Can tiny Qatar keep defying its powerful neighbors? It may be up to Washington

Mideast Qatar Egypt Al Jazeera

FILE- In this Jan. 1, 2015, file photo, staff members of Al-Jazeera International work at the news studio in Doha, Qatar. (Credit: AP Photo/Osama Faisal, File)

The recent decision by half the nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and a few other countries to isolate fellow member Qatar came as a surprise to many — though perhaps it shouldn’t have.

Essentially, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt severed all ties over Qatar’s positive opinion about Iran and support for Islamist groups like Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Besides cutting those ties, one of their demands also included putting curbs on the Al-Jazeera media network, which is based in Qatar’s capital of Doha and is partially funded by its ruling family.

The diplomatic and security ramifications have so far taken center stage, with most Western nations, including the U.S., and countries in the region calling for a negotiated resolution to avoid further escalation. Yet the dispute that led to the recent outburst has been lingering for years — and erupted in a similar if smaller kerfuffle in 2014 — which begs the following questions:

What exactly has allowed Qatar to defy its more powerful GCC neighbors for so long? And what (or who) could possibly change that?

Flouting its neighbors’ demands

Qatar is the second-smallest country in the GCC with a national population of just 243,000. That swells to almost 2.4 million when you include expatriates, yet it’s still just a fraction of Saudi Arabia’s 31 million total population or the UAE’s 8 million.

It also has the smallest military, at just 12,000 soldiers, compared with Saudi Arabia’s 227,000.

Despite this large gap in population and military power, Qatar has long ignored the complaints of its stronger neighbors over its foreign policy positions that on some issues are diametrically opposed to theirs.

There’s essentially one reason Qatar can afford to do this: the American security umbrella, which includes basing some 11,000 U.S. military personnel in Doha – the largest deployment in the region — as well as hosting the U.S. Combined Air Operations Center, which oversees air power in 20 countries.

Like the other GCC countries, Qatar has a bilateral security arrangement with the U.S., and it hosts the United States’ largest military base in the region. The U.S. military protection not only shields Qatar against military threats from outside the region but empowers it to stand up to its larger GCC allies when it chooses to do so.

Qatar is not the only GCC member that takes advantage of U.S. military protection in this manner. Bahrain has also defied other GCC members on occasions. In 2005, this tiny island of one million and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet upset Saudi Arabia when it signed a bilateral free trade agreement with the U.S., which violated the GCC common tariff regulations. In a sign of America’s pull in such disputes, it was Saudi Arabia that ultimately backed down.

Consequently, as long as Qatar remains under U.S. military protection, Saudi Arabia and the UAE can not resort to military options and have to limit their campaign to diplomatic and economic pressure. In other words, bilateral security relations with the U.S. serves as an equalizer in interactions among GCC countries regardless of their size.

How long can Qatar hold out?

A secure and protected Qatar can afford to remain defiant in the face of economic isolation from its neighbors as long as it can tolerate the economic and financial costs. While these costs are hardly trivial, Qatar, as the richest country in the world on a per capita basis, can probably afford to ride them out for some time.

In terms of imports, Qatar’s reliance on other GCC countries and Egypt is relatively modest and easily substitutable. The main immediate impact of the severing of ties was a disruption of food imports from Saudi Arabia, but Qatar managed to quickly switch to air shipments from Iran and Turkey – notably more expensive than ground shipments via Saudi border.

Qatar’s dependence on these neighbors for exports is even less. In 2015, only 4.6 percent of Qatar’s US$80 billion worth of exports went to the UAE, while just 1 percent flowed to Saudi Arabia.

A key reason for so little trade between countries in the GCC is that their primary exports (oil and gas products) and imports (food and industrial products) are very similar.

So all in all, economic disengagement from the UAE and Saudi Arabia will disrupt about 13 percent of Qatar’s commodity imports and 5.6 percent of its exports (trade with Bahrain and Egypt is insigificant).

Qatar also has financial and commercial investment links with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. By one account, 300 Saudi businesses are active in Qatar with investments worth $13.3 billion, as well as 1,075 UAE companies. The same report estimated 4,200 Qatari businesses were engaged in the UAE in 2016.

While disruption of these business activities will also be costly for Qatar, the value of these investments is only a small share of its financial and commercial capital. Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, for example, is estimated at $335 billion.

Beyond U.S. protection, the relatively small size of trade and investment links with Saudi Arabia and the UAE is what gives Qatar little immediate incentive to concede to their demands, even as it hopes to avoid escalation.

US still holds the key

So while Qatar’s economy is under some stress, its substantial financial resources as well as diplomatic and economic support from several countries including Turkey, Iran, Kuwait and Oman give it quite a bit of breathing room.

But in the end, it all comes down to its security patron, the U.S., and President Donald Trump, who in a tweet praised and even seemed to claim credit for the move by Saudi Arabia and the other countries.

During my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2017

Afterwards, officials at the State and Defense departments expressed a more neutral position toward this dispute and called for a negotiated resolution, as some diplomats acknowledged Qatar’s efforts to prevent financial support for terror groups.

So if Qatar ends up making any major concessions, it will most likely be a response to demands from the United States, on whom Qatar depends for its security. A few years ago, Qatar’s former ruler Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani put that dependence this way: Without the Americans, “my Arab brothers would invade me.”

And in a sign that the U.S. commitment to Qatar remains solid, the Pentagon just announced a $12 billion deal to sell as many as 36 F-15 jets to its ally.

The ConversationIn other words, apart from President Trump’s tweet burst, the U.S. government has given diplomatic breathing room to Qatar. But if the United States calls for significant concessions, it is unlikely that Qatar will risk its military protection by saying no.

Nader Habibi, Professor of the Economics of the Middle East at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University

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8 states offering incentives to minority marijuana business owners

Medical Marijuana Dispensary

(Credit: AP Photo/Scott Sonner)

For progress to be revolutionary, it must be inclusive. As the marijuana industry continues to boom, several states are offering incentives to minority marijuana business owners and communities impacted by now-outdated laws of the past.

Is your state on the list?

California, specifically Oakland, designates half of the city’s marijuana licenses for low-income residents, those convicted of a cannabis crime or those living in a specified neighborhood with high drug enforcement. Oakland also offers incentives to companies that help new minority businesses out with free rent or other support.

Florida designated that one of the three licenses for marijuana cultivation goes to a member of the the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association.

Ohio sets aside 15 percent of marijuana-related licenses for minorities.

Pennsylvania requires applicants for cultivation and dispensing permits to detail their plans on how they will achieve racial equity in the industry, holding all owners accountable.

Massachusetts encourages those in the industry to help benefit those “disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement,” but doesn’t specifically outline in what ways.

West Virginia’s laws around marijuana industry include requirements for state regulators to “seek ways of encouraging minority-owned businesses to apply for growing licenses.”

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board claims to be interested in diversifying licensees, and using outreach that will draw in ethnic communities for future licensing opportunities.

Maryland’s process for issuing licenses was halted last month by a group demanding more accountability and diversity in the industry — a move some see as a step back, but advocates for racial equity in marijuana see as a necessary action for change.

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This “bitch” won’t shut up: Sexist attacks on outspoken women are a problem for men to fix, too

Laptop On FIre

(Credit: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens)

When the message arrived with the photograph of my bedroom, the intent was clear: We know where you live, where you sleep at night. Be afraid.

I was. I am.

The message appeared in my inbox after I had published an essay on Salon sharply criticizing Sen. Bernie Sanders. The essay went viral and I received an onslaught of hate, threats and intimidation, which is not unusual for me — reactions to my pieces criticizing Sen. Sanders have typically been delivered with more velocity and opprobrium than any of the many other controversial political and feminist subjects I’ve written about — and apparently it’s not unusual for feminist writers in general to receive threats, either.

Then I was copied on an email sent around that included a residential address near my own along with photos of the house — the address where I lived when my website was registered years ago — and my phone number, which was still active. I received blocked-number calls for days and some strange messages. (“Hillary is a corporate warmonger.”) And finally the email with the photos of my bedroom arrived, pulled from my Facebook account, where at one point I had posted photos of my new home.

