become. If anyone knew anything about the Gilded Age, the Republicans would never win another election, but, alas, they don't. In any case, it's interesting to glimpse the conservative view of history and to see where they think everything went wrong.

Oh for the halcyon days of the U.S. military crushing labor strikes, 14 hour days, child labor, cities without sanitation, women ineligible to vote, lynching, no Chinese immigration, and so many other awesome aspects of the late 19th century!

Also, Obamacare is totally part of a century long conspiracy hatched by Jane Addams, Jacob Riis, and Woodrow Wilson.

Bad Days in American History: November 22, 1963

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Texas.

I'm not including this in the bad days series because of the death itself. Sure, its bad when the president gets killed. But I'm not convinced that the assassination of Kennedy was that outstandingly worse than, say, Garfield's killing. It certainly doesn't compare to Lincoln, at least in my point of view. I know the baby boomers would disagree, but then, isn't everything about their own perceptions? Kennedy is a vastly overrated president. Had he lived, he probably would have signed the civil rights legislation Johnson did, though it's unknown whether he would have pressed for it like his successor. His glamorous image disguises the great mediocrity of his policy.

The reason I discuss this is because it is the prime event in the history of one of the most annoying things about this nation--conspiracy theories. From antimasonry to Populism to Roswell to 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and even John Wilkes Booth, Americans love to think there's a vast shadowy conspiracy looking to take down our nation. I can't think of a single time when this sort of thought has led to anything positive. It's particularly embarrassing when famous people on the left engage in this. Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is a prime example of this. While a movie on this topic was worthy, there's enough real things to expose to the public than think about potential conspiracies which probably don't exist.

Frankly, I don't care why JFK was killed in 1963. Oswald was unhinged and was almost certainly working alone. Theoretically, I might be interested in why Jack Ruby killed Oswald, but to begin exploring this is to expose myself to insanity. In any case, I doubt the mob, LBJ, Castro, Hoover, the CIA, or anyone else had anything to do with it.

Historical Image of the Day

Freedom's Journal, an antebellum African-American newspaper, March 16, 1827.

Tyler Durden Says....

This macabre story has been making the rounds this weekend:

A gang in the remote Peruvian jungle has been killing people for their fat, police charged Thursday, draining it from their corpses and offering it on the black market for use in cosmetics. Medical experts expressed skepticism that a major market for fat might exist.

Three suspects have confessed to killing five people for their fat, said Col. Jorge Mejia, chief of Peru's anti-kidnapping police. He said the suspects, two of whom were arrested carrying bottles of liquid fat, told police it was worth $60,000 a gallon ($15,000 a liter).

Mejia said the suspects told police the fat was sold to intermediaries in Lima, the Peruvian capital. While police suspect the fat was sold to cosmetic companies in Europe, he could not confirm any sales.

It only gets weirder after that: 6 of the gang members are still at large; there have been 60 people gone missing in the province this year (the article highlights that the province is also home to drug-trafficking leftist rebels, but I'm not sure if kidnappings are a common practice of that group, or this is convenient scapegoating-by-association).

Really, there's not much one can say to this, though. It's just strange, disturbing, and macabre functioning of the capitalist economy and the commodification of just about everything, I guess.

Quote of the Day

From a student paper about Alexander Hamilton:

"Isn't it the American Dream, that the boy with nothing can grow up to be the oppressor."

I just think that's hilarious. And kind of true.

A Bit Too Far

I'm certainly no defender of idiot sports broadcasters who say offensive things. (We can start with Bob Griese, but there's so many). But I'm not sure this from the Los Angeles Clippers announcers (which is depressing it its own right) really deserved a 1 game suspension:

Smith: "Look who's in."

Lawler: "Hamed Haddadi. Where's he from?"

Smith: "He's the first Iranian to play in the NBA." (Smith pronounced Iranian as "Eye-ranian," a pronunciation that offended the viewer who complained.)

Lawler: "There aren't any Iranian players in the NBA," repeating Smith's mispronunciation.

Smith: "He's the only one."

Lawler: "He's from Iran?"

Smith: "I guess so."

Lawler: "That Iran?"

Smith: "Yes."

Lawler: "The real Iran?"

Smith: "Yes."

Lawler: "Wow. Haddadi that's H-A-D-D-A-D-I."

Smith: "You're sure it's not Borat's older brother?"

Smith: "If they ever make a movie about Haddadi, I'm going to get Sacha Baron Cohen to play the part."

Lawler: "Here's Haddadi. Nice little back-door pass. I guess those Iranians can pass the ball."

Smith: "Especially the post players.

Lawler: "I don't know about their guards."

