Sunday, December 28, 2003
Key moments in history. Crooked Timber's Eszter describes a Hungarian play that depicts, through wordless dance, the key moments of post-Trianon Hungarian history. It's a fun game to see which eight scenes you'd pick for a play about the history of X country.
What famous ancient historian am I? (Via Protocols, of course, since that's apparently the only blog I read anymore. Which I find odd, but not enough to comment beyond this paragraph about it.)

You're Thucydides! The "historian's
historian," you wrote about The Great War
between Athens and Sparta (the Peloponnesian
War), and you also made fun of Herodotus, your
predecessor. Born in Athens in the mid-Fifth
Century BCE, you served your country during the
war ... but had the ill-luck to be pitted
against the wily Brasidas of Sparta and lost,
and were eventually exiled from Athens ...
which left you rather sore. You strove for
accuracy but loved to invent torturous
speeches, and your history is deceptive.
You're candid, but not impartial. You survived
the infamous Athenian plague during the early
years of the war, but died before you could
complete your history. Many have emulated you,
including Tacitus.

What famous ancient historian are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

The first time I took the quiz, I was Herodotus.

Friday, December 26, 2003
Yes indeed. It's a funny country you've moved to, Luke.
How to ensure workplace safety. There is, if I may say so myself, a particularly clever letter in the New York Times on Friday about how to help make sure that workers aren't killed on the job. (Scroll down to the penultimate letter.) The first letter in that bunch has another, perhaps better suggestion: unionization. This is true for a number of reasons. First, unions can and do bargain for better, safer working conditions. Second, as Jordan at Confined Space has pointed out, what's really needed, other than enforcement of current safely laws, is for workers to have the enforced right to say, without fear of reprisal, that they won't work in unsafe conditions. And, again as Jordan said, only workers who have a union behind them can really feel comfortable standing up to bosses that way.

U.S. law is a sham when it comes to protecting workers' rights. Workers can't face reprisals for union activity, but the law is so weak about punishing employers who violate the law that it becomes meaningless. Employers aren't allowed to punish workers who make EEO complaints either, yet there's chronic underreporting because employees feer retribution. Even were a law in place that allowed workers to say, "No, I'm not willing to do that, it's too unsafe," it would require vigilance and enforcement to make sure that workers felt secure protecting their own safety. Failing the passage and enforcement of law, a union contract can provide some of that security. Of course, it get a union contract, workers first need to survive the process, which is notoriously weighted to the employer (see above). Again, it comes back to the need to real, strong laws protecting workers' rights.

I've already done it, but if you're interest was piqued by Barstow's series, let me again suggest a frequent reading of Confined Space.

Thanks to the Yorkshire Ranter for the blogroll link.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
More on Jewish Women Watching. Ami Eden, the national editor of the Forward, posted an article he's written for the paper on JWW. (Link via Protocols.) Unfortunately, it's a rather useless addition to the debate. It discusses only JWW's anonymity and refuses even to mention the actual issues raised by the Greasy Latke Awards.

In contrast, Mobius, at jewschool, actually discusses substance, in a post well worth reading.
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Workplace deaths. If you haven't yet, make sure you read David Barstow's excellent series in the Times this week about workplace deaths. They're here: A Trench Caves In; a Young Worker Is Dead. Is It a Crime? (Sunday); U.S. Rarely Seeks Charges for Deaths in Workplace (Monday); California Leads in Making Employer Pay for Job Deaths (Tuesday). Then, for some excellent commentary, go to Confined Space, a blog devoted to covering issues of workplace health and safety. Jordan comments on the first two articles here, and today's article here.
Monday, December 22, 2003
Nader takes a survey. The Ralph Nader Exploratory Committee is taking a poll about whether Ralph Nader ought to run again this year for president. (Via FirstPrimaryBlog.) I just managed to delete what I told him, so I'll have to summarize. ("And, Harry, what are you hobbies outside summarizing?" "Well, strangling animals, golf, and masturbating.") Basically, I told him not to run. He alienated me by turning the last month of his 2000 campaign into a fight against Al Gore and the Democratic Party, when had claimed he was running to raise issues that had been ignored by the major parties. By stopping raising those issues, he drove away me and lots of other potential voters (I know of some who refused to vote for him because of his conduct in October 2000). It made sense to vote for Nader if you supported the issues he supposedly stood for and Gore didn't; it didn't make sense to vote for Nader as a way of saying "there's no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans," because there was a difference, and everyone knew it. Yet Nader insisted on arguing that all his voters were making that absurd claim. A second reason to support Nader in 2000 was to help build a viable Green Party, which would have strengthened American democracy. But if we trying to build a Strong Green Party, having Nader run a third time isn't going to do that. Parties can't be based on a single person running over and over again--especially when Nader is essentially an outsider, a big named tacked to the top of a party structure in order to gain votes. It's time to step aside and make room for new leadership at the top of the party.