It has taken six weeks for my life return to a sort of normalcy — the one where I already lived in a constant state of wondering if I’m going to be physically attacked by someone for my writing and where the security measures that surround me sometimes seem surreal. It will take months for the tangible fallout to abate from this latest round. I’m hoping to be able to buy a sandwich without drama one day soon. My bank still puts a security hold on my debit card — the third new card it has issued me in the last few weeks — every time I do anything  “unusual” like visit the deli where I have had lunch several days a week for many years.

And just now some viper is off to tweet something like, “Anna March is so fat, she needs to miss a few lunches.” You can set your watch to the attacks on women calling them ugly, fat, gross. We are angry, according to them, because we are so stupid and ugly no one wants to fuck us — but that’s only when we aren’t being called sluts, or being told we should get raped, maybe to death, or that our 5-year-old children should be raped or killed. We are “stupid bitches” who need to shut our mouths.

Harassment and threats in response to my writing are common for me, as they are for many women who dare to write about feminism and politics and culture while female. It is of course worse for women of color, transgender women, disabled women, queer women and Muslim women. The attacks are gendered and meant to diminish the worth of the women who write. Meant to scare us, meant to intimidate us, meant to silence us.  It often works. There are many women who simply won’t write or otherwise share their voices online because, as one woman writer told me this spring, “What men do to women on the internet makes it not worth it.” And a distressing number of us seem to agree. At Time magazine, “Nearly half the women on staff have considered quitting journalism because of hatred they’ve faced online, although none of the men had.” Let’s imagine the world where women don’t feel free to speak out about issues that affect us. Oh right — that’s life under the Taliban.

The distance between virtual name-calling and actual endangerment has not been theoretical for quite some time, and yet the response to online harassment is still overwhelmingly treated like a “sticks and stones” issue of thin skin and heat from the kitchen. Our personal, professional and financial lives are digital now; how is this not “real” life? We need to recognize the power and devastation of online harassment and treat the silencing of women as a crisis. We need to stop looking at it as something distinct from the broader culture of harassment that women face daily and think about it in terms of part of the continuum of oppression of women.

Long before the internet, women expressing their political opinions and refusing to bow to power were subject to harassment, threats and violence. The message has always been the same: Shut up. Stop talking, you ugly bitch. Cyber methods of attack are the latest medium, but the message hasn’t changed. In this country, dates to at least as far as back as the the time of the witch trials in Salem, when women made up the vast majority of those executed for not going along with what the powers that be prescribed them.

Female abolitionists and suffragists, women working for legal contraception, women working for abortion rights and access, women working for the broad feminist agenda of the ’60s and ’70s, women working for civil rights, women working for political candidates and women writing their political minds have all been met with gendered threats and actual violence. Notable examples of physical violence against those working for feminist concerns range from abortion providers being murdered and abortion clinics being routinely bombed to suffragists facing mob violence, harsh police treatment and being painfully force-fed when imprisoned.

And we wonder why it’s so hard to get women to run for office in order to create change at the highest levels? We see Sen. Kamala Harris being interrupted while questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions and again when questioning a witness, and then being called “hysterical.” We see Sen. Elizabeth Warren being silenced on the Senate floor by her colleague Mitch McConnell, who said, “She was warned. Nevertheless she persisted.” And of course there is the vituperation toward Hillary Clinton, who received more votes for president than anyone ever and yet is told daily to simply go away. Political women are told to sit down and shut up. The “or else” is what we are afraid of.

It is ridiculous to say that those who threaten, harass and intimidate women shouldn’t be taken seriously. We like to dismiss “haters” with the notion that they are “just trolls” or even harmless teenagers, when women who have confronted their harassers, like Lindy West and Amanda Hess, have found that not to be the case.

This massive, well-documented scourge of hate is not coming from harmless pranksters or teenagers, and it’s not coming solely from the right, either, as we liberals would like to think it is. It comes from all ideological corners, and it mostly comes from men. It is just as much a problem from the left as from anywhere else. As author J.K. Rowling recently pointed out on Twitter, many liberal men have used their politics as a shield for sexism for a long time.

This battle online for women’s voices to be heard is important to win, both online and offline. It is even more important to win online now, as the artificial lines between cyber life and life away from our devices and keyboards continue to blur. It’s about our ability to exist. And we need a plan with actionable steps to ensure our ability to govern while female, write while female, to speak while female, even to breathe while female.

Part of that plan must be to engage men — overwhelmingly the perpetrators of these threats, intimidation and harassment — to put a stop it and call on their fellow men to stop, too. It is not women’s work to put an end to men’s harassing actions. Yet men tend to be silent about this, as they are often silent about rape, workplace and public sexual harassment, and other so-called women’s issues. Women need to insist that men not only join us but also take the lead on eradicating online harassment and intimidation.

But it is also important that we continue to speak out ourselves, too. Those of us in the public realm must keep making our voices heard and we must encourage other women not to hide theirs. As Clinton said in her concession speech, “And to the millions of volunteers . . . who . . . posted on Facebook, even in secret, private Facebook sites . . . I want everybody coming out from behind that and make sure your voices are heard going forward.”

I am not saying, “just butch up, Sally” — but I am saying that, too. We have to keep speaking truth to power, even though it is hard and scary and stressful and exhausting. We must do it anyway, as our foremothers did, because we cannot cede the space to men. Our voices are the revolution and we must have them heard.

And we must do it in small ways, too. When I hear women talk about not wanting to speak out publicly, it’s mostly not because they are afraid of being physically attacked or having their lives hacked; they don’t want the hassle in their personal lives. They don’t want their friends or family to be mad at them, and they don’t want to have to argue with people they are close to. They don’t want to be uncomfortable or make others unconformable. They don’t want to be thought of as a shrew and they don’t want to be ridiculed. They don’t want to have their social-media friends turn on them.

But continuing to speak our minds is one way minds are changed. I think of the famous writer who told me a few years ago when I visited her in her home state of South Carolina that when she came home from college in the 1960s she told her racist father that he was going to have to change his mind and the way he spoke about people of color or else lose her. “And he did,” she told me. “There was no magic to it. It was his racism or me, and he chose me. He didn’t right away, but I held firm.” He became an advocate for civil rights and opened his heart and mind. “He really changed.”

That is the same sort of conversation women must have with men about how they think and act and speak about women. We must simply refuse to tolerate it. We must tell men they need to stop with their sexism or lose us. We must tell our friends and neighbors and co-workers that they need to stop their sexism or lose us. When we tolerate sexism in myriad small ways, it builds up to the level where harassing women is normal.

I don’t want to speak up, either, every day. But I do it because it has to be done. If I am not willing to do it, I can’t expect others to. It’s my job as much as anyone’s.

And so this is a time for fireside chats at homes, in bedrooms, at kitchen tables, a time to call on men to join us and then speak to other men about sexism. We aren’t going to end sexism online until we end sexism everywhere. And we aren’t going to end sexism without men as full participants in the fight.

If we build a world where women simply do not accept men who do not fight for women’s right to fully participate in the political process — including speaking without fear or threat or harm — men will come around. We let them get away with it now by not confronting them, but it will get worse, and so will the lives and status of women. If we refuse personally and professionally and in the public sphere to accept sexism, change will come.

My job is to keep speaking up for equality. It should be yours, too. I’m writing this from that room in that photograph, and I still sleep with the light on. Perhaps I always will. But I’m not sitting down, and I’m not shutting up.

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Why is climate change such a hard sell in the U.S.?

United Nations Climate Change

(Credit: AP)

Earlier this month President Donald Trump took the dramatic step of removing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement – the product of many years of diligent and difficult negotiation among 175 nations around the world. Recent polls reveal that six in 10 Americans oppose Trump’s move. However, a significant portion of climate skeptics remain – especially among Trump’s base and the Republican politicians who cheered this move.

The unfortunate truth is that environmentalists and their allies have failed to ignite widespread passion around climate change. And now they are faced with an administration stridently opposed to environmental regulation, slashing the EPA’s budget drastically and reversing President Obama’s climate change initiatives.