OK, so these guys are kind of dumb. But I don't see anything overly offensive here. I mean, just because Michael Smith pronounces Iranian like my Dad and about 100 million other people doesn't mean it's offensive. It just means he doesn't know anything about Iran. As for the Borat comment, that's tough--in American popular culture, there's about 2 things people are going to say about this area. One is that they are all terrorists, which is actually offensive and would deserve like a season-long suspension and the other is that they are kind of like Borat. And I don't even know what to say to that.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Historical Image of the Day

Francis Johnson, early African-American musician from Philadelphia and leader of the first American band to ever have an English tour, in 1837. This image is from 1844.

The Annual Protest at the School of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation

Erwin reminds us that today is the day of the annual protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), formerly known as the School of the Americas. The name-change happened back in 2001, when the Bush administration realized the School's name had been associated with some of the worst crimes against humanity in the 20th century in the Americas. Rather than closing the school down or providing a real analysis of possible changes in U.S. policy in the hemisphere, the government opted to simply change the name to the WHISC.

Among the school's more infamous graduates, there is murderous Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, former friend-to-America Manuel Noriega, and Lieutenant Byron Carvajal, a Colombian facing 60 years in prison for murdering ten counternarcotics police in Colombia, as well as many other distinguished men who were involved in torture and murder throughout Latin America. Obviously, if you've been running a center that trained soldiers who raped, tortured, and murdered civilians everywhere from Chile and Argentina up to El Salvador and Guatemala, you would hope a complete shut-down would happen, rather than a simple name-change, but that would be too humane. As a result, the protests continue on an annual basis.

Father Roy Bourgeois, the founder of the group School of Americas Watch (and major protagonist in Leslie Gill's excellent book that looks at the history, ideology, and results of the SOA) has an article up at HuffPo that outlines the recent activities of graduates from the SOA (including one of the leaders in the Honduran coup this year), as well as outlining a quick history of the SOA and the theme of the protests this year (which focus on the 20th anniversary of the murder by armed forces of 6 Jesuits, their cook, and his daughter in El Salvador).

Without a doubt, the School of the Americas is one of the darkest parts of American foreign policy in the 20th century, and the fact that it continues to exist under a lengthy euphemism does nothing to take away from the ugliness of the facts. It's worth learning a little more about the SOA if you haven't already, and contacting your congressperson to ask them why the U.S. continues to support an institution notorious for its training of torturers, rapists, and murderers.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Facial Hair of the Weekend

Continuing the theme of Mexico's political leaders, the moustache (and medals) of Porfirio Diaz, president/dictator of Mexico from 1876 to 1910, when the Mexican Revolution began.

Simmons on 4th and 2

I've waited all week to see what Bill Simmons had to say about Belichick going for it on 4th and 2 at his own 28. And he delivered exactly what I thought he would. Which is also exactly what I think. In part:

So we're saying 55.7 percent, huh? That's the success rate for a road team playing its biggest rival, in a deafeningly loud dome, coming out of a timeout -- a timeout that allowed the defense to get a breather and determine exactly how to stop the obvious five-receiver spread that was coming because the offense's running game sucked -- along with that same defense getting extra fired up because it was being disrespected so egregiously/willfully/blatantly/incomprehensibly. I say lower. By a lot.

Statistics can't capture the uniqueness of a particular moment, and in this case -- with the Pats self-combusting, with a sure victory suddenly slipping away, with the crowd going bonkers, with a fired-up defense gearing up to stop them, with an obvious play looming (a short pass), and with everything happening during a drive that was already so disjointed that they had called two timeouts -- I find it really, really, REALLY hard to believe they would have completed that play 56 times out of 100 times with how they lined up. They spread the field with five receivers, eliminating any chance of a run. The Colts brought pressure -- happily -- ensuring a quick pass and a short field (so Indy's D-backs could hug the line of scrimmage). Given these realities, if you're feeding me "Here's what happened in this situation historically" numbers, shouldn't we be looking at the data for two-point conversions?

After all, this was essentially a two-point pass play. The Patriots went five wide, stuck Tom Brady in the shotgun, shortened the field and tried to find a quick-hit mismatch. Sure sounds like a two-point play. So what's the recent history of teams passing for a two-point conversion on the road? Peter Newmann from ESPN Research crunched those numbers for me.

2009: 9-for-28, .321 (overall); 3-for-10, .300 (road).
2008: 23-for-52, .442 (overall); 13-for-32, .406 (road).
2007: 14-for-38, .368 (overall); 6-for-23, .261 (road).

