Thursday, September 25, 2003
Shariah for Andrew Fastow and Ken Lay. Last night on The World Today there was a two-way with a reporter about the acquital of Amina Lawal, the woman who was just spared death by stoning in Liberia for extra-marital sex. It isn't in this BBC online report, but the reporter last night (or, in Europe, yesterday morning) argued that in the states with Shariah now there is growing resentment that harsh penalties are only given to the poor. Why, people asked, for instance, were the only theives whose hands were cut off those who stole goats, not those who systematically stole money from the Nigerian people through governmental corruption?

That got me thinking: perhaps we should institute hand-removal as punishment for cases of extreme theft by white-collar criminals. Imagine if embezzlers and book-cookers like Fastow and Lay were threatened not by a few months in a country-club "prison" but with losing a hand. It makes me grin just to think about it.
Notes from the hurricane, part 1. My August archives aren't working right now for some reason, but you at some point last month I wrote about whether we as modern historians can ever recreate that past by depriving ourselves of modern conveniences. This post was encouraged by a post on Historiological Notes (although her archives are bloggered, too) that was in turn sparked by the big black out last month, but it was based largely on a conversation I had in January when visiting snowy Brattleboro, Vermont. There, I was struck by the silence that surrounded me while outside, and I wondered if my sence of silence when confronted by a lack of the noise of modernity was noticing an absence (of noise) or a presence (of silence). I concluded that the feeling I had was of difference--it was quieter that I was used to, and I was noticing the absence; the pre-modern would not have noticed the difference, because he (or she) wasn't used to the noise of modernity.

That's certainly true of the darkness that confronted me the night of Hurricane Isabel. I drove home at around one in the morning the night between Thursday and Friday, when the worst of the storm was over in DC but it was still windy. (More about that drive in a later post.) In some places, where the lights were out, it was darker than DC ever is. The sky was also darker than usual, although with the lights still on in some places, notably downtown, there was still a lot of light pollution. I suspect that what I was noticing, though, was absence (of normal night light) rather than presence (of darkness). Again, not valid for trying to understand the experience of the past.

But when went inside and up to bed, I did so by the light of two or three candles. And it was really dark. Reading by the light of a few candles is, as I discovered over the next week, really hard. And having more than a few candles makes the room hot and smelly, and, when you extinguish them, smokey. Surely the dark I experienced trying to read by candle light isn't different from that experienced by the pre-modern reading. The sort of difficulty I had reading over the past week, the push to get as much done during daylight hours, the spoilage of food not consumed quickly--all that must have been similar to the experience of those in the past.

I was reminded of a book I read this summer, Electric City, by Harold L. Platt. Platt argues that as technology improved and became brighter (candles to gas lights, gas lights to arc lights, arc lights to incandescent bulbs), consumers demanded more and more brightness. Once they had experienced the brightness offered by the new technologies, there was no going back, and indeed there was a greater demand for new technological breakthroughs.
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Where does Lieberman stand on Yale labor relations? Remember when, just at the start of the Yale strike, Joe Lieberman showed up to lend his support? I was skeptical (archives bloggered) and wrote that it was Lieberman running for senate, not Lieberman running for president. Well, how's this for a twist? The chairman of the board of Yale-New Haven Hospital--the notoriously union-busting, poor-person-exploiting affiliate of Yale where 140 union members just went back to work without a contract, and where 1800 workers are struggling to form a union in the face of employer threats and coersion--is none other than Marvin Lender, Joe Lieberman's national finance co-chair. (And apparently long-time fundraiser.)

What is the supposedly pro-union (at least at Yale) Joe Lieberman doing associating with anti-union Marvin Lender? Does Lieberman's health care proposal include financing through foreclosure on patients' homes?
Where have I been? I'm sure that there are dozens of people feeling bereft because of the absence of posts here in more than a week. What accounts for it? In short, the idiocy of Pepco, the power company here in DC. Thanks to Hurricane Isabel, I didn't have power from last Thursday evening until today at around four. Yes, that's almost a week. So no blogging from me. Anyway, that enforced hiatus made me question once more this entire blogging project. I'm about to go away for two weeks and think I'm unlikely to blog then. A three week absence might break me of the habit entirely--the week without power seems to have broken me of the habit of reading other people's blogs, which is certainly a good thing for getting stuff done. Anyway, I have some posts stored up from the past week or so, which may or may not get written and posted between now and Saturday, when I'm going away. Stay tuned. Or not.
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Pop quiz: How many presidential candidates are Jewish? There's Lieberman, of course. John Kerry's paternal grandparents were Jewish, at least at birth. (They became Catholics.) Denis Kucinich became a vegan because his Jewish girlfriend thought it was the easiest way to keep kosher. (I find that entire story a bit odd, since being vegan is quite obviously not the easiest way of keeping kosher.) Says the girlfriend (who was born in Croatia and lived in Israel as a child): "We have shared most of our holidays, including Passover. He probably knows most of the Haggadah by heart.... He can recite the blessings over the wine and bread." Howard Dean's wife is Jewish, too. Now it turns out (via Protocols) that Wesley Clark's birth father was an Orthodox Jewish lawyer named Benjamin Kanne. When he died, Clark's mother went back to Arkansas and married Mr. Clark, who was Baptist. Little Wesley, his name having already prepared him for a life of Christianity, was raised a Baptist, although he, like Kerry's grandparents, converted to Catholicism while in Vietnam.

