Thursday, July 27, 2006

'Strawberry Days' at Firedoglake

UPDATE: Here's a link to the opening discussion. Please feel free to join in.

I'm terribly honored to announce that my most recent book, Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community, has been selected for the next book salon discussion at Firedoglake. There will be a hosted discussion this Sunday, July 30, and another the following Sunday, Aug. 6, in which I'll participate. (It will probably be hard for me to stay away from the first discussion, truth be told.)

Coming as it does on the heels of their smashingly successful discussions of Glenn Greenwald's How Would a Patriot Act?, Eric Boehlert's Lapdogs, Sam Seder's FUBAR, and George Soros' The Age of Fallibility, I can't help being just a wee tad ecstatic over the decision by Jane, Redd, and the gang to host my year-old book.

(Not only that, but they made a copy of Strawberry Days the prize in their recent Michelle Malkin rap contest, a bit of subtle and wicked humor. Hope you enjoy, Punaise!)

Despite its being a year old now, I think Strawberry Days has, if anything become even more current. Among the subjects it explores are:
-- The hole in the Constitution that the internment episode opened up -- namely, the potentially illimitable powers accorded to the executive branch during wartime, including the power of the military to indefinitely incarcerate civilians, based solely upon their race, in a non-battlefield situation, without review by the courts. It also discusses how the Bush administration has made use of these precedents en route to its own expansion of powers.

-- The crude racism that drove the anti-Japanese-immigrant campaigns for much of the first half of the twentieth century, and the indispensable role it played in eventually bringing about the mass incarceration of 120,000 people. While the text was published before immigration became a national debate, readers will readily recognize the astonishing similarities between that earlier nativist campaign and the current one playing out on our southern border and elsewhere.

Somewhat secondarily, it remains the only text that specifically addresses -- and repudiates -- Michelle Malkin's apologia for the internment. Fortunately, Malkin's thesis has shown no real longevity and is now largely ignored. Nonetheless, the revisionism that it represents lives on in a multitude of similar "conservative movement" enterprises, and its exposure is if nothing else helpful in seeing how one might go about dealing with the latest permutations of right-wing psychosis.

One of the real reasons I'm so tickled is that, truth be told, Strawberry Days hasn't done terribly well so far.

When it's been reviewed, it's gotten excellent reviews, including a glowing piece in the Seattle Times. But the problem has been getting it reviewed; I think that book editors (like many book consumers) saw it as a regional or local-interest offering primarily (and certainly it has done well enough regionally), but not something they wanted to spend the space on reviewing. Haven't there been a bunch of internment books already?

Of course, I knew there were a lot of internment books already available. But Strawberry Days is fairly unique in a lot of regards: it's constructed more as a non-fiction narrative than as an academic or strictly historical work. It also examines critical aspects of the internment and the Japanese American community that are often missed in other texts, including a frank assessment of the role of white supremacy in the overt oppression of the Japanese immigrants, as well as the role of the agricultural life among the Japanese.

But, you know, people won't know that without reading it. So it largely went unreviewed in any major publication. The only national newspaper (so to speak) to review it was, ironically enough, the Washington Times, which wrote glowingly about it.

And, even though we sold out the first two smallish (2,000) runs, the publisher reports tepid sales and so far is hesitant about putting it out in paperback -- a critical step for this book, I think, since doing so seem to me critical to helping it find its audience. It's the kind of book I think people would be far more likely to pick up for $16 instead of $30.

So I'm hoping the interest generated by the FDL book salon can help get Strawberry Days over the hump. It's part of a critical chain of support for what I'm doing here: the book writing gives me the time and financial space to blog. If it doesn't stay afloat, then I'll probably have to shutter the other things I'm doing. That's not a threat, just a reality.

I've set up the link above to go to Jane's Amazon page for the book. If you haven't gotten a copy, you should do it pronto. If you already have one, well, see you at Jane's place.

'Beyond politics'

One of the really offensive aspect of the right-wing drumbeat of eliminationism is that so many of its purveyors -- notably Rush Limbaugh and his many imitators, including Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin -- try to slough off criticism of the nastiness of the things they say and write by pretending that it's just "entertainment," or merely a "joke".

The crude reality, of course, is that the things they say are not only deeply personal, they play out in the real world by poisoning our personal lives as well as our public discourse. Pretending afterward that it was all "just kidding" is palpable disingenuousness.

And the right-wing response -- claiming that liberals are responsible for the poisoning of the public well -- is especially offensive because it not only serves to disguise, but provides a positive justification for, the escalation of this kind of rhetoric into real action.