One other note: The "disrespecting the defense" card doesn't show up in stats. There's no way to measure the collective ability of a defense to raise its game for one play, as the fans shout the team on with every ounce of air in their lungs, while being fueled by a legitimately mind-blowing slight. In postgame interviews, four Colts defensive starters mentioned the words "disrespect" or "disrespected." And they were. We cannot account for this variable, just as we can't account for the difference of trying a fourth-and-2 in a deafening dome versus trying it at home against a lethargic Falcons teams in mid-September. I know it's fun to think stats can settle everything, but they can't, and they don't.

Exactly! The people defending Belichick are doing so in no small part because of a gut feeling that they don't like "conventional wisdom" or whatever. They seem to be primarily left of center politically who are also big baseball fans and spend a lot of time on the internet. This also describes me. But I also think that most of the people who are making these arguments don't watch a lot of football. Or they certainly watch and write about football less than they do baseball and basketball. They think it's an inferior game, in part because its reality doesn't stand up to this kind of statistical analysis.

I watch a LOT of football. Of all the people I know in the world, I would say that I know 1 person who watches more football than me. And that's probably pretty close. Hell, I tune into those Wednesday night MAC games on ESPN, which can actually be pretty entertaining. Football is so situational that while statistical analysis can help you (for instance realizing that going for it on 4th and 2 is a good idea inside the 50 almost all the time), it can't make decisions for you. Going for it against the best quarterback of the decade on the road in the loudest stadium in the league when you are in a mess of a drive and totally confused about what's going on is a terrible idea.

Plus Simmons summons excellent statistical evidence in his own right--the real useful statistics to look at in this situation is not general 4th down percentages, it's going for the 2 point conversion. Because that's what this is--you need 2 yards to win the game. It's for all intents and purposes the same thing.

Historical Image of the Day

Seaman's protection certificate for Samuel Fox, 1854.

Many free African-Americans worked on ships. Because of this, they made up a surprisingly high percentage of the Union Navy during the Civil War.

Republicans Once Again Blocking Obama's Nominee for Ambassador to Brazil

A few weeks back, I wondered if the U.S. was about to finally get its ambassador for Brazil, as Jim DeMint had decided to stop his grandstanding and obstruction on one of the most increasingly important ambassador positions for the U.S. It seemed that things would finally get resolved.

Well, meet Senator George LeMieux, the new Jim Demint:

Shortly after Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) agreed to drop his opposition to President Barack Obama’s nominee for Ambassador to Brazil, interim Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL) decided to pick up where DeMint left off. DeMint had been blocking Thomas Shannon’s nomination over the Obama’s policy on the coup in Honduras; LeMieux, on the other hand, is accusing the former Bush nominee of being soft on Cuba. According to an anonymous Republican aide, LeMieux is delaying Shannon’s confirmation over the role he played in initiating talks with Cuba on migration and direct mail service when he was Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs under the Obama administration.
DeMint's excuses were absolutely risible, but LeMieux's complaints about Shannon make DeMint look like a seasoned veteran of international affairs. Obstruction because of an individual's role in talks over direct mail service to Cuba? Clearly, Shannon is a massive communist threat who cannot take office!!!!!

As Erik has repeatedly said, this is the kind of thing Democrats absolutely need to be broadcasting loud and clear to the American public in order to show how childish, ridiculous, stupid, and hypocritical Republican politicians have become. And while that kind of tactic won't appear with the older generation of Democratic politicians, we can still hope younger and up-and-coming Democrats adopt them.

A Single Random Musical Observation

I've been working on a "best-of-the-decade" list of music for an upcoming post for a while, a feat that I originally thought wouldn't take too long. Yet the more I get into it, the harder it gets, and the difficulty's origin is simple: I underestimated the "oughts." I don't know why I'm surprised, but there was a lot of excellent music made over the past 10 years. To quote Ron Burgundy: "This is hard!" Stay tuned.

A Random Random 10

I hadn't done one of these in a long time, so now seemed as good a time as any.

1. "I Can't Get Started" - Charlie Parker
2. "Cheree" - Suicide
3. "Hold On, Hold On" - Neko Case
4. "Do The Rump" - The Black Keys
5. "Armanar (The Pole Star)" - Muhammad Dammou
6. "Cabocla Jurema/Ponto de Janaina" - Maria Bethânia
7. "Is This It" - The Strokes
8. "The Big Green Serpent" - Miles Davis
9. "Viva a Nau Caterineta!" - Anonymous
10. "Toul al Zeenah [The Length of the Bride's Ornament]" - Omar Souleyman

Thursday, November 19, 2009

James Meredith

James Meredith is famous for integrating the University of Mississippi in 1962. But he was always seen as an odd duck by other members of the civil rights movement. He wasn't really affiliated with any particular group. Instead, he just sort of did random things. His March Against Fear in 1966 was totally unorganized. He just decided to start walking down rural Mississippi roads. He was shot and wounded which forced the movement to hold mass events to denounce violence African-Americans faced in Mississippi. Having a few people like this in your movement is probably a good thing.