As a philosopher, interested in the nature of knowledge and persuasion, I have long wondered why climate change is such a hard sell in the U.S. Is there something about it that makes it liable to doubt, skepticism or inaction?
Climate change is invisible
Among industrialized democracies, the U.S. has long been an outlier on climate change, hosting a higher proportion of climate change deniers. No one would say, however, that America is a nation of cave dwellers, who suspect science and eschew technology in favor of some bare-bones premodern existence.

I would argue there is some hypocrisy afoot.

Millions of Americans who happily doubt the scientific consensus behind climate change then avail themselves of the fruits of science, which are, one might argue, worthy of suspicion or doubt.

Many people happily gamble with pharmaceuticals, for example, which may offer the most trivial of benefits, while they disregard or ignore alarming side effects. If a person’s life is on the line, he or she will eagerly accept and experiment with the strangest theory or cure, even if it offers only modest success.

But these same people may not as easily believe the facts on climate change.

Why are so many unwilling to make sacrifices for the climate – even on the chance that human geography and life on Earth will be profoundly changed?

Many say that selfishness is at fault. We are simply unwilling to make the requisite sacrifices that climate change action implies, such as curtailing individual energy use. But I suspect there is something else also going on.

Climate is a special object of knowledge – unlike any other. It is always changing; it is immense, elusive and in its most accessible form to all of us – the weather – subjective and variable. Climate change is a form of pollution that is tricky to rally around, because it is impossible to pinpoint or identify neatly and succinctly. What’s more, climate seems variable among people’s perception; what is warm to me may be cool to you.

Other forms of pollution or environmental degradation have proven easier calls to action, because they had very visible, tangible implications. Consider, for example, the Cuyahoga River fire in 1969 – when, because of abysmal water pollution, this river in Cleveland literally caught on fire – and galvanized action that helped create the Clean Water Act. Or the decline of bald eagles – the nation’s symbol – due to the use of the pesticide DDT, which, when it entered the food cycle, caused birds to lay weak eggs and kill their young. These disasters were easy to recognize and rallied support behind environmental action.
Does it seem less urgent?
By contrast, greenhouse gases are invisible and climate change is gradual – at least for human perception. Everything looks fine, so perhaps people feel less urgency to act.

In Maryland, for example, the primary environmental focus is the Chesapeake Bay. Last year it received a grade of “C” from scientists – which was the lowest it had received in over 20 years. The crab harvest is poor year on year, and the oyster harvest is minuscule compared to the past, because of constant and growing pollution from suburban sprawl on the Western Shore, and intensive chicken farming on the Eastern Shore.

But the bay looks fine: When suburbanites pour over the bay bridge on the way to Ocean City each summer, the water glistens in the sunshine, boats stream back and forth, cattails drift in the waves and kids splash on its beaches. And there’s this, as expressed by National Geographic in a piece on the Chesapeake Bay in 2005:

“Chesapeake style crab dishes are still on local menus, but many are full of imported Asian crabmeat. Plump fried oysters…are widely available, too – but they are trucked in from Louisiana and Texas for the most part.”

The article went on to express concern that a seafood culture could prosper without local supplies. It implied, as it said, “less urgency to make the bay healthy.”

I would draw the same conclusion on climate change: Everything looks and feels fine, for the most part; few people connect extreme weather events with the larger global changes. And the more dramatic or obvious effects of climate change, well, they are not felt here – yet. As a result, there is little urgency behind this nebulous environmental threat.
Does it appear to be futile?
What’s more, it is possible climate change seems utterly fantastical – and unrealistic – to many people, believers and doubters alike.

We are told seas may (or will) rise by several feet; entire cities and nations may (or will) disappear, including much of the coastline of Florida. Climate change could render vast portions of the planet uninhabitable and spark widespread wars between suffering populations. Indeed, five tiny Pacific islands have already disappeared due to global warming, and other island nations are bracing for disaster as thousands flee extreme weather events. Many experts argue that the brutal civil war in Syria was spawned by global warming-induced famine.

But, even then, to some, it may sound like the stuff of science fiction – apocalyptic visions such as Hollywood has been doling out for years. Indeed, it has given rise to a whole new genre of science fiction: “Cli-Fi,” or Climate Fiction.

It is easy for those of us who do not directly see the impact of climate change to doubt the pronunciations of climate change activists, especially when they are so dramatic and dire. We do know that many conservatives scoff at statements like that of climatologist Michael Mann, who declared that “The cost of replacing Earth is infinite.” Indeed, it is hard to believe claims like this when the sun is shining, the flowers are in bloom and birds are up to their usual business.

Alternately, these apocalyptic scenarios make any response just seem futile. In the face of such devastation, climate change action is inconsequential – especially when scientists tell us we may be too late. And if we would do anything, we must first negotiate the immensely tricky cooperation between all the nations of the Earth – the largest and most complex global cooperation humanity has ever attempted.
Learning from the past
I suspect that because of all these hurdles, climate change is not liable to be solved by democracies. Autocracies might do better – like China, for example. Given the severity of its current air pollution – a veritable “airpocalypse” – China’s government does not need to be prodded or persuaded to act; the necessity is obvious, and urgent. And China has the ability to take dramatic measures on climate change and act quickly – just what scientists are calling for – dragging the people with them. This is, after all, the nation that lifted half a billion people into the middle class in a single generation.

But what about the U.S.?

In our democracy, I believe, if there is one thing that can be pressed upon the public to sway them with respect to climate change, it is how the U.S. has tackled immense environmental and geopolitical threats in the past, not entirely unlike climate change.

For example, the U.S. spearheaded the response to the ozone layer hole in the 1990s. When it was learned that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) emitted by air conditioning and refrigerants were creating a massive hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, exposing the Earth to dangerously high levels of UV rays, President George H. W. Bush led the way on a moratorium of CFCs that solved a dangerous problem in short order.

And of course, the U.S. overcame and resolved the nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union, which endured for 40 years. That threat, like climate change, offered the possibility of mutual destruction – only quickly. We successfully faced up to that threat, and diminished the world’s nuclear arsenal, effectively ruling out the threat of global nuclear war.

Of course, we might put some hope in the caprice of the democratic public itself. Only a decade ago, a majority of American voters accepted the threat of climate change, and were prepared to take action. Opinion polls quickly changed.

The ConversationWho’s to say they cannot change back again given an extra warm winter? Or an extra scorching summer? Or a string of disastrous weather events? The only problem is, when such measures finally turn public opinion, climate scientists may well say it’s just too late.

Firmin DeBrabander, Professor of Philosophy, Maryland Institute College of Art

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Uncommon ground: Beverly Jenkins, diverse romance and American history the way it really happened

Beverly Jenkins

Beverly Jenkins (Credit: HarperCollins/Sandra Vander Schaaf)

If Beverly Jenkins is at all fatootsed by my questions about the lack of diversity in Romancelandia, she doesn’t show it. Instead, the bestselling pioneer of the genre graciously outlines the obstacles she has faced as an African-American author of historical and contemporary romance novels regardless of her many accolades, including a cadre of devoted followers on Facebook (AKA Bevyville) and the 2017 Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. She even maintains a sense of humor during all those annoying conversations about her vocation’s apparent whimsy, managing to school whatever poor, misguided soul happens to utter some offhand remark about romance novels — books Jenkins painstakingly researches — as being “taken from TV shows,” “easy to write” or “the same every time.”

“People think that because we’re women we write with crayons,” Jenkins told Sarah Wendell, Media Pundit of the Smart Bitches Trashy Books Podcast. Both women cackled, as though to say, “As if.”

A secondary impediment, and one that seems only to affect romance authors of color, is the misbegotten notion of relatability and the constant back-and-forth about which reader will connect to whom or what. When the paranormal craze hit, and it hit hard with “Twilight,” publishers sought to find the next Edward and Bella. Essentially, a mass of mostly white vampires and zombies was unleashed on the reading public. These books were heavily promoted while books by African-American romance novelists and other genre authors were deemed to have limited appeal. As I sift through the many romance novels on my desk for review, one of which is about a planet populated by blue aliens who do dirty, dirty things — it’s actually a good book — I feel embarrassed about being alive in this moment. Is this really where we are as white people?