Of course, the Forward was gloating about this months ago. (Scroll down.)
Monday, September 15, 2003
Breaking news from Cali. The 9th Circuit ruled that the California recall should be postponed until March, but then delayed its own decision to give time for an appeal to the US Supreme Court. Of course, by the time you see this posting, you've probably already learned that.
Thanks to rawblogXport for the link.
Sunday, September 14, 2003
Israel and India. This is somewhat old news, I know, but I don't usually spend a lot of time reading Protocols. Someone came here from there today, so I thought I'd take a look, and found this interesting post about the problems with Israel's growing alliance with India. On (to me, at least) a less serious note, there's a post about talking during services, and then a response.
Anarchism and historic preservation. I haven't yet read the article Chris recommends (although I plan to in the morning). For now I'll just repeat what he says on Crooked Timber: That it was anarchist Colin Ward who coined the term "heritage industry."
This is just what we should be trying to avoid. The CBC reports: "Two Muslim clerics from Toronto want the United States to apologize for holding them in Florida on Thursday – the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. And the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) was so offended by the treatment of the two men that it is advising Muslims not to travel to the United States."
Report from New Haven. This'll be short; I'm thinking about writing something more formal and longer, perhaps for publication somewhere, so I don't want to spend a lot of time doing it here only to have to redo it. Coverage is, as always, well linked to at YaleInsider, here and here [UPDATE: and more on Monday]. The highlight of coverage, I think, is a from NPR Saturday night, which reported 10,000 protesters and included part of a remarkably patronizing interview with Rick Levin. In contrast, the Times' Steven Greenhouse seems to have decided that the administration is right, and his reports grow more frustrating to read each day.

Numbers range from 5,000 to "more than 10,000." I'd wager it was closer to 5,000, but if the police want to say 10,000, who am I to argue. For those of you who know New Haven, this may descibe the numbers: I was about halfway down the march, walking clockwise around campus from the Green down College Street to the Hospital and then back down York. We were walking perhaps five abrest, or whatever typical protest march width is. When I crossed the College Street overpass over the Oak Street Connector, I could see marchers walking back on York Street. For those of you who don't know New Haven, a rough translation: really, really big. Those numbers, impressive by themselves, are made more impressive by the short notice: most cities were asked to organize contingents a week ago. That means four to ten thousand people coming in from out of town on one week's notice or less.

Clearly the most amazing parts of the day were the extraordinary solidarity shown by the labor and student movements from around the country, and the replacement workers. I was on a bus with 31 activists--students and workers--coming up from DC. Buses came from Boston, Philadelphia, New York and possibly elsewhere. Thousands from UNITE, and perhaps as many Carpenters, and hundreds more from 1199 (heath care workers in New York and Connecticut), other SEIU locals, and HERE from around the region. I saw UAW, AFSCME, OPEIU, CWA, Teamsters, and probably others. And these weren't just union staff (although they were there, too)--members came, members got arrested. I am simply amazed by the fact that workers got arrested to help strikers from a different union. UNITE organizers in particular have lots to be proud of. Equally impressive (and this doesn't really make it into the papers) was the turnout from the student movement, which brought people in from around the region--buses and buses full. Toward the end of the day, all the union presidents there--plus some key student leaders--all clasped hands and got arrested together. I wonder when was the last time John Sweeney and Doug McCarron held hands. This picture doesn't capture the size of the crowd, but it does capture some of the diversity of unions. (In this picture, I see AFSCME, Carptenters, HERE 100, HERE 6, 1199, and UNITE. It should say something that it's only some of the diversity.) (Other pictures at Boston IndyMedia and Yahoo.)