But Meredith was always strange. By 1968, he left the movement completely and became a stockbroker. Whatever. But I just found out that he later became a Republican and even worked as a staffer for Jesse Helms!!!!

How very very strange.

Labor Unions' Dirty Secret

No, it's not some trumped up corruption that Republicans like to talk about.

Labor's dirty secrets is that they treat their organizers like shit. Although I hate seeing negative articles about unions in the media, the Times is absolutely right here. The piece focuses on UNITE-HERE using personal details of organizers' lives against them and forcing them to reveal these details in organizing campaigns to gain sympathy from workers. But it goes much deeper than this. Organizers are forced to work 70+ hour weeks for very little pay. There is often little dignity in the job as well; certainly, good treatment from supervisors is unfortunately rare. This is really hypocritical--unions expect their organizers to work in conditions that they would never accept for the workers they are trying to organize. They manipulate these organizers, appealing to their commitment to justice to get them to give superhuman efforts. If this was a rare thing at the end of campaigns, that would be one thing, but it's often a day-to-day occurrence. There is union of union organizers, but it's probably the weakest union in the entire AFL-CIO and any work action on behalf of organizers would be crushed faster than an American textile company can order an organizer in Colombia killed and thrown into the river.

I know of what I speak. My own professional union organizing experience was absolutely horrible. Luckily, I left after a few months. Sadly, it left such a bitter taste in my mouth that I've had trouble committing the time and emotional energy to campaigns ever since because I don't want to take that risk to my emotional and physical health. I feel lame, but it's how I feel.

I love the union movement. It's decline has been sad and has hurt this nation in profound ways. But it'd also be nice if unions treated their own people well. I know this is not universal, but it's common enough.

A Disturbing Legal Position Against Mapuches in Chile

As it nears its end, Michele Bachelet's government in Chile has been remarkably successful. However, it all hasn't been roses, and this is one of the uglier aspects of her four-year administration:

Small groups of Mapuche Indians have so rattled Chile by seizing forests, burning buses and attacking police to demand land and autonomy that the leftist government has turned to dictatorship-era measures to quell the violence.

The government of President Michelle Bachelet is prosecuting Mapuche activists with secret evidence, protected witnesses and other tough aspects of an anti-terrorism law inherited from Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who jailed and tortured Bachelet's father and sent her into exile.

The police crackdown has left a stain on Bachelet's otherwise strong human rights record, with UNICEF, the UN Human Rights Commission and other international organizations expressing concern that elderly people and children are being abused.
Bachelet's response has been that, while she understands the claims of the Mapuches and the centuries of crimes the Chilean state has committed against them, she also has "said nothing justifies the violence, which so far has left four Mapuches dead and 100 convicted or jailed, at least 34 of whom are being tried on terrorism charges."

That may be. But last I checked, the deaths have been Mapuches, and not non-indigenous Chileans or agents of the state. And what is more, even if you don't think "violence" is the proper way for Mapuches to express their discontent, I really don't see how relying on the anti-terrorist laws of an extremely violent and repressive government is the correct response, either. Even if you do think it's the correct response, that doesn't justify attacks on elderly women and children, nor does it justify illegal and unconstitutional searches of Mapuche homes or the violation of basic rights.

Naturally, no president of any country is perfect. As the use of this Pinochet-era dictatorship law and the treatment of the Mapuches indicates, Bachelet's policies on and treatment of Chile's Mapuches may be the darkest stain on her administration.

Object Graveyards

Globalisation and the Environment points us to this great post about object graveyards, i.e., where trash ends up. These are wonderful photos and there are many more over there. The first one, since it might be unclear, are old tanks.

Cliopatria Awards

I'm not going to self-nominate, but if any readers think that this blog is one of the best history blogs on the web or that a particular post from the last year was really great, and you wanted to take the time to nominate us for the Cliopatria Awards for best history blogging, I wouldn't object.

Historical Image of the Day

Juliann Jane Tillman, preacher of A.M.E. Church, Philadelphia, 1844

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book Review: James William Gibson, A Reenchanted World: The Quest for a New Kinship with Nature (2009)

James William Gibson wants us to reconnect with the wild. A fairly constant theme within environmental thought, Gibson treads familiar ground in his 2009 book A Reenchanted World: The Quest for a New Kinship with Nature, even if that ground continues to resonate with many Americans. Gibson believes we have lost touch with the wild around us and that this is a terrible thing. Happily for Gibson, many Americans have rekindled a connection with the wild, making the human race better for it.