That said, I should make clear that I'm being practical this year. I don't apologize for my Nader vote last time; the electoral college means that I simply did not help elect George Bush. And while, had I lived in a close state, I would have voted for Gore, I understand why people didn't. Simply put, no one knew how bad Bush was going to be. Yes, we knew that he was worse that Gore, but we had no idea that he would be so bad. Now we do, and now it's time to make sure that the Democrats have someone who will beat Bush, and it's time to throw our support behind that person.

UPDATE: I should clarify my link to Repentant Nader Voter. I'm not repentant, for the reasons I state above. But at the same time, I agree with nearly everything they say on their blog. [And yes, as the very frequent among my readers will know, basically this entire post was rewritten after being posted, so it's all technically and update. I urge those frequent readers to be less frequent in their reading, since I don't post that frequently anymore.]
Thursday, December 18, 2003
A diary of a sailor describing the Battle of the Plains of Abraham was auctioned on Thursday at Christie's in New York for US$120,000. The diary was written by one of the first Britons to scale the cliffs and it's never been examined by historians. The CBC reports.
Oral history and racial mixing. In Thursday's Times, Brent Staples has an interesting Editorial Observer column about Strom Thurmond and his black daughter. He writes: "Like most stories of its kind, this one would have died out long ago had it not been carried for nearly a century on the tongues of black South Carolinians, who recognized the story of Strom Thurmond and Essie Mae Washington-Williams's mother as a universal story of black families across the state." He argues that the use of this sort of unofficial history--that is, a counter-narrative told by blacks in an oral tradition that spans many generations--must be used in "official" histories of racial mixing in the United States. "The big lesson for historians in the Hemings-Jefferson case was that the oral histories passed down by slaves and their descendants were more reliable than the official written record. This put historians on notice that they should give the oral tradition more credence, especially when working on issues of interracial intimacy." It raises some questions about historical methodology whose answers I don't know. It turns out, of course, that the oral tradition in the family descended from Sally Hemmings about their origins was correct. Yet even in the face of that evidence I have a difficult time arguing that historians should take at face value the family stories passed on through generations for two-hundred-some years. I mean, my family has passed down through at least three generations that I descend from a Czech-Jewish immigrant to England who performed as the "Strong Man of England" and married a woman whose first husband was run over by a horse-and-carriage. I don't believe a word of it, and even if there's some kernal of truth in it, I don't think a historian of British circuses ought to interview me about my mythical great-great-grandfather. Why, without other proof, should we trust the family stories of the descendants of slaves? Well, because in these two cases, they turn out to be true. The best answer I can give is that historians, when there is a strong oral tradition, ought to take it into account, at least as one of many sources.

NEARLY INSTANT UPDATE: One of the letters in Friday's Times in response to this story raises a point worth thinking about when historians balance "official" (often written) and "unofficial" (often oral) sources. Writes Diana Williams of Cambridge (scroll down): "Indeed, Mr. Thurmond's open, undisguised visits, while governor, to the segregated college his daughter attended testify to his confidence that none of the many black witnesses to such visits could damage his reputation. This contrasts with the efforts he made to ensure that financial assistance to his daughter not be easily traced to him." The written, "official" sources are often based themselves on oral sources--newspaper articles, for instance, based on interviews, or court transcripts or decisions based on testimony. When historians use such sources, we must pay attention to how their authors weighed, or even ignored, their sources. When possible, we should then endeavor to do some correction on the biases of those official sources. In this case, that correction would mean to pay more attention to the black voices that were excised from the official sources.
Greasy Latke Awards. If you're in New York, here's an event for you: Jewish Women Watching will present the Greasy Latke Awards in front of the United Jewish Communities building, 111 Eighth Avenue, on Friday, December 19, at 12 noon. The Greasy Latke Awards "honor" eight leading lights of the organized Jewish community for sexism, homophobia, and dangerous allies. Among the highlights: United Jewish Communities for accepting $1.5 million from Pastor John Hagee, who preaches that gays are going to hell, that abortion is ruining America, and that all Muslims are evil; the Anti-Defamation League for honoring Silvio Berlusconi just weeks after Berlusconi said Mussolini wasn't that bad; and "Jewish Organizations Everywhere" for failing to provide adequate family benefits like paternity leave, daycare, or adoption support.