The second amazing part of the day I only heard second-hand. As I discussed before, Yale was playing the part of 19th century factory owner by trying to pit New Haven's Latino and black communities against each other. The unions handled that beautifully, and the episode blew up in the administration's face--on Friday, at least 13 of the replacement workers walked off the job and onto the picket line. Saying they didn't want to be treated like slaves (their words!), they decided they wanted union protection too. They were welcomed with boisterous cheers, I'm told, when they made an appearance on Saturday. Yale's response? Threaten to fire any undocumented workers. Somebody doesn't get it.

Speaking of not getting it, Ethan Hutt, a history major, gave this beauty to the Boston Gobe as he watched the march:
"It's much ado about nothing. It's a lot of sound and fury. I think they're getting a pretty good deal." He may get Shakespeare (twice!), but he clearly doesn't get the fact that this, like all fights at Yale, is about power: in this case, the power of workers to decide under what conditions they will work, and the power to demand the right to retire in dignity.

Happily, one thing I learned from going up on Saturday is that many students do get it. You won't get this from the news accounts, because they focus on the arrests of the union presidents. Given what I had heard from my friends among the student strike support folks, I was expecting low Yale undergrad turnout. Not so. I'd estimate more than a hundred, perhaps two hundred (although I admit that I don't necessarily know who was a Yale student and who came in from out of town). More students who didn't march gave positive gestures from the sidewalks or from their college windows. As one student explained to me, when Yale kids are forced to choose, most of them know which side is right.

One usually skeptical student supporter told me it was the first time since the strike started that she could sense a coming victory.

Want to get involved? Unions are planning actions around the country at the homes, offices, and clubs of Yale Corporation members (ie trustees). Contact me, especially if you're an alum.
Thursday, September 11, 2003
More bad news for Gephardt. As is well known, Dick Gephardt's plan for getting the Democratic nomination rests on getting labor support. So he got more bad news when SEIU decided not to endorse anyone yet. Says the AP, the one al reason was that the union (the country's largest and fastest growing) didn't make a move is that they can wait to see if Clark is going to run. But any delay is really about Gephardt. Unions owe a lot of Gephardt, so they're squeamish about endorsing anyone else. But Gephardt hasn't raised enough money and doesn't look likely to win. So the trick is to wait until he drops out.

Dean knows that any delay in union nominations is just more bad news for Gephardt--and thus good news for him. That's why he made a point of targeting Andy Stern, as the Washington Post reported. This is also the gist of a Thursday piece in the Globe, which also reports that AFSCME, the second biggest union, is also delaying its decision.

The "surprise" coming out of the SEIU were the three named finalists--Gephardt, Dean, and Edwards. Everyone expected Kerry would round out the top three. But as I reported a month ago, Edwards does well in front of union audiences. I'd be surprised if he wins any major union endorsements, but I can't claim to be surprised that he's in the top three. Also, don't forget one of Andy Stern's criteria for endorsing a candidate: that he can "hang" with workers. That's always been a problem for Kerry.
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Solidarity Saturday. National unions and the AFL are going all out this Saturday to show support for striking Yale workers. This weekend, thousands of people will converge on New Haven to tell Yale to settle a decent contract. Buses are coming in from New York, Boston, and DC, bringing in union members and students. (For people interested in joining the convoy, I've put at the bottom of this post information about getting onto the buses. Others, especially Yale alumni, can email me if they want more details.)

The march is a nice gesture. But what's interesting is which unions are involved. According to today's union email, SEIU, the Carpenters, and the Laborers have donated so much to the strike fund that basic strike pay will go from $150 a week to $250 a week. Still not riches--and it still means that being on strike sucks--but it shows remarkable generosity and solidarity. Leading Saturday's march will be AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, UNITE President Bruce Raynor, SEIU President Andy Stern, Laborers' President Terry O'Sullivan, Carpenters' President Doug McCarron, and of course HERE President John Wilhelm. That list sound familiar? It should. It's the same group that has been featured recently preparing for a power struggle within the AFL. It's pretty interesting to see them not only fighting within the AFL to force a progressive shift to more organizing, but also supporting each other in their local fights. A while ago, in a different context, I argued that the Yale strike wasn't important nationally. I think I want to take that back now, at least partially. The Yale strike still doesn't matter that much for national presidential elections, the way the threatened GE or Verizon strikes would have. It's not a national strike, and the issues aren't national issues. But it's important internally to the future of the labor movement. John Wilhelm (Yale '67) is very personally tied to the Yale unions, because that's where he first made his reputation, and he still plays an important role there. A success at Yale will be a success for Wilhelm, and potentially a defeat at Yale could mean a defeat for Wilhelm as a successor to John Sweeney. The progressive wing of the labor movement needs a victory at Yale.