Gibson calls enchantment with the wild the "last utopian dream." Although he avoids discussing the failure of every single other utopian dream the world has ever known or wondering if thinking in these terms is remotely helpful, he does point out interesting ways people are acting upon this dream--though getting in touch (literally touching) wild animals. Through worshiping Gaia and other earth-based religions. Through taking in wild animals as pets. Through the creation of wilderness areas and protections for wildlife. And through defending the Earth as members of EarthFirst! or the Earth Liberation Front.

While Gibson may be right that humans need connections (or at the least possibility of connections) with the wild, he also falls into the bottomless pits that sabotages many authors who make these arguments. First of all, he falls into the age old trap of white environmental writers--the Ecological Indian. For Gibson, Native Americans have a special relationship with nature. They are ecologically-minded, rarely waste animals, and are premodern ecologists. He quotes Chief Seattle's speech which is partially about the relation of Native Americans and nature, but fails to note that the speech was probably written by a U.S. Army officer. He quotes Luther Standing Bear, Lame Deer, and other Native Americans uncritically, simply taking their word about indigenous relations to nature. If he's read Shepherd Krech's The Ecological Indian, which takes a critical look at these myths, he doesn't show it. For Gibson, as for so many white environmentalists, Native Americans are everything whites are not. The problem with this is not only is it ahistorical, but it takes agency away from Native Americans to act in a wide variety of ways toward the land, much as whites do.

Gibson's support of touching wild animals as a transcendent experience is also problematic. Touching wild animals is almost always a very bad thing for those animals. Distance between humans and most animals is always better for those animals. Petting deer only tames them. Taking boats to see whales in the Gulf of California harasses the whales, possibly hurting their reproduction. Gibson thinks "animals speak to us." But as Werner Herzog notes in "Grizzly Man," the bear's eyes show nothing but indifference. Rather, people are reading into animals whatever they want to read into them. Animals are blank slates that we can impose our own values upon. People want to see them as wild and spiritual, so they do. The animals are just trying to eat and reproduce and build enough fat to get through the winter. In his favor, Gibson does see the need for limits, criticizing Timothy Treadwell for crossing the line and trying to become a bear.

Gibson's embracing of so-called "ecowarriors" is also fraught with problems. While one might argue that these radical organizations have brought attention to major problems and that they certainly act on their beliefs, as a scholar of working-class environmentalism, it's hard to respect these groups. Spiking trees that seriously injure woodworkers when they are manufacturing timber is not a way to protect nature--it's a way to kill someone. Sitting in a tree for 2 years so it doesn't get cut down rarely saves the tree. Personally, I think calling people who burn SUV lots "terrorists" is totally absurd, but these actions are counterproductive to say the least.

This gets to the crux of the major problem with Gibson's book--there is no room in his culture of enchantment for working-class people. Possibly if you are a person of color, particularly a Native American, you can be enchanted too, but only if you embrace the poverty of your people. This is a white middle-class movement and has been from its beginning. You can embrace Edward Abbey if you want, but you also need to point out that he was a horrible racist who hated Mexicans. The two sides of him are not unrelated and neither are the long-term class and race tensions within environmentalism. What can poor people take from this book that fits with their lives? Absolutely nothing.

Moreover, Gibson actually plays right along with the racial problems of environmentalism. He spends much of the second half of the book talking about some of the problems with the culture of enchantment. Most of this discussion isn't particularly helpful. He discusses exurban development, but stops far short of suggesting people shouldn't live in these places. He blames Republicans for all sorts of things, but there's nothing new here at all. I think we all know Republicans suck on the environment. He could ask why Republicans have controlled the debate on these issues for the last three decades, but does not, though he does note that it is beginning to change for the better, particularly within the evangelical movement. He also goes on to blame Native Americans for gaming. He laments that they are no longer the universal symbol of enchantment. This is a real loss for Gibson. But this is a good thing!!! While gaming has brought a new set of problems to reservations, it also has given Native Americans steady income for the first time since the arrival of whites. Gibson admits the poverty of Native Americans without gaming, but offers not a single useful suggestion. He doesn't realize that perhaps Native Americans as symbol of enchantment is nothing more than a symbol, completely unconnected from reality. He stops short of saying that new Indians aren't really Indians at all because they don't act toward nature like white environmentalists think they should, which many people have in fact said. But he's clearly sympathetic to this view.