To the average person, it might appear that Beverly Jenkins does little else but write. Since 1994, she has written 34 novels, many of which are historicals and thus delve into unexplored pockets of the African-American experience which, by the way, is American history. She has also written two YA historicals and contributed to five anthologies. She occasionally leads bus expeditions through the South, taking a few groups of lucky fans on guided historical-interest tours that correlate to her novels. In the eternal sump of white historiography, wherein textbooks mostly teach African-American history as slavery and the Civil War and maybe throw in a couple sidebars on black historical figures, Jenkins aims to fill in an entire missing era but to do so in a way that isn’t whitewashed, is entertaining to read and, unlike real life, has some heat and an HEA (happily ever after).

“When American history is taught in school, all you see is we came here as slaves and then we were freed in 1865,” Jenkins tells me over the phone. “Then we just showed up in the Watts Riots in 1965. There’s this whole missing period of a hundred years and that’s where I set my stories. Right after the Civil War, you had Reconstruction with a lot of black folks in positions of power, building black colleges or going to medical school and becoming doctors. Then you had the rise of the Klan and all the lynchings and all that kind of sorrow. Black folks started migrating west which is where I set my first book, ‘Night Song,’ in one of those black townships in Kansas. This is something people don’t realize, but it’s part of our story.”

Jenkins wears her hair short. Her signature glasses are small and square and sit low on her nose. She peers over the top of them when she speaks. She dresses casually, as though she might plop down and crank out another book at any moment. She is an avid reader whose tastes include science fiction, Westerns, fantasy, romance and literary fiction. You name it, Beverly Jenkins reads or has read it. A native of Detroit, her mother was also an avid reader who went to the library regardless of the fact that, as an African-American in the 1940s, she wasn’t allowed to take any books home and could only read in the library.

“I tell people my mother was black before it was fashionable to be black,” Jenkins says with a dry laugh. “Both my parents pushed education but my mother read all the classics of the Harlem Renaissance. She’s 89 and still reading.”

On some level, her mother’s library experience has occupied a corner of Jenkins’ mind and propelled her forward. The liminal quality of it has come to represent the nature of the publishing industry in general for people of color. While the YA market seems somewhat more inclusive — as the progenitor of the #ownvoices movement, there are currently four books on the NYT bestseller list by authors of color: “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, “Everything, Everything” and “The Sun Is Also a Star” by Nicola Yoon and “When Dimple Met Rishi” by Sandhya Menon — the world of romance, especially historical, is slower to promote diverse authors.

Regardless of the numbers, the antiquated notion that books with people of color on the cover won’t sell as many copies as those with Becky and Biff on the cover pervades. Though there is a lean towards inclusion, other misguided notions, such as who’s buying the book, continue to inform publishing decisions. Never mind the Pew statistic that says a person most likely to read a book is an African-American woman with two years of college.

According to romance novelist Harper Miller (“Ironic”), this toxic disconnect pervades the industry on many levels, not just in terms of authors and cover art, but also placement in bookstores, where oftentimes books by black and brown authors are “segregated and ghettoized” in their own section rather than being included or, God forbid, given prominent placement. “People of color are not a monolith,” erotic romance author LaQuette (“Heart of the Matter”) adds. “What we strive to do as romance writers is normalize what people see as attractive and desirable.”

“Avon does a great job publishing me,” Jenkins says. “I am blessed with this job that I have and writing these stories and doing what my mother calls making the path wider. But African-American is not a genre! When they put us on a separate shelf, it cuts down on discoverability for people who may be white and looking for a good book. So when people say, ‘I don’t know if I can relate to that,’ I think, ‘But you relate to werewolves and vampires and shape-shifters and all kinds of other craziness. Why can’t you relate to people who are a different race?”

Jenkins’s first novel, “Night Song,” paints a largely unknown story: African-American life in 1880s Kansas. The heroine, a school teacher and an Oberlin grad, risks ruining her upstanding reputation to fall in love with a cavalry sergeant. That Jenkins managed to get this book published in 1994 when the market was far less diverse than it is today is a testament not only to the strength of the narrative and the delicate balance it achieves between humor and heat, but also to its universality as a love story.

“There’s a box for slavery, but free black people in a town in Kansas that people had never heard of before?” Jenkins says, and then laughs. “Please. They didn’t know you could have a story that was a romance or have people continue to court and marry against the backdrop of horror that America set for us . . . I like to put my stories where African-American people actually walked.”

If you’re new to the world of Jenkins and want to stay up all night binge-reading, try “Indigo,” or Jenkins’ own personal favorite, “Topaz,” the story of a newspaper reporter and a black Seminole marshal in Oklahoma. “Indigo” was inspired by two sentences the author happened upon in the book “Bullwhip Days,” a WPA project compilation of oral histories of formerly enslaved people.

“One of the slaves in ‘Bullwhip Days’ said he knew a man named Wyatt who was free who sold himself into slavery for the love of a woman,” Jenkins says, then pauses. “But there’s no HEA in slavery,” she says. “So you know I couldn’t write about that particular couple. Instead, I wrote about their daughter Hester and how she escaped to Michigan to work on the Underground Railroad and fell in love too. Everywhere I went, women were crying because I made Hester dark-skinned and they finally saw themselves in those pages. They were weeping and telling me, ‘I felt beautiful’ and I was weeping too. We all were just weeping. It’s one of my books that I’m most proud of.”

A detail from “Indigo” that still lingers all these years later — I read it in 1996 — is the image of Hester’s hands and feet, stained purple from working the indigo dye when she was little, a common occurrence for enslaved people who worked the plantations of South Carolina. This kind of resonant minutia is signature Jenkins. You find yourself learning history in spite of yourself and then deep-diving into the source material, reading the oral histories, watching the documentaries, and going back to read more of her books.

“There’s a saying that if you educate a woman, you educate a race,” Jenkins reminds me. It’s one of her mantras. You can almost hear her fans saying, “Tell it.” Or the men who read her Westerns applauding. (Yes, men read romance novels!) Because Jenkins, the heroine of the romance community, is quietly widening the scope of the American literature from her cluttered home-office in Detroit, whether in books about Harriet Tubman’s little-known work as a spy for the Union Army, the contributions of African-American female doctors, the Battle of Little Bighorn, or the lives and experiences of the Buffalo Soldiers.

“You have Jim Crow and you have the travels and you have to figure out ways to put that in the books so that it’s interesting and not angering,” Jenkins says. “I told my fans I do the crying for them.”

Breathless,” Jenkins’ newest historical, is the second book of what the author calls the Rhine Trilogy, and takes place about 15 years after “Forbidden,” the story of Rhine Fontaine, a man who is passing as white when he finds Eddy Carmichael wandering the Nevada desert after she has been robbed and left for dead. Where “Forbidden” delves into the complexities of race and identity, “Breathless” embraces the intimacies of sisterhood. Meanwhile, the Klan is rearing its head. Reading it, you wonder, Why isn’t this book in the window at Barnes & Noble? Is there still Barnes & Noble?

“It would be nice if the mainstream would open the door a bit more,” Jenkins says. “It’s just that there aren’t a lot of people of color at the gate in publishing who have the power to actively say yes and give women of color a platform. People aren’t taking us seriously. But I have hope. You have to have that because without it you run screaming into the street. It’s tiring but we continue to create.”

Source: New feed

EPA science adviser says clearing board of experts leaves “huge void”

Scott Pruitt

(Credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

On Monday, 38 of the EPA’s research advisers found out that their terms, set to end in August, would not be renewed.

One of them is Elena Craft, a senior health scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “It creates a huge void in terms of scientific capacity,” Craft told Grist. “Systematically gutting these committees is essentially cutting off access to some of the greatest science advisers really in the world.”

The purge will leave 11 members on the Board of Scientific Counselors’ subcommittees. The latest move follows sweeping cuts to federal agencies in April. The empty seats on the EPA’s advisory board are expected to be filled with a more industry-friendly bunch.