In upstate New York's Orange County, a left-leaning city councilwoman named Gail Soro is reaping the consequences of this kind of rhetoric:
The bent windshield wipers annoyed her. The sex toy glued to her windshield back in June made her furious. But finding a horse's head in her swimming pool yesterday hit Wawayanda Councilwoman Gail Soro right where she lives.

It left her angry and frightened last night, as state police scoured the Orange County town for suspects. They were treating it as a case of harassment and trespassing, at the very least.

Soro and her husband, Ed, were in the pool until about 8:30 p.m. Monday night. Yesterday morning, they noticed the water looked a bit dark. They thought that an animal might have died in the pool.

Ed Soro grabbed the skimmer, raised a dark object from a corner of the pool and called out to his wife as he dragged it to the surface: "That's a horse's head."

She quickly went back into their house. "I was hysterical," she recalled last night.

As the day went on, her hysterics gave way to anger. The stunt with the windshield wipers and the sex toy both happened at Wawayanda Town Hall, where Soro is the lone Democrat on the five-member Town Board.

But the horse's head was brought to their home, while they slept, where their grandchildren come over to swim.

Soro, to her credit, is not backing down:
Gail Soro sent her own message last night: She won't be chased out of office. She's up for re-election next year, and she's running. Soro's been right in the middle of tussles over growth and planning that are the hot-button issues in the town.

Still, she wondered if her story would discourage others from running for office.

"Who would want to put up with this?" she said.

Republican Councilman Dave Cole acknowledged that he's knocked heads with Soro, but he flatly condemned what was done to her yesterday.

"This isn't politics. This is beyond politics," Cole said. "This is beyond the pale."

Credit Councilman Cole with recognizing that this kind of thuggery has no place in American politics.

Too bad he doesn't also take the time to note that the conservative movement's chief figureheads are the folks most publicly fomenting it.

[Hat tip to Rob.]

UPDATE: Edited to reflect that this Orange County is in New York, not California.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The bicycle solution

I've only alluded to it previously, but your humble correspondent is also something of a bike nut. I try to bicycle to work, to the store, on errands, as much as possible. Fiona rides a third wheel behind me to school.

I don't write about it a lot because, well, it's really not all that interesting. But the concept of bike commuting -- and the ethics involved in it -- is something I am interested in, and recently had a chance to write about.

Specifically, I've got the lead piece in this week's Seattle Weekly, and it's about the realities of bike commuting in Seattle, a supposedly bike-friendly community. It's kind of a local thing, but I like to think that the idea of bicycling as at least a partial solution to a host of environmental and political ills -- from global warming to our dependency on oil -- is something that goes unnoted by too many people. I actually tend to blame it on what I see as a culture of convenience and laziness endemic to Americans generally, but that's mostly when I'm feeling grumpy.

In any event, be sure to check it out, as well as a couple of sidebars only available online: a piece on how bikes and cars can get along, and another with tips for beginning bike commuters.

Oh, and if you happen to live in the Seattle area, be sure to pick up the latest edition of Seattle Magazine, which contains my in-depth look at the Minutemen of Whatcom County. Unfortunately, it's not available online.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Conserving orcas, and humans too

One of the words you don't hear used a lot in the debate over global warming is conservationist. Most of the people raising the alarm about its effects are described as "environmentalists."

The two are related, but significantly different. Conservationism is about trying to keep the environmental resources we currently have intact; it's about ensuring that those resources are not being wasted in the short-term pursuit of the dollar. It is, in reality, conservative in the best sense of the word.

Environmentalism, in contrast, encompasses a whole panoply of beliefs aimed at improving the planet's environmental health, many of which take a much more idealistic approach to issues. Some of these -- including the so-called "deep ecology" movement -- are in fact profoundly inimical to the approach taken by conservationists. And many are, frankly, fairly radical in their belief systems.

This is partly why so many of the apologists for global warming are able to get away with pretending that their opponents are radicals with an anti-business agenda -- just call them "environmentalists" and you're halfway there to framing them negatively. It doesn't matter if you're actually talking about a mass consensus of trained scientists.

But the fight over global warming, when you get down to basics, is essentially conservationist -- it's about conserving the environment we currently have. It's about trying to prevent the catastrophic effects that radical climate change could have on all of us -- on our livelihoods, on our economies, on our survival itself. There's nothing the least bit radical about it. If anything, it is often criticized for being too accomodating, in its approach to using natural resources, to those who would exploit them.