Books like A Reenchanted World represent much of what alienates many Americans from environmentalism. While lots of people like hiking and getting into the wild, you aren't going to build environmental policy on Gaia, the Earth Liberation Front, touching bears, or criticizing Native American gaming. That's just going to alienate people. I don't think these ideas can help build a strong environmental movement. I feel compelled to review books such as this because of their currency within environmentalism. Gibson writes about important touchstones within radical environmentalism, but rather than critiquing them, he embraces them. Rather than find ways to create good environmental policy, he puts his faith in the tenets of radical environmentalism. I just don't see how this helps us build a better world in any way.

Images from Bolivia's Constitutional Referendum

Earlier this year, Bolivia passed a new constitution, and as Erik commented at the time, "The indigenous majority again flexed their political muscle, taking control of the nation from the eastern whites who had oppressed them for the last 450 years."

This week, I came upon some excellent photographs from the vote, originally put up online in February. They're a powerful visual example both of the support Morales does have (in spite of rhetoric from the whiter eastern Bolivian elites who hate Morales with a passion). They really capture the atmosphere of some of the vote on a new constitution in ways that no article or printed word could, and are worth checking out. Above is just one photo, but I encourage you to look at the entire collection.

Bad Days in American History: November 18, 1978

On this date 31 years ago, 909 people committed mass suicide at Jim Jones' compound in Guyana.

Any time 900 people die from one cause, it's a bad day. But I think this is an especially bad day because it represents some of the worst trends in American culture--religious extremism, mass violence, apocalyptic messaging. Those consistent threads in our history were exacerbated by the late 1960s and 1970s--too many drugs, too much instability, too many people thinking they needed to find themselves. Jones was hardly the only manifestation of someone taking advantage of this. Any number of gurus in the 60s and 70s popped up, some of which caused problems well into the 80s, such as the Baghwan Shree Rajneesh, who took over an Oregon town and starting trying to kill local residents when the government began cracking down.

I see Jim Jones, Rajneesh, Manson, and so many of these other lunatics as shining symbols of what I call The Worst Generation. The Worst Generation talks all about The Greatest Generation, but it's not that the WWII generation were that great, it's that the baby boomers were so terrible. It's been all about them since the 1950s and continues to be today. Their concerns trump all others, including national problems. Their constant search for who they are led to all sorts of annoying things during these years--37 minute Jerry Garcia solos, communes in New Mexico, the New Age movement, Hare Krishnas' Jim Jones. And then later, deciding to make money and going to Wall Street, buying huge mountaintop mansions in Colorado ruining views for everyone, voting in Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, and George W. Bush, bankrupting the country for their own desires, etc., etc.

Perhaps I overstate the case. But I think it's a reasonable outline of the history of the last 40 years.

As for Jones in particular, he was a real interesting dude. Former commie, was hauled in front of the Senate during McCarthyism to answer about his politics, including his mother's friendship with Paul Robeson. He was freaked out, like a lot of other people, about the seeming inevitable coming nuclear holocaust, which is what led him to South America in the first place. He worked in the civil rights movement in Indiana, helping accomplish a lot of integrationist goals. He and his wife were the first white couple in Indiana to adopt a black child, in 1961. Later in the 60s, he began his cult, moving to San Francisco in the 70s, where his supporters helped elect San Francisco Mayor George Moscone (boy, that was left out of the film biography of Harvey Milk!). In fact, let me quote his Wikipedia page here--I know it's Wikipedia, but this stuff is pretty well cited.

In September 1976, Willie Brown served as master of ceremonies at a large testimonial dinner for Jones attended by Governor Jerry Brown and Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally and other political figures.[46] At that dinner, while introducing Jones, Willie Brown stated "Let me present to you what you should see every day when you look in the mirror in the early morning hours ... Let me present to you a combination of Martin King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein ... Chairman Mao."[47] Harvey Milk, who spoke at political rallies at the Temple,[48] and wrote to Jones after a visit to the Temple: "Rev Jim, It may take me many a day to come back down from the high that I reach today. I found something dear today. I found a sense of being that makes up for all the hours and energy placed in a fight. I found what you wanted me to find. I shall be back. For I can never leave."[49][50]

Well, that's pretty interesting! Wonder what Willie Brown would say to that now?

By 1977, it was all falling apart, as Jones' cult of personality had led to accusations of sexual abuse and tax evasion. He and many followers fled to Guyana. The next year, California congressman Leo Ryan went to Jonestown to investigate human rights abuses. He found plenty alright, but Jones had him killed before he left for the U.S. Seeing the end was near, he had everyone kill themselves.

Interestingly, three of Jones' adopted children survived because they were playing for the Jonestown basketball team against the Guyana national team at the time of the suicides.

The Ambivalence of the Democratic Party

Jeffrey Toobin gets to the heart of the Democratic Party when it comes to fighting the Stupak Amendment.