Craft said that after the announcement, Robert Kavlock, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s research arm, told the advisers in a phone call that he expected the board to pay less attention to climate change.

The board of experts has counseled the EPA on its research programs for two decades. Last year, the board’s subcommittees recommended that the agency work on engaging with communities in its clean-air programs and investigate environmental risks from toxic chemicals. All this advice comes free of charge.

“For an agency that is slated to have its budget cut fairly significantly, cutting out all of the free labor and free help doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” Craft said.

Source: New feed

Why union workers and environmentalists need to work together with smart protests


(Credit: Getty/Robyn Beck)


As Trump slashes and burns his way through environmental regulations, including the Paris Accord, he continues to bet that political polarization will work in his favor. Not only are his anti-scientific, anti-environmentalist positions firing up some within his base, but those positions are driving a deep wedge within organized labor.  And unbeknownst to many environmental activists, they are being counted on to help drive that wedge even deeper.

Trump already has in his pocket most of the construction trades union leaders whose members are likely to benefit from infrastructure projects – whether fossil fuel pipelines or new airports or …… paving over the Atlantic. His ballyhooed support of coal extraction  has considerable support from miners and many utility workers as well.

But the real coup will come if Trump can tear apart alliances between the more progressive unions and the environmental community. Trump hopes to neutralize the larger Democratic-leaning unions, including those representing oil refinery workers and other industrial workers.  That includes the United Steelworkers, a union that has supported environmental policies like the federal Clean Air Act and California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, and has a long history of fighting with the oil industry – not just over wages and benefits but also over health, safety and the environment.

To get from here to there, Trump is hoping that environmental activists will play their part — that they will become so frustrated by his Neanderthal policies, that activists will stage more and more protests at fossil fuel-related facilities, demanding that they be shut down in order to halt global climate crisis.

Oil refineries present a target-rich arena for protest. On the West Coast they are near progressive enclaves and big media markets in California and Washington.  Yet many who live in fence line communities would like the refineries gone, fearing for their own health and safety. Most importantly, they are gigantic symbols of the oil plutocracy that has profiteered at the expense of people all over the world.

But from Trump’s point of view, nothing could be finer than for thousands of environmentalists to clash at the plant gates with highly paid refinery workers. Such demonstrations, even if peaceful and respectful, set a dangerous trap for environmental progress. Here’s why:

1. Demonstrations at oil refineries will drive those workers into the arms of their employers and towards Trump.

For the past 40 years unionized oil workers have struggled against the oil industry to protect their health, safety and job security. The work is dangerous: At least 58 people have died at refineries since March 23, 2005, reports the Texas Tribune in partnership with the Houston Chronicle . In 2015, more than 5,200 unionized refinery workers went on strike, a rare event in an era of dwindling union power.

But when jobs are directly threatened by calls for shutdowns, we should expect both the employers and employees to circle the wagons.

2. It’s not clear that shutting down U.S. oil refineries will reduce overall carbon emissions.

There are 253 million cars and trucks on the road in America today and the average vehicle age is 11.4 years, reports the LA Times. While the number of plug-in electric cars are increasing, the total number is only about 570,000 as of 2016.  By 2030, some projections show that half of all cars will be electric. The other half will still need refined oil. In addition, for the foreseeable future, refined oil products will be needed for a wide variety of chemical processes not related to gasoline. Therefore, it is not credible to argue that demand for refined oil products will vanish if refineries in the U.S. are shutdown.

The fuel for those gasoline driven cars and production processes will have to come from somewhere. The question is from where? A related question is this: what will be the total carbon footprint of refined oil if it comes from far away — e.g. India or South Korea — and if the refining processes in those areas are less clean than in the U.S.?

Such questions require careful research, since different kinds of oil from different places around the world give off different amounts of greenhouse gases during refining; and since long-distance transport by ship, rail or truck emit additional and significant carbon pollution.

Furthermore, in large part because of the struggles waged by U.S. refinery workers, the health, safety and environmental controls at U.S refineries are among the highest in the world. The same could not be said about refineries in India or South Korea, for example.

3. Attacking the livelihoods of oil refinery workers weakens the alliances needed for reduction of greenhouse gases and the transition to a clean energy economy.   

But aren’t there plenty of labor organizations that already support strong action on climate change? If so, why should we care about these highly paid fossil fuel workers?

The answer relates to how we amass sufficient political power to curb greenhouse gasses. Nearly all of the labor groups that currently support strong action on climate change don’t have jobs at risk. They are health care workers, service workers and others who would not see their livelihoods threatened by job loss due the reduction of fossil fuel emissions.

But if oil workers are in alliance with the environmental community, an important political message can be sent. It could show that the workers most impacted by the transition also want a cleaner and more stable environment for themselves, their families and their communities. Such an alliance would bring more resources, organizational muscle and troops to the environmental struggle and it would have the potential to put a dent in the power of the oil executives to rally their employees against environmental protections.

4. Talking about Just Transition and the New Green Economy is not good enough.

But isn’t this job fear foolish? Doesn’t the new green economy now dwarf the old fossil fuel industries?

Yes, it’s true that solar and wind are rapidly growing. But it’s very, very hard to make the case to an existing fossil fuel or manufacturing worker that he or she is going to get these new jobs, or that pay and benefits will be anything close to comparable.

In the U.S. there is no just transition program that guarantees the incomes of those who lose their jobs due to needed environmental protections. Given four decades of attacks on organized labor, very few of the new green jobs are unionized or pay anything close to the fossil fuel/high energy jobs.

Creating a just transition program is an important and noble aspiration. But if such a program is to be actually “just,” it will require enormous changes in how our economy functions: i.e. how people get the new jobs and how incomes and benefits follow people during the transition. And it will require an enormously powerful political movement both to halt the climate crisis and protect worker rights.

The late Tony Mazzocchi, a leader of unionized oil workers and other industrial workers in the U.S., invented the concept of just transition. He understood there would be an enormous clash between the needs of the planet and the needs of working people to maintain their hard fought wages and benefits. He predicted decades ago that right wing demagogues would emerge to seize on these fears unless a real transition program came into being.

 The key concept of just transition as he envisioned it is “making workers whole.” This means that dislocated workers in environmentally sensitive industries would receive full pay and benefits as they transitioned to other jobs.  Mazzocchi argued that, at the very least, these dislocated workers should receive four years full pay and benefits, plus free tuition to college or a trade school of their choice, modeled after the GI Bill of Rights following WWII.

 If that’s what environmentalists mean by just transition, then there is an opening for a productive dialogue.  But that opening will only exist if environmentalists first do the math on how we meet continuing demand for gas to fuel our real driving needs, and on whether domestic, highly-regulated production of oil produces less carbon than alternative sources out of state or overseas.

How do we win the struggle to contain the Climate Crisis?  

It’s hard to make the case that we’re winning much of anything right now. Congress and the White House are now ruled by anti-labor, climate change deniers. We have an environmental lunatic as president. Perhaps it’s time to review our organizing strategies.

Because both labor rights and environmental progress are in grave danger, we should explore whether an alliance between oil workers and environmentalists is possible and productive.

One way to proceed is bring fossil fuel workers together with environmentalists in educational workshops — a safe space where together, they can explore these complex issues and opportunities. The United Steelworkers, the Communications Workers of America and the Sierra Club are doing just that in California. In fact, 24 of them are about to be trained to pair up as workshop leaders to run programs together for their respective organizations.

To see teams of unionized workers and environmental activists run workshops on jobs, the economy and climate change might send a powerful message that a new movement can be built. And maybe, just maybe, they can help us all avoid the destructive Trump trap.

(This train-the-trainer project is supported by the Labor Institute’s Educational Network which is collaborating with progressive advocates and partners to spread information around the country on how Wall Street and its CEO allies are strip-mining our economy, and what we can do about it. For a report on the pilot labor-environment workshop held in March 2017, see here.)