Too late into the running are the Forward and Jewish Week, both of which refused to run JWW's ad announcing the awards. Poor Abraham Cahan must be spinning in his grave. Imagine the Forward refusing an ad because it criticizes the Jewish community for not living up to those values which the Forward was founded to proclaim. I for one am writing a letter to the Forward to complain.

UPDATE: Protocols' Steven I. Weiss investigates (and quotes in full) Jewish Women Watching's charges of censorship. Jewish Week essentially says, Yes, they just didn't want to run it. The Forward hasn't yet replied, but Stephen promises updates as he receives more information. (And thanks for the link, Elders.)

FURTHER UPDATE: Steven has updated his post with a response from the Forward, which, if you believe it, somewhat complicates the issue. My sense is this: the refusal of Jewish Week and the Forward to run the ad is a distraction (but also potentially a distraction that will engender more publicity), and the real story is the "awards" themselves. That's what will remain, long-term, on the JWW website (the press release about the ads isn't even posted), and that what will, hopefully, change the behavior of some within these institutions.

AND YET ANOTHER UPDATE: JWW has responded to Steven's query, quite convincingly, I think. It's all still on Steven's original post. Also, Forward national editor Ami Eden has a short post on the matter.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
"St. James" and history on the radio. The other night, Soundprint featured a New Zealand-produced program on the Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly, a piece of visionary art usually displayed at the National Museum of American Art here in DC. It's difficult to describe, the Throne--it's basically a room full of furniture wrapped in tin foil--but that hardly does it justice. As the program explains (and as anyone who as been to American Art knows, since it's one of the major attractions there), a DC janitor spent 14 years creating this to prepare for the Millennium. It's quite a testimonial to an individual's religious vision. The program itself is worth a listen (Real Audio), although it raises some irritating questions about history on the radio. The program is essentially a narrator telling the life story of James Hampton, the artist in question. But there's no sourcing, no hint, even, of where the information came from. Given that the Throne wasn't discovered until Hampton's death and, so far as I know, he didn't leave any survivors, a lot of what the narrator tells us in the program is supposition. (Or so I suppose myself--they don't say one way or the other.) Of course, you can't very well expect footnotes in a half-hour radio program: Where would you put them?

Should I care? After all, the story on the radio program was engaging and interesting. Because I grew up in DC, I know the piece of art in question, and so attach the story to an actual artifact, but surely if the entire thing had been fiction, the story would have been no less. For most people, it was effectively fiction, having never seen the Throne. Embellishing the facts for the sake of a story hardly seems like a crime. But at the same time, surely as a historian I ought not be condoning fiction masquerading as truth.

(Speaking of history and theory, by the way, Kristine Brorson has moved her blog to Typepad. It's now as historiologicalnotes.org.)
Friday, December 12, 2003
The Labour Party and the attack on Iraqi labour. Robert Corr, in his blog Mentalspace, posts a follow-up to ongoing blogosphere discussions of the US raid on the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions. (I link to it in the update to the update below, too, but I wanted to highlight it with a post of its own.) He notes the disgraceful response by Peter Hain to a question about the raid when it came up in Commons. Hain brought up, in a complete non sequitor another raid the US conducted on the same day on suspected terrorists, in which two of the detainees were charged with murder. This is, of course, a deliberate smear on the IFTU, implying that they're terrorists when in fact they have nothing at all to do with the raid he discussed. Corr suggests that readers (who should have already demanded an explanation from George Bush) contact Hain to demand that he retract his libel. Corr provides a suggested letter, and urges people to write to Hain through a webform and directly through email at neathoffice@peterhain.org.

Go to it!
Thursday, December 11, 2003
Dean gets NH teachers' union endorsement. It may seem like small potatoes next to Al Gore, say, or SEIU, but today Howard Dean got the endorsement of the New Hampshire NEA--the largest union in New Hampshire. Not only does this further Dean's campaign in New Hampshire (not that he really needs any help at this point, what with a 30-point lead and all), but it certifies his opposition to the disasterous No Child Left Behind policy Bush has imposed on local school districts. Mind you, I don't always support what teachers' unions want to do in schools, but I'll pick the NEA over George Bush any day of the week.
Anglo-Saxon news. I recently got an email telling me about a new blog, Connecting the Dots. It strives to connect news from the US, UK, Australia, and Canada, from a Canadian perspective. The idea is that Canadians can learn from what's happening in other, similar countries. It's an interesting read. Current posts include a piece on call-centers and international out-sourcing, a post on the growing US trend to buy drugs from Canada, and a series (1, 2, 3) on Tony Blair's attempts impose top-up fees.
More on US raid of Iraqi labor union. The original report of the US attack on the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions is suplemented by an article by the Pacific News Service. I encourage any of my readers to participate in the campaign to demand an investigation of the raid. The raid has already be raised in the UK House of Commons, and been condemned by COSATU, the Italian metalworkers' union, the Italian trade union center CGIL, and the Sheffield and Scotland TUC. (Links via LabourStart.)

