Friday, December 11, 2009

Blackwater's Erik Prince to Teach High School History

I thought I had hallucinated this fact, but it turns out its true. The founder and executive director of the U.S.'s most notorious multinational mercenary-for-hire corporation, Xe (formerly called Blackwater), has grown tired of being criticized for his organization's extralegal activities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and New Orleans. And so what will he do? Why, teach HIGH SCHOOL HISTORY of course.

This frightens me.

There's a good article about Prince's designs on teaching in a recent issue of Mother Jones; Jeremy Skahill has also written a really thorough book about Prince, his family, and his company's work in a book i am slowly making my way though, entitled Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

I think its a good idea to read about this guy and his company; they are very deeply involved in ruling the world right now.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

podcast of the week: On The Media on Detroit and the ideology of photographs

This weekend's On the Media has a good piece (see above) on two subjects that i've been thinking a lot about the past few months: Detroit, and the uses and abuses of photographs. I visited the motor city this summer, in order to participate in the Allied Media Conference with a media activist group i work with. It was a great conference, and it is really really really great that the folks who organize it every year continue to hold it in Detroit-- not only does it bring a little bit of money to the economically troubled city, but also it brings a lot of smart people to Detroit, where they can begin to see how the media (and popular mythology) has distorted our national image of that city. There are some fantastic things happening there; i'll just mention two:

1)urban farming. there are a great deal of people devoting a great deal of energy to reclaiming (sometimes illegally) vacant city lots and turning them into public farms, and then distributing fresh produce around the city. this is especially important because there is, according to my sources, not one major grocery store located within the city limits. that plus a not-so-great public transportation infrastructure means that most folks do their grocery shopping at the local liquor store. so this urban farming thing is filling a really giant need. there's lots more to say about that, but i'll just post a photo and let your imagination do some of the gap-filling.

photo: Earthworks Garden, Detroit, Michigan, July 18, 2009, by Rachel Mattson

2)immigrant justice organizing. did you know that Detroit is a border city? It is-- cause remember Canada? It is just a few miles away. And as a result, Detroit's immigrants --especially Latinos-- face an increasingly well-funded policing infrastructure, willing to use semi-legal tactics to rout out undocumented people. I met a whole bunch of people, mostly Latinas, who are trying to counteract the effects of a new cycle of unsavory police tactics. And let me tell you: the activists in Detroit are some pretty awesome folks.

The other reason i'm posting this On the Media segment is because it does a good job of explaining some things about photographs and ideology. i've been spending a lot of time this fall so far thinking about and trying to teach my students to understand the ways in which photographs (and in my case, i'm usually talking about historical photographs) are ideological documents, texts that tell a story-- not transparent representations of reality. and that we have to understand who created them, and for what purpose, before we can begin to understand what story they are telling, and why. the On the Media segment i've linked to above does an interesting job of making this point, in relation to media representations of Detroit, in a really clear way.

which is helpful.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Presenting....The Butter Presidents

My friend Nina Callaway found this and showed it to me. It seems like an important statement, but I can't really figure out how to explain just what its an important statement about.

Although if I were to try to approximately describe how this kind of history feels, i'd have to say: kind of gross.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Texas is debating adopting new standards for U.S. history instruction

If you thought the debate over U.S. History Standards ended when Lynn Cheney and friends took on the entire historical profession in the 1990s, then you were wrong. Talking Points Memo reports that Texas is currently discussing revising its standards for U.S. history post-1877, and the very right wing board responsible for writing them is proposing some very disturbing stuff. As TPM notes, "Approved textbooks, the standards say, must teach the Texan student to "identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Moral Majority." No analogous liberal figures or groups are required..." Students will also be required to "describe Ronald Reagan's role in restoring national confidence, such as Reaganomics and Peace with Strength."

But its worse than that-- its more of the teach this fact, teach that interpretive idea school-- without any discussion of the import of, or methods for teaching, critical thinking and historical analysis. And because Texas is so big, its standards effect what textbook publishers put into ALL their textbooks.

Perhaps now we can abandon textbooks altogether, once and for all?

Here, courtesy of TPM, is the draft of the document itself. Notice the marginal comments made by members of the committee. Also, here is another, very interesting analysis of these proposed standards by the United Farm Workers.

Friday, July 24, 2009

frightening show of right wing insanity, based on incorrect information about obama and the rules about US citizenship

(hat tip Bint Alshamsa at Feministe.)

Soon i will post a short explanation of the history and current status of US immigration law. but i wanted to put this here before i forgot.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Teacher at Desk

Very little comment required. From the George Eastman House collection.

Friday, March 06, 2009

An interesting news item.

Monday, February 9, 2009
Senator Feinstein Introduces Bill to Preserve Historic Accounts of Civil Rights Movement

Washington, D.C. – Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced legislation to create a Civil Rights Oral History Project, a joint effort between the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress to collect oral histories of those involved in the Civil Rights Movement and preserve them for future generations.

“Our society today would not be possible without the extraordinary people who dedicated themselves to the Civil Rights Movement,” Senator Feinstein said. “Whether on a bus in Montgomery, at a lunch counter in Greensboro, in a high school in Little Rock, or on a bridge in Selma, these courageous individuals risked their lives to bring real and necessary change to our country. This bill will help ensure that we never forget their stories.”