Source: New feed

They were my life support: My life-threatening health crisis brought out the best in my friends

hospital visiting

(Credit: Getty/sturti)

We hear someone push open the door with a “Morning, morning.” It’s Dr. Kobashigawa. “Hello, hello.” He shakes my hand, then Joy’s. “I think I’ll take a seat before examining you, if that’s all right.” He asks me how my night was, and I tell him I woke with a terrible period.

“It’s bringing so much extra pain,” I say, hugging my thighs to my chest for a few seconds before breathlessness forces me to let them go.

“Can she take, maybe, just one Advil?” Joy asks.

Dr. Kobashigawa flashes his warm smile. “Oh nooo. That would be very dangerous for her kidneys.”

I figure I’ll try to get by with some Tylenol. But the pain is coming in waves now, sharper and deeper with each one. I can feel my pajama bottoms sopping with blood, and the thought is nauseating. I start to hope this will be one of Dr. K’s shorter morning visits.

“I have some good news about your status on the waiting list,” he says. “We’ve been granted an exception for your case, and this makes you a 1A-E as of yesterday. Let me explain . . .”

I try to focus on his words, but the seizing pain distracts me, and I’m not sure how long I can sit and listen.

He tells us that it was necessary to submit paperwork justifying my 1A-E status (1A is the highest urgency, and E is for an Exception) because the particular manifestations of heart failure from which I suffer, as well as the type of life-sustaining care I’m receiving at Cedars, do not fall squarely within the requirements for this top waiting list tier. Even though my vasculopathy is clearly end-stage and irreparable, the diagnostic snapshot of my heart function (a conglomerate of specific test results, including pressure measurements in the right heart and assessment of the pumping capacity of the left ventricle) does not reflect the severity of my extensive artery disease. “And of course you don’t have a Swan in your neck, which is a requirement for 1A,” Dr. Kobashigawa adds, “another reason why we needed to get you an exception.”

He means Swan-Ganz, a catheter named after the two doctors who invented it (one of them at Cedars) back in 1970. Externally, the device looks like a plastic tube attached to the side of the neck and curled at the top like a memorial ribbon. Beneath the surface, it runs through the jugular vein and into the heart, where cardiac-sustaining medications can be delivered directly and their effects monitored.

“Most of the patients on this floor have a Swan in place,” he explains to Joy. “But Amy’s condition cannot tolerate the dobutamine that would be administered through it.”

“Revs up the heart like a race car. Keeps it beating,” I explain. “Although a few cc’s of dobutamine would actually kill me.”

Dr. Kobashigawa closes his eyes and grins. “You don’t mince words. And once again, you are correct.”

Another sharp pain grips my pelvis. I feel a gush of blood between my legs.

Oh, crap, I’m going to vomit . . .

“And so, the 1A-E. You’re at the top of the list now.”

Joy brings her hands together in a single clap. “Fantastic! Brilliant!” He holds up a hand to caution us. “The 1As who’ve accumulated longer waiting time will have priority,” he says. “And then of course we need an antibody match—that’s tricky, but I’m going to stay optimistic.” He gets up from his chair and steps forward to examine me.

Hold it together, Amy. Don’t puke on the guy. Think saltine crackers . . . saltine crackers . . . ginger ale . . .

The stethoscope lands first on my back. “Breathe . . . and again . . .” he instructs. He turns my chin to the left and assesses the throbbing purple vein in my neck. “Never fails to amaze,” he says.

“Yeah.” I’ve broken into a sweat. Just a few more seconds while he listens to my heart . . .

Stethoscope to chest now. Pause, pause, pause. “All right. I will see you, then, tomor—”

“I’m sorry, but I have to throw up!” I lurch forward and he jumps out of the way with a “Whoop!” and heads for the door, promising to get the nurse.

I rush to the bathroom, drop to my knees, and begin heaving.

Within seconds, Joy is kneeling alongside me. She puts her hand on my back while I vomit again and again. When I finish, she grips my arm and helps me to standing, fills a cup with water and steadies me while I rinse. Again, I feel a surge of blood; this time it runs down the inside of my legs, all the way to the floor. “Oh God, I gotta sit down . . .” Joy helps me turn around and sit down on the toilet. She notices that my pajama bottoms are soaked with purplish-red blood; I look down at the mess and start to weep as another wave of pain cuts through my lower abdomen. “I need to . . . get these pants off, but I . . . I’m going to throw up again . . .”

Suddenly there’s a basin in front of me; Joy spotted it on a high shelf and landed it on my lap in seconds. She is everywhere at once—an octopus woman with eight arms in motion. “But my pants . . . the blood,” I moan, just before another heave.

Her hand returns to my back. “We’ll get you cleaned up in a minute.

Don’t worry.” She rubs and rubs in gentle circles. “Shhh . . .”

Soon, the cramping and nausea begin to calm. “I think that’s it,” I say. She lifts the basin promptly from my lap. “I’m going to put this just outside the bathroom until I figure out what to do with it,” she says, and I watch her bend to place it just beyond the door frame. She pops up and whirls to face me. “Now, those pajama pants . . .”

Joy kneels in front of me. I try to place my thumbs under my pajama-bottom waistband, but I’m weak and shaking. She takes over at once, sliding the saturated flannel past my knees and feet. I look down and see that my blood-soaked underwear still clings midthigh, but I’ve got my hands on either side of the toilet seat now and I feel I may collapse if I lift them. “I can’t . . .” I whimper.

“I’m on it,” she assures me, and sets to removing my underwear in a succession of small, sticky tugs. She tosses it along with the pajama pants into the shower stall, then steps quickly over to the sink. Soon, she’s standing in front of me with a wet towel. “It’s warm,” she says. “Want to clean up down there?”

I glance at my blood-smeared thighs; I desperately want to clean them, but my body is still weak and trembling. This violent menstrual period is a new challenge that has rendered me immediately helpless, but I find myself easing into the hands that care for me. With the seamless presence of loving friends week after week, ceding some of my independence is starting to feel like an act of gratitude.

I don’t even reach for the towel. “I . . . I don’t know if I can.” Her response is instantaneous: “Let me help.” I accept gladly.

It was only two months ago that I scoffed at Joy’s offer to sleep in my bedroom back in New York. But now here I am in California, unfathomably exposed, and I’ve invited this same friend to lay eyes and hands on a most private part of me, tending to the task of cleaning my bottom half with the gentle thoroughness of a mother.

She tosses the used towel onto the shower floor and heads to the closet for some fresh clothes. “I don’t need a shirt, this one’s clean,” I call out.

“You need a shirt. Change up your outfit, change the mood of the day.” She steadies me as I stand up to slip on the clothes. “Period from hell, be gone!” she commands.

And why not? Joy’s intentions wield power here. For the past four days, I’ve watched them transform every corner of my hospital room, setting some of the horror back on its heels and proving once again her credo that atmosphere matters, not only for me in the wake of blood and vomit in the bathroom, but for all who enter this setting of galloping heart disease throughout the day and night. Cedars staff have been stopping in more often and staying longer now that Joy and her décor are in place; nurses plop down in Lauren’s chair, let out a sigh, and tell us, “Ahhh, this room transports me . . . Mind if I just sit here a bit?” And by the time they leave, Joy has made a new friend for herself—and for me. Her attention is fairy dust.

I can feel its magic on me as I lie here now, reclining on the bed with a soft blanket over my legs, cleaned and cleared of the early-morning ordeal that Joy has placed tidily behind us. I reach into my drawer for my Tylenol stash, swallow two Extra Strength caplets, and begin again the day that she’s already made better for me.

“You handled that really well,” she says.

“I’d say it was you who did the handling . . . or the pretty darn disgusting multitasking, really. I’m sorry you had to see all that.”

“See what? I was in action mode. Constant movement. No time for being grossed out. I will accept no sorries. Sorry!”

“So then—what? I should just say thank you?”

“I know you would have done the same for me, you big goofball. And hey, you’ve already done wonderful things for me, if you want to start comparing.”

She brings up the breast biopsy from years ago. The pathology result turned out to be benign, but the specter of an alternative outcome shook her to the core. We had a long talk together the night before the procedure, and Joy had shed rare tears of panic and dread. “What happens if I have cancer? How will I manage chemotherapy?” she wondered.