The response in the blogosphere (in no particular order, except vaguely in order of length of post): Nathan Newman, Tim Dunlop, Electrolite (see also here), Robert Corr, Back Pages, Jordan Barab (see also here), Zagg (see also here), Hellblazer (scroll down), No Right Turn, Atrios, Remain Calm. Juan Cole has commented about Iraqi unions in a different context. Several of the posts make the point that MacArthur saw the development of "free trade unions" (in that instance, "free" denoting a lack of Communist influence) to the development of a democratic Japan. (Just to warn you, many other of those posts are basically just links to the original story.)

Of course, that the Bush administration doesn't see trade unions as integral to democracy shouldn't really take anyone by surprise. After all, yesterday was International Human Rights Day--a day marked by domestic and international condemnations of the rights denied to American workers. Why should we expect this administration's attitude in Iraq to be any different?

UPDATE: More responses from the blogosphere: Mark A. R. Kleiman, Harry Kelber, Southerly Buster (archives broken, though), Magpie, the Yorkshire Ranter, Earthmann (no permalinks), You Will Anyway, more from Robert Corr, American Samizdat, The Truth, Josh Eidelson (and thanks for the link), Xymphora, Mike Davis, Zeecity, Jetcloud (archives broken). The British House of Commons discussed the raid, which the Guardian reported (but see above). Meanwhile, US Labor Against the War condemned the raid (see also here). See also Eric Lee's discussion of this story as lesson in digital international unionism (complete with some nay-saying from me in the comments).
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
US attacks Iraqi labor union. A while ago, Norm Geras derided a socialist newspaper he read, arguing that thanks to the "liberation" of Iraq by the US and UK, Iraqis could now finally form free trade unions. (I'm too lazy to find the actual post, but if someone provides me the link, I'll happily amend this post.) If only that were true. I got the following alert today:

We have just received an urgent appeal from the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions which we feel needs to be passed on to the largest possible number of trade unionists in the next several days.

On Saturday, dozens of US troops in ten armoured cars raided the IFTU temporary headquarters in Baghdad, smashing windows, seizing documents, and even tearing down posters and banners condemning terrorism. Eight IFTU leaders were arrested, but were released the following day, unharmed.

No reason or explanation was given for the raid.

The IFTU is calling on President Bush to conduct a full investigation of the raid and to ensure that it will not be repeated. The United States must respect the right of workers under international law to have free and
independent trade unions.

Please visit this page and send on your protest to the White House today:

[UPDATE: The longer article on the raid has been moved to the Labour News Network site.]

This alert comes on the heels on an article in The Progressive about the fact that the US occupation authority has so far refused to lift Saddam-era restrictions on labor unions. Thus Geras' argument that the invasion allowed for the rebirth of Iraqi unionism is simply untrue; the invasion didn't change anything regarding the legal status of free labor unions. (To be fair, I link to Geras' response to said article.) Finally, remember that one of the first contracts granted by the occupation authorities was to the notorious union-busting Seattle company Stevedoring Services of America.

Regardless of one's politics on the war or the occupation, a free labor movement is essential for the development of Iraqi democracy. American harassment of Iraqi labor is just what we should be trying to avoid.

(I linked to a report by Eric Lee on the post-invasion Iraqi labor movement here. More on Iraq and the labor movement is here.)
Friday, December 05, 2003
Not mourning, organizing. Long before I blogged, I was urging the Democrats to learn from the labor movement and from community organizers and organize. Looks like Dean is doing just that. This suggests that even should Dean lose, he will have built and stronger, more ideologically committed Democratic Party.
Thursday, December 04, 2003
Queen to acknowledge Acadian deportation. CBC article here. This post is mostly a reminder to myself to write about this later.
Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Sports update. I've gotten three suggestions in response to my call for European (or at least, non-US) sports intersts. (Although only one suggestion--the most general, at that--came from a blog reader. C'mon people! Pull you weight!) One suggestion is the All Blacks, largely on the weight of their t-shirts. The single blog-reader who commented suggested that I pick a European football team, and a third person argued for Real Madrid. Any other comments?

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