The President is pro-choice, and he has signalled some misgivings about the Stupak amendment. But, like many modern pro-choice Democrats, he has worked so hard to be respectful of his opponents on this issue that he sometimes seems to cede them the moral high ground. In his book “The Audacity of Hope,” he describes the “undeniably difficult issue of abortion” and ponders “the middle-aged feminist who still mourns her abortion.” Elsewhere, he announces, “Abortion vexes.” The opponents of abortion aren’t vexed—they are mobilized, focussed, and driven to succeed. The Catholic bishops took the lead in pushing for the Stupak amendment, and they squeezed legislators in a way that would do any K Street lobbyist proud. (One never sees that kind of effort on behalf of other aspects of Catholic teaching, like opposition to the death penalty.) Meanwhile, the pro-choice forces temporized. But, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed not long ago, abortion rights “center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.” Every diminishment of that right diminishes women. With stakes of such magnitude, it is wise to weigh carefully the difference between compromise and surrender.

I completely agree here, but I'd go a bit further. I think these apologetic and therefore weak arguments of Democrats apply to all of liberalism. Republicans have held the rhetorical high ground since the late 1970s. They continue to do so today despite the upsurge of progressive rhetoric between 2006 and early 2009 because leading Democratic politicians came of age in a Republican dominated period. They constantly fear conservative backlash, think (perhaps correctly though I don't think so) that they need corporate funding to survive, and therefore fear defending their beliefs. Obama is unique in that he recognized the progressive uprising and used it to his advantage, but his governing style very much reflects typical Democratic unwillingness to yell as loud and organize as intensely as Republicans for his values.

The antidote to this is actively defending abortion, health care, the environment, the welfare state, and every other lynchpin of modern liberalism. We should never apologize for abortion. We shouldn't say that we want to make it rare. Instead, we should stand on the rooftops and shout to the world that abortion needs to be legal, accessible, and without moral approbation. We are losing the abortion battle. There's no question that Obama will sign a health care bill that contains the Stupak Amendment. I'm not sure whether he should or not if it comes to it, but what's disturbing is that such language would be in the bill in the first place.

Historical Image of the Day

Copy of speech by Prince Hall, founder of African-American Masonic Order, 1797

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Great Plains National Park

This article at has endorsed one of the best environmental ideas floating in the universe--creating a national preserve on the Great Plains that would have free-roaming bison and other native species. Coined "the buffalo commons" by Frank and Deborah Popper twenty years ago, this idea has great potential to revitalize the economy and environment of the western Plains. When the Poppers first floated the idea, the reaction against was fierce, but the economy of the Plains is even worse now than in 1980. Depopulation has continued. There are several large counties in western Nebraska for instance with less than 1000 people apiece. If this land is used for anything these days, it's usually dryland grazing, though there is some oil and natural gas exploration and some areas have become centers of meat processing plants.

Desperate for some kind of economic growth, Plains states are starting to revisit the buffalo commons idea. Talking about Kansas, here's what the site says:

There are numerous arguments in favor of this plan:

•Kansas is vastly underrepresented in national parkland, and can accurately be considered parkland poor today.

•The prairie is the greatest long-term carbon sequestration landscape available, as the grasses take carbon from the atmosphere and bury it deep in the ground, where it stays to nurture plant growth.

•A new national park would attract tourists. Europeans, in love with the romance of the American West, would be drawn to it, as would other international visitors and Americans. Parks of similar size and remoteness in Texas and North Dakota attract at least 300,000 visitors a year. With the central location of Kansas, it has the potential to attract more.

•Tourism could grow into a lifeline for surrounding counties, all of which are struggling to find ways to keep native sons and daughters at home, but have largely failed to build enough industry or create enough jobs.

•Grasslands are the world’s most endangered ecosystem, and re-establishing a large patch is important to America’s natural and cultural heritage.

Buffalo Commons is an idea whose time has come.

As Walt Whitman explained more than 100 years ago: “While I know the standard claim is that Yosemite, Niagara Falls, the Upper Yellowstone and the like afford the greatest natural shows, I am not so sure but the prairies and plains, while less stunning at first sight, last longer, fill the esthetic sense fuller, precede all the rest, and make North America’s characteristic landscape.”

All of these arguments make a great deal of sense, both economically and aesthetically. Moreover, the intelligent commentators at Ralph Maugham's Wildlife News offer positive suggestions on how to best manage this land, including making it a National Wildlife Refuge rather than a National Park, which would create a different mission to manage it. Another person suggested allowing limited hunting out here--I'd bet a lot of people would be pretty excited to kill a bison, and allowing them to roam fairly free would create very large herds where this could happen.