Unfortunately, the American right -- in its knee-jerk defense of all things corporate, as well as its complete capture by religious fundamentalists -- is eager to obliterate the hard scientific realities presented on a number of political fronts, not merely global warming. So it keeps presenting a picture of scientists and their supporters as radical environmental wackos with an anti-business political agenda.

They also take a ridiculously short-term view, both economically and in the raw impact on human life (which always becomes an economic issue anyway), of the effects of their own agenda -- namely, unfettered exploitation of the environment -- on the rest of us. The results, in fact, are responsible for what is about to be a significant, and perhaps irrevocable, change in the natural world that supports us all.

When you contrast this with, say, a strictly conservationist outlook, it becomes fairly clear which party is the more genuinely radical of the two. Take your pick: the faction conducting a radical experiment on the global environment, or those warning that the change is a major disaster in the making -- and, moreover, that it can be at least ameliorated if not prevented altogether?

Yet somehow -- mostly by wrapping themselves in the mantle of "traditional" capitalist values -- the corporatists and their enablers manage to depict their opposition as the "radical" faction and themselves the "common sense" side.

This dynamic is starting to take root in the battle over the Puget Sound's endangered orcas. Lynda Mapes had a pretty solid feature on the difficult road to recovery ahead for orcas in the Sunday Seattle Times. It included this passage from the people who are filing suit to overturn the listing:
"I see catastrophic economic impacts," said Tim Harris, general counsel for the Olympia-based Building Industry Association of Washington, a plaintiff in the suit. "I see it slowing and crippling development, driving up housing costs and hurting jobs."

This is, of course, simply a short-term view of the matter. Because there will be other catastrophic impacts, of a much broader, more severe, and longer-lasting variety -- if the Puget Sound orcas are allowed to go extinct.

As Mapes' piece explains (and as I explored in depth in an earlier piece for Seattle Weekly), the orcas are an ideal indicator species of the overall health of the Puget Sound ecosystem, precisely because they are long-lived creatures who reside atop its food chain.

What we know is that when orcas start disappearing, the chief reason is that they're not getting enough to eat -- particularly the chinook salmon that constitute the large majority of their diet. There is, of course, the impact of the loss of tourism dollars drawn to see the killer whales here (estimated currently at well over a million dollars annually) would be only the first felt. If those salmon are disappearing, then whole other segments of the Puget Sound economy that make their living from it as a resource (particularly fishing) will begin to suffer. In other words, the traditional conservationists who use the Sound to make their living are going to be affected, disastrously, as well.

There is, moreover, the stark reality of the waters they inhabit:
Secondly, the recovery plan is expected to seek a reduction in pollution and chemical contamination in the orca's habitat. That would mean addressing industrial-waste disposal, agricultural and household use of chemicals. It also would mean dealing with discharge from wastewater and stormwater. And it would mean cleaning up contaminated sites and sediments.

Today, the orcas' home waters are a stew created by 17 pulp and paper mills in the Puget Sound and Georgia Basin region; 34 million gallons of raw sewage a day spewed by the city of Victoria, B.C., into the Strait of Juan de Fuca; and thousands of discharge pipes from industries, sewers and storm drains. Contaminated areas dot the region, including 24 Superfund sites around Puget Sound still not cleaned up.

Southern residents have become the most contaminated marine mammals in the world. They carry loads of toxins high enough to suppress their reproduction and make them more susceptible to disease.

The story concludes with a quote from Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research:
"It's not a popular solution. But what's called for is looking at the big picture. We have an endangered whale eating a threatened fish. We have to change our ways. I hope this is part of the wake-up."

The problem is that the armies of the right are fully invested in keeping everyone asleep on issues where science, and hard common-sense reality, are not on their side. And they do this by constantly muddying the issues, presenting false choices as the only ones available, and grossly distorting both the science and the scientific debate.

A prime example of just how intentionally obtuse they can be was noted by Chris Mooney the other day, in the form of Peggy "Divine Dolphins" Noonan's recent ruminations on global warming:
During the past week's heat wave -- it hit 100 degrees in New York City Monday -- I got thinking, again, of how sad and frustrating it is that the world's greatest scientists cannot gather, discuss the question of global warming, pore over all the data from every angle, study meteorological patterns and temperature histories, and come to a believable conclusion on these questions: Is global warming real or not? If it is real, is it necessarily dangerous? What exactly are the dangers? Is global warming as dangerous as, say, global cooling would be? Are we better off with an Earth that is getting hotter or, what with the modern realities of heating homes and offices, and the world energy crisis, and the need to conserve, does global heating have, in fact, some potential side benefits, and can those benefits be broadened and deepened? Also, if global warming is real, what must--must--the inhabitants of the Earth do to meet its challenges? And then what should they do to meet them?