Joy reminds me now what I said in response: “You told me, ‘Then, you’ll come live with us until you’re well.’ I felt safe because I knew you meant it.” She insists I’ve provided other refuge as well, and begins to revisit the ways I’ve run reliable interference against some of the less obvious anxieties of her single life, including times I stayed on the phone with her when the cable or repair man came through the door. “Honey, what time do you think you’ll be home for dinner?” she would say as I played husband to her housewife so that the eavesdropping intruder wouldn’t know she lived alone. And there was a particular rough patch back when we were in our thirties, Joy reminds me, when she would go on a trip and couldn’t help but think, How long will it take an one to realize if I don’t make it back home again? Sending me an email with flight numbers, dates, and times gave her a feeling of security.

“None of those things involved wiping up period blood,” I point out. “I call it even,” she says. “And don’t try to tell me that I did the work in that bathroom—because it was you. You were amazing. So strong and focused—you didn’t even throw up on me! We were a great team in there.”

Great team. Amazing, strong, and focused.

That’s what Lauren said last week.

I wonder how specific the nightly emails have become. Do they now include sample statements for helpful conversation or praise? It can’t be a coincidence that Lauren and Joy are using the same words. There’s a conspiracy of lauding going on, and curiously, I don’t mind.

Over the years, my friends have learned to refrain from complimenting me on how well I abide my body ills. They’ve seen me take quick offense to pats on the back for actions, deeds, or behaviors that would not be worthy of attention in a healthy individual. But now, here’s Joy reminding me of the long history of reciprocity in our friendship and connecting me to my stronger, more giving self, and I’m uplifted by it. And when she tells me that I vomit with good aim and that, boy oh boy, can I withstand a spate of killer menstrual contractions—I’m surprised to find myself thinking, simply, Thanks for saying so. Commendable action has a new measure here in this hospital room, and so I respond to it in a new way; because the trials of my body are displayed conspicuously, I do not feel affronted by praise for how I deal with them. Instead, I feel fortunate that all my girlfriends seem intent not only on pointing out the best of my daily endeavors, but also on ensuring that the next visitor on the schedule does the same. They figured out—even before I did—that this is what I need.

Although these women arrive individually and sleep on the cot by themselves, they are linked, I now see, by a strong, supportive chain. They are never without each other in this retransplant effort, and I am never without the whole group of them, regardless of who may sit beside me on any given day.

Are we all—all of us—alone, then?

I look at the photo collage on the wall. I’m not so sure anymore.

“Now it’s time for me to go clean myself up,” Joy says, gathering her toiletry case and towel. She will go to the hallway bathroom rather than use mine here in the room, and it is by her own declaration that she (and all visitors) must do so. “You don’t need everyone’s germs,” was how she put it, proposing a Joy Amendment to the bathroom procedure a few days ago. I imagine she’s put it into writing in the group email, codifying it into law.

She steps into the hallway, and I reach into my night table drawer for the drawing pad Jody brought for me. I pull out a red colored pencil and write in large letters a quote I’d memorized back in college. Yeats. It was just one of many lines that struck me back then, but now I have an eerie feeling that I was meant to find it, to learn it, and to be alive to use it just this way.

I get out of bed and muster enough strength to push a chair up to the wall of selfies. I climb onto the seat shakily, Scotch tape in one hand and the sheet of drawing paper in the other. By the time Joy walks in, I’ve barely got enough breath to speak. “Can you . . . tell me if this . . . is the center?” I place my hand on the spot I think may be the middle. “I think so, ah . . .” She steps back from it.

“Down a bit and over to the . . . Wait! Get down from there! Let me do that, you silly!”

We switch places and I direct her. Joy presses some tape to the wall and stands motionless, staring for a few long seconds. When she turns around, her eyes are welled with tears.

“That’s perfectly beautiful,” she says.

Source: New feed

When — and why — did people first start using money?


(Credit: Elnur via Shutterstock)

Sometimes you run across a grimy, tattered dollar bill that seems like it’s been around since the beginning of time. Assuredly it hasn’t, but the history of human beings using cash currency does go back a long time — 40,000 years.

Scientists have tracked exchange and trade through the archaeological record, starting in Upper Paleolithic when groups of hunters traded for the best flint weapons and other tools. First, people bartered, making direct deals between two parties of desirable objects.

Money came a bit later. Its form has evolved over the millennia — from natural objects to coins to paper to digital versions. But whatever the format, human beings have long used currency as a means of exchange, a method of payment, a standard of value, a store of wealth and a unit of account.

As an anthropologist who’s made discoveries of ancient currency in the field, I’m interested in how money evolved in human civilization – and what these archaeological finds can tell us about trade and interaction between far-flung groups.

Why do people need currency?

There are many theories about the origin of money, in part because money has many functions: It facilitates exchange as a measure of value; it brings diverse societies together by enabling gift-giving and reciprocity; it perpetuates social hierarchies; and finally, it is a medium of state power. It’s hard to accurately date interactions involving currency of various kinds, but evidence suggests they emerged from gift exchanges and debt repayments.

Objects that occurred rarely in nature and whose circulation could be efficiently controlled emerged as units of value for interactions and exchange. These included shells such as mother-of-pearl that were widely circulated in the Americas and cowry shells that were used in Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia. Native copper, meteorites or native iron, obsidian, amber, beads, copper, gold, silver and lead ingots have variously served as currency. People even used live animals such as cows until relatively recent times as a form of currency.

The Mesopotamian shekel — the first known form of currency — emerged nearly 5,000 years ago. The earliest known mints date to 650 and 600 B.C. in Asia Minor, where the elites of Lydia and Ionia used stamped silver and gold coins to pay armies.

The discovery of hordes of coins of lead, copper, silver and gold all over the globe suggests that coinage — especially in Europe, Asia and North Africa — was recognized as a medium of commodity money at the beginning of the first millennium A.D. The wide circulation of Roman, Islamic, Indian and Chinese coins points to premodern commerce (1250 B.C. – A.D. 1450).

Coinage as commodity money owes its success largely to its portability, durability, transportability and inherent value. Additionally, political leaders could control the production of coins — from mining, smelting, minting – as well as their circulation and use. Other forms of wealth and money, such as cows, successfully served pastoral societies, but weren’t easy to transport — and of course were susceptible to ecological disasters.

Money soon became an instrument of political control. Taxes could be extracted to support the elite and armies could be raised. However, money could also act as a stabilizing force that fostered nonviolent exchanges of goods, information and services within and between groups.

Throughout history money has acted as a record, a memory of transactions and interactions. For instance, medieval Europeans widely used tally sticks as evidence for remembering debt.

Follow the money to see the trade routes

In the past, as today, no society was completely self-sustaining, and money allowed people to interact with other groups. People used different forms of currency to mobilize resources, reduce risks and create alliances and friendships in response to specific social and political conditions. The abundance and nearly universal evidence of movement of exotic goods over diverse regions inhabited by people who were independent of each other — from hunter-gatherers to pastoralists, to farmers and city dwellers – points to the significance of currency as a uniting principle. It’s like a common language everyone could speak.

For example, Americans who lived in the Early Formative Period dating from 1450 to 500 B.C. used obsidian, mother-of-pearl shell, iron ore and two kinds of pottery as currency to trade across the Americas in one of the earliest examples of a successful global trade. The Maritime Silk Road trade, which occurred between A.D. 700 to 1450, connected Europeans, Asians and Africans in a global trade that was both transformational and foundational.

In my own excavation work in 2012, I recovered a 600-year-old Chinese Yongle Tongbao coin at the ancient Kenyan trade port Manda, in the Indian Ocean. Chinese coins were small disks of copper and silver with a hole in the center so they could be worn on a belt. This coin was issued by Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty. He was interested in political and trade missions to the lands beyond the South China Sea and sent Admiral Zheng He to explore those shores, nearly 80 years before Vasco da Gama reached India from Portugal.