That's a different argument from the one that ill-informed underclassmen and misinforming administration p.r. hacks are making. The strike didn't happen because Wilhelm has a vendetta against Yale, and it didn't happen to further Wilhelm's career. Wilhelm's career would be better suited if he could have won without a strike the way the unions at GE and Verizon did this summer. (And, indeed, the reason that this strike is happening now, rather than when the contracts expired in the winter of 2002 is that the unions wasted two years believing they could win without a strike.) Strikes happen because the rank and file, on the ground workers get fed up and realize they have to use their most serious and dangerous weapon to save their jobs and their livelihoods. To believe that irresponsible union leaders mislead their members out on strike is insulting to the rank and file and in simply repeats the same discredited anti-union canard that management has tried to use since the begining of the union movement in this country more than 150 years ago. But now that the strike has happened, its outcome is important to Wilhelm and the side of the labor movement he represents.

Meanwhile back in Dodge... Yale is looking more and more like the sweatshop owners of, say, the 1910s (and employers in other industries earlier and later) who tried to pit workers of one ethnic group against workers of another ethnic group. Yale workers are less than 5% Latino, but a group of Latino clergy in New Haven is now accusing the university administration of using Latinos as scabs and parading them through mostly black picket lines. The usually anti-union New Haven Register reports (via YaleInsider).

Get on the bus!

Partial victory on overtime. The Senate today voted, 54-45, to block the Bush administration's attempt to gut overtime legislation. I urged you to write your senators, and now that the Senate has done the right thing, the issue will move to the House. You can send a free fax to your representative through an AFL-CIO web page. The AFL gives you some boiler-plate language about how families rely on overtime pay to make ends meet, which is a perfectly acceptable argument. I personally prefer the historical argument I made in my first post on the matter.
Sunday, September 07, 2003
Lawrence Ferlinghetti bobblehead. A few weeks ago, I blogged about the Lowell Spinners handing out Jack Kerouac bobbleheads. I now greatly regret not going to the game, because man do I want a Jack Kerouac bobblehead. In their sports comic strip Tank McNamara, Jeff Miller and Bill Hinds riff on the idea. It made me laugh out loud when I read it.
Friday, September 05, 2003
The future of the AFL-CIO. BusinessWeek's Aaron Berstein follows up the American Prospect article about the alliance shaping up in the union world among SEIU, HERE, UNITE, the Carpenters, the Teamsters, and the Laborers. (There's also an accompanying interview with the SEIU's Andy Stern.) Worth mentioning is that to some extent, this is posturing for the 2005 AFL convention--if there's going to be a fight over the future of the federation, Stern et al. want to be sure they get a head start.
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
Fowler's English. One of the joys of being in DC is sitting among my grandfather's books and browsing. He, like I, is a collector of things, an accumulator, and so he has books and papers piled everywhere in his house. In August, when I last visited, I noticed he had a copy of Fowler's Modern English Usage--the 1950 US edition, that is, the one that Fowler actually wrote. I admit that it's only moderately useful for my own righting, since much of the advice is a bit out of date. For instance, Fowler pens a vehement defense of the terms "authoress", "Jewess", "murderess" and the like, advice that I think nearly no one would follow now except to be deliberately perverse. Fowler was, no doubt, an old-fashioned, conservative, English fuddy-duddy. He is more rule-bound that I believe writing need be, and if you really followed all his advice, people would be so distracted by how old-fashioned you sounded that you'd barely be able to make your argument. But he writes so damn well. He's clever, he's erudite, he's brutal. Of course, his erudition is a bit ironic when he gives advice such as this (s.v. French words): "Display of superior knowledge is as great a vulgarity as display of superior wealth--greater, indeed, inasmuch as knowledge should tend more definitely than wealth thowards discretion & good manners."
More on the future of the blog. Below, I suggested that this blog might soon die. I'm still a bit ambivalent about its future, as I have been since I discovered that if you google me, this site now comes up first. In retrospect, I think I'd be happier if this were a pseudanoymous blog. Also, after reading Crooked Timber and Nathan Newman, I realize I don't really that much to say that isn't said better elsewhere. I thought I was doing a good job covering potential labor political nominations, for instance, but really Nathan does a much better job at blogging about labor. Also, my changed internet access now that I've moved to DC changes my attitude about blogging.

So, I invite you to advise me about what I should do. (Besides, I've always wanted to emulate the Invisible Adjuct and make one of these polls.)

Feel free to email me words of abuse or encouragement if you don't like the poll.

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