Well, as Mooney points out, many of these questions were in fact directly addressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which put out a detailed report answering most of Noonans's questions back in Geneva in April 2005.

But the IPCC's answers weren't the ones that Noonan, and the Republican right generally, wanted to hear. So they keep asking the same questions, and when they get the same answers, they pretend that the politics that they say is "contaminating" the science renders any serious judgment impossible -- when in fact the only people injecting politics into the science are those on the right who are busily plugging their ears to the evidence.

But as weather maps like this become increasingly common -- as do the rolling blackouts caused by the demand for air conditioning as a result -- the evidence will keep getting harder to ignore. You can pretend, as the Bush administration has been doing, that we can all just "adjust" to the realities of global warming. But when those realities include a frying-pan America addicted to air conditioning and the energy it consumes, the economic equation begins to shift, heavily.

That, in the end, may be what finally awakens Americans to what has been happening to our national policies, especially those in which science plays a significant role. Playing semantic and partisan games with science in pursuit of short-term political and personal gain is bad for a lot of things: bad for the environment, bad for wild animals, bad for humans. But it's also bad for business.

The conservationist ethic, with its eye on preserving what we've got, always recognized this reality. It might be time to start breathing life back into it.

Monday, July 24, 2006

That right-wing logic

My dad is always sending me crappy e-mail jokes. You know the kind: dependent on stereotypes, often predicated on violent fantasies, and utterly devoid of wit or insight. I think everyone has someone in their family like this.

I love my dad, though, and am content to have him send me these things. It's kind of a way of staying in touch.

So last week he sends me this joke. It depends on the usual stereotypes (this time about rural hicks and professors), but ...
Two South Texas farmers, Jim and Bob, are sitting at their favorite bar, drinking beer. Jim turns to Bob and says, "You know, I'm tired of going through life without an education. Tomorrow I think I'll go to the community college, and sign up for some classes."

Bob thinks it's a good idea, and the two leave.

The next day, Jim goes down to the college and meets Dean of Admissions, who signs him up for the four basic classes: Math, English, History, and Logic.

"Logic?" Jim says. "What's that?"

The dean says, "I'll show you. Do you own a weed eater?"


"Then logically speaking, because you own a weedeater, I think that you would have a yard."

"That's true, I do have a yard."

"I'm not done," the dean says. "Because you have a yard, I think logically that you would have a house."

"Yes, I do have a house." "And because you have a house, I think that you might logically have a family."

"Yes, I have a family."

"I'm not done yet. Because you have a family, then logically you must have a wife."

"And because you have a wife, then logic tells me you must be a heterosexual."

"I am a heterosexual. That's amazing, you were able to find out all of that because I have a weed eater."

Excited to take the class now, Jim shakes the Dean's hand and leaves to go meet Bob at the bar.

He tells Bob about his classes, how he signed up for Math, English, History, and Logic.

"Logic?" Bob says, "What's that?"

Jim says, "I'll show you. Do you have a weed eater?"


"Then you're a queer."

OK, so I laughed at this one. Because this is what passes for logic not just among rural hicks, but nearly the entire right wing in this country.

[FWIW: In strictly logical terms, the joke illustrates a false syllogism, or more precisely, a failed enthymeme. A simple Venn diagram would make clear how it fails.]

This is true not just when it comes to sexual politics and cultural assumptions. It's also true of nearly every other issue that the American right confronts these days:

-- Worried about global warming? You're the same as the Nazis!

-- Opposed to the war in Iraq? You're "objectively pro-Saddam". Even if it turns out later you were right.

-- So you object to nativist scapegoating in the immigration debate? You must be part of the "open borders crowd" willing to surrender our national sovereignty to the "Reconquistas"!

-- You think Joe Lieberman is an out-of-touch Democrat who needs to be replaced? You must be an angry liberal blogger!

-- Think President Bush overstepped his constitutional bounds by ignoring the law and ordering surveillance of American citizens? You must by a traitor who wants to harm national security!

The list, and the beat, goes on and on.

And you were wondering why so much of our modern discourse resembles Bizarro World? Wonder no more.