Archaeological discoveries like this one illustrate Africa’s integration into trade interactions in the Indian Ocean. They also show evidence that market economies based on cash money were developing at this time. On the East African coast, there were local merchants and kings of the local Swahili who followed Islam and cultivated these external contacts with other Indian Ocean traders. They wanted to facilitate business dealings, while merchants from the Near East and South Asia had their own Rolodexes of business contacts. Coinage was not just a local affair but also a way of leaving a calling card, a signature and a symbolic token of connections.

As the history of money has shown, currency’s impact is double-edged: It enabled the movement of goods and services, migration and settlement amongst strangers. It brought wealth to some, while hastening the development of socioeconomic and other distinctions. The same patterns unfold today with the modern relationship between China and Africa, now more intertwined and unequal than when Admiral Zheng He first brought coins from China in a diplomatic gesture, as a symbolic extension of friendship across the distance separating the two.

In our time, possession of cash currency differentiates the rich from the poor, the developed from the developing, the global north from the emerging global south. Money is both personal and impersonal and global inequality today is linked to the formalization of money as a measure of societal well-being and sustainability. Even as currency continues to evolve in our digital age, its uses today would still be familiar to our ancient predecessors.

The ConversationIn our time, possession of cash currency differentiates the rich from the poor, the developed from the developing, the global north from the emerging global south. Money is both personal and impersonal and global inequality today is linked to the formalization of money as a measure of societal well-being and sustainability. Even as currency continues to evolve in our digital age, its uses today would still be familiar to our ancient predecessors.

Chapurukha Kusimba, Professor of Anthropology, American University

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Actually, maybe HBO shouldn’t adapt “Watchmen” at all

Watchmen #1

Watchmen #1 (Credit: DC Comics)

News broke on Wednesday that HBO, the channel that gave us “Game of Thrones,” and Damon Lindelof, the creator behind “Lost” and “The Leftovers,” are in development on a new miniseries adaptation of writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons’ seminal, groundbreaking 1986-87 comic-book series “Watchmen.”

Perhaps we would be better off if it never came to be.

It’s true that reports of the partnership — an HBO version of the work had long been rumored — was met with cautious optimism. After all, the work that many have cited as the best comic book ever produced, one that had suffered a disappointing, overheated big-screen adaptation in 2009, landing in the hands of the platinum premium-cable outlet and the producer of the most thoughtful (if dour) scifi shows in memory, would seem to be a good sign.

Certainly, those who know and love the comic would agree that, if any live-action version of “Watchmen” were to follow director Zack Snyder’s misbegotten, off-tone big-screen translation of Moore’s work (which our initial reviewer happened to love, as is his right), a miniseries would be the best format and HBO would be the best home for that miniseries.

As well, while Lindelof’s work on “Lost,” two of the last three “Star Trek” films and “Cowboys & Aliens” lacks heft, direction and resonance, his production of three seasons of HBO’s “The Leftovers” shows a remarkable thoughtfulness and, if nothing else, a particular and interesting internal consistency. Moreover, you couldn’t say his writing on the half-cocked “Prometheus” lacked ambition.

It’s, on paper, a good lineup that could only be made stronger by strong casting (an HBO speciality), solid production values (ditto) and a good slate of episode directors (again, another of the network’s many virtues). If one had to transfer “Watchman” from the page to the live-action screen while preserving a decent amount of the text’s value, this is a better setup than most would be.

Still, given the yawning width and depth of the original text, even approaching such a translation seems a gamble perhaps better left untaken. The examples of why it’s perhaps best to leave “Watchmen” as is are too many to cover here, but five easy ones jump out.

First, not only is “Watchman” a knotted, troubling narrative populated by knotted, troubled characters that would require any cast or creators to be at their best, it is itself multi-platormed and, in a sense, metatextual. Extensive newspaper clippings, book excerpts and, notably, another comic book — all of them hailing from Moore’s fictional world — appear throughout the “Watchmen” issues. They are essential rather than peripheral parts of the “Watchmen” story and experience.

While Snyder incorporated at least some of those elements into his 2009 retelling, the work was slapdash and, true to the director’s style, mined for bombast instead of meaning. Interestingly, the failure of their partial inclusion leads one to question whether any live-action version of the work could employ them in an episodic format.

It’s easy to imagine Lindelof will try where Snyder failed. It’s harder to imagine how newspaper clippings will play out on screen (the gambits attempted in the live-screen adaptations of similar works such as “The English Patient” and “Cloud Atlas” were ultimately less than satisfactory).

Other elements of the text might present issues as well. From the careful placement of near-hidden symbols, nods and characters in its thousands of images, to the many effects of its famous nine-panel page format, so much of what made “Watchmen” succeed was not only the dialogue and script provided by Moore, but the stark, brilliant art of Gibbons. Snyder’s dark, neon-flecked baroque cinematography and “Matrix”-inspired shot selection jettisoned this core part of the text. It’s unclear how any director or cinematographer could preserve it or replace its profound value. Live action just doesn’t work that way.

There are other visual issues. These characters — some of them out of shape, some of them impossible Adonises — were meant to look absurd. From the eerie flat-blue skin of Doctor Manhattan to Night Owl, a hero who very much looks like he’s wearing pajamas, the presentation of these characters underlines the ridiculousness of the idea of superheroes. Snyder covered it up with CGI and “Dark Knight”-style armor, but it’s essential. Again, such aesthetics might be a huge viewer turn-off in a live-action setting.

There are pressing political concerns as well. “Watchmen” offers many, many things, but front and center is an informed anarchist critique of politics, culture and the ideal the hero in the post-Vietnam Reagan-Thatcher era. Ironically, given that it was put out by corporate publishing house DC Comics, “Watchmen” is also a scathing anti-corporatist artwork more than likely influenced by Marxist and other revolutionary texts and written by, again, a self-declared anarchist. There are touches of historicism and other philosophical or intellectual stances as well, none of them presented as cuddly or satisfying.

Support for these resonances is yet another point on which the 2009 adaptation failed. Snyder is, by all appearances, a cheerless Randian objectivist, who always puts the wants and desires of his characters above those of the many a la “The Fountainhead” (a work he wishes to adapt). Not only did his anti-altruistic approach turn classic superheroes into petty, selfish children in “Man of Steel” and “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” it turned the anti-corporate, anti-capitalist, borderline Marxist “Watchmen” into something it was never meant to be — a particularly enthusiastic (if dark and gritty) example of the sort of superhero theatrics Moore and Gibbons intended to undermine.

HBO and Lindelof are no doubt more nuanced, empathetic and, well, democratic in their visible belief systems. At the end of the day, though, both are very corporate, very capitalistic in their approaches. It seems almost too much to ask that they could support the underlying and, in its finale, somewhat nihilist thrust of this artwork. “The Leftovers” signals Lindelof can hear such threads, but it does not demonstrate he can follow them.

And that reveals a final point. The metatexuality, the complicated politics, the open-ended philosophies and the curious, rare joy and rage flowing through most of Moore’s many great works makes them almost above deconstruction. Such thorniness, such stickiness certainly hasn’t lent them to translation or adaptation.

Indeed, no live-action retelling of any of his works — from “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” to “From Hell,” to “V for Vendetta” has been actually, truly good. Actually, they’re pretty godawful, not just as Moore adaptations, but as movies full stop. Even 2016’s animated “The Killing Joke” was a mess.

Only the 2004 “Justice League” episode that adapted Moore’s 1984 “Superman” Annual Vol. 1 #11 story “For the Man Who Has Everything” came close to capturing the magic of its original text, and it was a 22-minute daytime cartoon of a 43-page single issue.

This is all to say, yes, the HBO series holds some promise and could surprise much in the way “Westworld” did. This writer will surely be viewing it with the hopes that it not only represents the same value of “Watchmen” and carries a bit of its complicated magic, but upends the live-action superhero genre in the same way that Moore and Gibbons’ printed work did 30 years ago. After all, it’s a genre in need of upending.

But perhaps it would be even better to let “Watchmen” lie, to appreciate it not as an “intellectual property” of Warner Bros., but as the querulous, engaging complete object it is. Not everything needs to be on screen, and some things are better off it.

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