The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn); Thad Cochran (R-Miss.); Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.); and Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) have introduced a companion bill in the House.

"Over the past few years, we have lost some of our nation's great civil rights leaders, such as Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King. Every day that passes we lose more and more of the pioneers who fought for the freedom and equality that we all enjoy today," said Rep. McCarthy. "While we know so much about the lives of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Congressman John Lewis, and Thurgood Marshall, it is important that we learn about the everyday people of all races who took a stand during a pivotal time in our nation's history. There were so many people who were crucial to the Civil Rights movement, but have not had as much recorded about their experiences for the public record."

The bill would direct the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to record – in audio and video -- firsthand stories from the Civil Rights Movement.

The Civil Rights Oral History Project is similar to the Veterans History Project, which was started by the Library of Congress in 2000 to collect and preserve the remembrances of American war veterans and the civilian workers who supported them.

+ See the original post on Feinstein's website, here +

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Favorite Podcast of the Week, Episode 1

Well, yes, the podcasting is going very well. I've discovered quite a number of podcasters that I can rely on, including several who regularly feature historical stories-- American Radio Works, Radio Diaries, Nextbook, The Moth. Though I confess that I have other interests as well! and thus I also like listening to, for instance, Slate's Culture Gabfest, which keeps me up to date on things I can't believe I don't have time to read about anymore in the Arts & Leisure section of the paper.

Anyhow, I had this idea. One week, after listening to two really wonderful podcasts about two completely separate events from 1968, I started thinking that I'd like to curate listening experiences here; that is, to collect, in one place, a set podcasts that either have obvious connections, or not-so-obvious connections, and then annotate them and provide art, and primary documents, and other resources in one spot. And I might still do that, at some point. But I've been wrecked and time-consumed on account of this book I'm writing (its at the publisher's by the way, thanks G-d). So no time for all that. Still, I wanted at least do something, so here's the low-impact first episode version of this idea.

"Mexico 1968." If you click here, you can find both the podcast, and a set of resources that Radio Diaries has compiled about the Mexican student movement of 1968, and the tragic events that, literally and figuratively, killed it. The event is something of a historical mystery, even despite the fact that many people who were there are still alive-- the official reports claimed 4 students were shot dead during the Massacre of Tlatelolco. But others claim that in fact hundreds died. The audio piece is a really well-done oral history-based documentary, one that reminded me, at least, that no matter how much I've read about the 1960s, I still don't know half of the story. Indeed, in the U.S. we tend to think of the protest movements of the '60s as being centered in the U.S. Hardly the case, Europe exploded, Latin America, Africa. The whole world was on fire. And we have to keep trying to find ways to tell those stories, and to combat the left-leaning sort of American exceptionalism.

Here's a nice supportive set of documents: Kate Doyle, of the National Security Archive, has collected recently declassified U.S. documents related to the U.S. government's intelligence about the student movement and the Mexican government's attempts to quell it. They can be found here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


a short video response to the impossible-to-respond-to horror being loosed on Gaza by Israel right now. entitled "Proportionate Response #2." made by my friend Ariel Federow.


after one semester of commuting back and forth between the mid-hudson valley and brooklyn, i have exactly two important things to say:

1)podcasts rock


2)i still don't know how long soymilk and eggs can stay in a refrigerator before they go bad. but i intend to figure it out, finally, this semester. And how does one STRATEGIZE their refrigerator/food situation when splitting time between two refrigerators?

knowing these two things seem to be crucial to making a commuting academic's life more workable.

my top 4 favorite podcasts, so far/at the moment:

1. Radio Diaries. The other night, I listened to the Radio Diaries piece about the recent efforts to reconstruct what actually happened during the student protests in Mexico City in 1968. I recommend it HIGHLY. its an extremely good piece of oral history, and also has important implications for those of us interested in the political uses and import of both new media and archives.

2. KQED, The Writer's Block Podcast. Features writers reading excerpts from their work. Mostly fiction and playwriting, as far as i can tell. Much of it, stuff i've never heard of before.

3. Radio Without Borders, from WKUT in Austin. Is introducing me to new music. Some of it i absolutely do not like. The Iguanas have such potential, but i JUST don't like them. Then some of it i'm like, ok, nice-- Of Montreal fits into that category. And some of it, deeply important-- such as The Blind Boys of Alabama, doing their version of "Free at Last." WOAH.

4. IndieFeed's Hiphop broadcast. Also introducing me to music i've never heard of. Mostly pretty great, and i'm definitely not going to get any music this good on local radio in the mid-hudson valley. its hard enough to get decent public radio up there; don't even try to get smart hip hop-- or, actually, ANY hip hop. (that reminds me: wtf is up with WAMC radio? why is it so bad? and WHY DID THE PEOPLE LET ALAN CHARTOCK put the kabash on democracy now!? we need democracy now! up there so so so badly.)

4 podcasts i'm super excited to start listening to in the coming weeks:

1. The Yale University Press podcast. interviews with authors. Could suck hard, or could become indispensible. i'll keep you posted.

2. The Moth podcast. Stories; inspired by the no-reading-from-paper-allowed, ongoing, local NYC Moth storytelling events.

3. PRI's World Books podcast. Putting a few little ideas from outside of the U.S. into my brain.

As for the refrigeration situation, i'm not offering ideas yet. i'm SOLICITING ideas. i'll let you know if i hear anything brilliant.