Let's face it--the prairie and its wildlife is the only way these states are going to attract tourists. There are a few very small places where this already exists--Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in eastern Kansas--and they are very cool places that have helped keep local economies going. The TR Park is far and away the top tourist attraction in North Dakota. It basically keeps entire towns alive. Some of this tourism is Roosevelt related and some of it is nature related; combined it is the long-term economic engine of southwestern North Dakota. Buying up available lands is the best way to start doing this--you don't want to use eminent domain, but there's a lot of people looking to sell voluntarily. Offer them a good price and you'll see these parks develop pretty quickly.


Tom Harkin is threatening to actually force the Republicans to filibuster. Yglesias says its too hard:

I’ll believe this when I see it. Breaking a filibuster via attrition is more difficult than is generally realized. The minority needs to have at least one guy available at all times to hold the floor and keep talking. The majority, meanwhile, needs to have basically all its guys on hand at all times. Otherwise, the minority can “note the absence of a quorum” and everything stops until everyone can be dragged into the chamber. It’s a bigger pain, in other words, for the majority than for the minority which is why you generally don’t see it attempted.

Of course it's a bigger pain. Who cares! This is why you are a Senator!!! Is it going to suck to sit there at 2 am to listen to Tom Coburn blather on? Of course it is. But it's also going to focus the nation's attention on Republican obstructionism. Choose a popular bill and go for it. Something to do with veterans' affairs would be a great choice. I guess the Democrats would rather spend time fundraising than actually getting legislation passed. Bring some cots into the chamber and sleep there for Christ's sake.

Moreover, is there any questions Republicans would go to the mat to stop Democratic filibusters? Why are Democrats always weaker?

Where Your Tuition Money Goes

Or, why universities are falling apart.

This graph is from Richard Evans' excellent piece on spending in the University of California higher education system.

If you want to know where your tuition dollars are going, the answer is not to the faculty. It's for nonessential missions of the university, including constructing fancy new buildings, amenities to attract students, and especially to creating administrative positions.

Via Edge of the American West


There's been an unusual amount of discussion this year about whether football teams should punt on 4th and short situations. As intelligence has finally invaded the sports realm, people have increasingly criticized received wisdom. This first happened in baseball and increasingly we are seeing it in basketball as well. This kind of analysis is still in its infancy with football. Just this year, we've seen these discussions of punting. The odds show that your chances of getting a 1st down on 4th and short are quite good and give you a better chance of winning than punting in these situations.

Bill Belichick has evidently been listening, because he went for it on 4th and 2 on his own 28 against the Colts. He failed and the Colts won. Now, maybe the Colts would have won had the Patriots punted. But giving the ball to Peyton Manning inside the 30 is basically a guaranteed loss. People are defending Belichick's call, but they are wrong. The problem that statistical analysis has with football is that each game is too important to take the chance. There are 162 games in baseball and 82 in basketball. If you play the odds when they go against conventional wisdom, you might lose, but in the long run you will win more often. That's not acceptable in a 16 game football season. 1 game means a lot. It might mean making the playoffs, it might be a home playoff game. In this case, it basically eliminates any chance the Patriots of hosting the AFC Championship game, which may well come against the Colts. Failing to make it on 4th and 2 was a total disaster for the Patriots, one that might change the season.

I'm all for statistical analysis, but football is a different animal and the context of going against the grain has to be much more central to this kind of analysis. There was no excusing Belichick's decision, arguably the worst of his coaching career.

Historical Image of the Day

Manumission papers of America Barnett, Cincinnati, OH, 1859

Monday, November 16, 2009

Historical Image of the Day

This week's images are dedicated to African-Americans before the Civil War who were not in slavery.

Martha Ricks, early emigrant to Liberia, late in life.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Historical Image of the Day

The General Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts Colony, revised version, 1672

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Historical Image of the Day

John Winthrop, leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

You Got the Wrong Thatcher, There

This is too funny:

A misconstrued text message announcing the passing of a beloved pet has sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity in Canada. Transport Minister John Baird sent a message reading: “Thatcher has died”.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper was soon informed that 84-year-old former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had passed away.

But it was actually Mr Baird's beloved cat, named after his political heroine, who had died.

I'd feel worse for Baird, but if you're political heroine is Margaret Thatcher, it's hard to ratchet up the sympathy guage very far.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Facial Hair of the Weekend

This is the first in a series of Mexican political leaders from the 19th and early-20th century and their facial hair. This weekend: Emperor Maximilian I, the Austrian emperor of the short-lived Second Mexican Empire (1864-1867), and his awesome sideburns/beard combo.

Historical Image of the Day

Cotton Mather, son of Increase, and leading Puritan minister in Massachusetts.