Sunday, June 22, 2008

Review: The Coming China Wars

Peter Navarro, The Coming China Wars: Where They Will be Fought, How The Can Be Won.
The purpose of this book is to warn that unless strong actions are taken now both by China and the rest of the world, The Coming China Wars are destined to be fought over everything from decent jobs, livable wages, and leading-edge technologies to strategic resources such as oil, copper, and steel, and eventually to our most basic of all needs--bread, water, and air.
To achieve his purpose, Navarro explains and examines how various Chinese policies affect its people and government and those of the rest of the world. For example, the book is replete with examples of how China's government has set-up uneven economic playing fields domestically and globally through currency manipulation, protectionism, worker mistreatment, lax regulation--if any at all--and ignoring product piracy within its borders (80% of pirate products seized at U.S. borders come from China). Such practices have fueled China's economic growth at an unsustainable pace, according to Navarro. Throw in a growing appetite for natural resources, both its own and those of other countries, and China is a ravenous beast not easily sated. Its economic needs affect its judgment as the pressure to maintain the rate of economic growth encourages the maintenance of the same unfair and immoral practices.

Given the way China operates within its own borders, it is no surprise to learn that it makes no moral ties to its economic needs abroad; looking the other way when dealing with dictators in Africa or Iran or North Korea for natural resources in exchange for weapons or help with infrastructure, which in turn helps China extract the aforementioned resources. Environmental issues are also not high on their list of priorities. 18 of the 20 smoggiest cities are in China and that so-called "chog" finds its way into the air of its Asian neighbors and the West Coast of North America. Then there is the disastrous treatment of the Chinese waterways: the Yellow River is often also blue, green or red; the three Gorges Damn is proving to be an environmental and health disaster. One wonders if the coverage of the upcoming Beijing Olympics will reveal such things for the world to see.

Their willingness to take environmental short-cuts buys them economic growth because such a lax atmosphere proves too tempting to foreign companies. Here, Navarro makes an important historical point:
There is both a danger and a paradox here that should not be lost on any student of Chinese history aware of the "foreign humiliation" that China was subjected to in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The danger is that these powerful foreign economic interests are overpowering the political will of the central government, thereby rendering it impossible for China to get a handle on its own pollution problems. The paradox is that as China's Communist Party seeks to mold the country into a superpower, it is quickly losing control of its own destiny to powerful foreign economic interests.
Thus do foreign companies and countries (and their consumers) prop up Chinese economic practices. However, Navarro does suggest that such a climate is causing worker unrest upset over unpaid wages, revoked or reduced pensions and poor health. Then again, the Chinese government has also engaged in repression (Falun Gong, Tibet, Uighur), often with the implicit help of foreign companies (Yahoo! is singled out). This belligerence is also turning outward as China is amidst a dramatic military buildup with the apparent goal of power projection around the world and even into outer space. (An aside: this was the first time I'd heard that the moon may have rich deposits of Helium 3, a rare isotope that scientists believe could help with nuclear fusion.)

So what should we do about all of this? Navarro's concluding chapter offers some suggestions to both governments and to we the people. Focusing on his prescriptions for the individual, Navarro explains that we haven't really, truly been paying attention because of "the narcotic effect that cheap Chinese goods have had on us" or we've been more worried about the Middle East. Or, perhaps most importantly, there "is a general lack of awareness of the far-ranging implications of a world increasingly 'Made in China.'" As to this last, The Coming China Wars is a quick and succinct way to get up to speed. Cheap goods are good for the American consumer, but not if they are produced on playing field tilted as dramatically as portrayed by Navarro.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Baby-Mama Witches of Gloucester

The first thing I thought of when I read the story about the 17 wanna-be baby mamas of Gloucester, Massachusetts were the teenage girls who lay at the center of the Salem Witch Trials. No doubt, this was probably because of the proximity of Gloucester to Salem Village (now Danvers, Mass.). Now, I'm simply not well-versed enough in group psychology or the deeper history of the Salem Witch hysteria to draw any conclusions. I just found these parallels interesting (if they are indeed parallel!).

A little digging brought up some statistical similarities: there were 16 girls in Salem Village who claimed they were the victims of witchcraft, and most were teenagers; there are 17 new baby mama teenagers in Gloucester. Maybe both groups of girls were depressed by their surroundings, or at least picked up on the depression from their parents and community.

Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum theorized in Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft that the Salem Village witchcraft accusations were a sort of psychological projection that exposed tensions between the agrarian and economically poor Salem Village and its more economically successful neighbor Salem Town. As Philip Greven, Jr. wrote in his review of Salem Possessed (Reviews in American History, Vol.2, No.4, 1974; p.516):
Throughout their book, the underlying assumption which shapes their analysis of the Village and its inhabitants is that this community reflects a particular transitional point in a long-term historical process which was transforming precapitalist agrarian society into more urban, commercial, and capitalistic society. As they observe of [Reverend Samuel] Parriss and the Village, "All the elements of their respective histories were deeply rooted in the social realities of late seventeenth century western culture--a culture in which a subsistence, peasant-based economy was being subverted by mercantile capitalism" (p. 178).
The Time piece on the Gloucester 17 noted:
The past decade has been difficult for this mostly white, mostly blue-collar city (pop. 30,000). In Gloucester, perched on scenic Cape Ann, the economy has always depended on a strong fishing industry. But in recent years, such jobs have all but disappeared overseas, and with them much of the community's wherewithal. "Families are broken," says school superintendent Christopher Farmer. "Many of our young people are growing up directionless."

Amanda Ireland, who graduated from Gloucester High on June 8, thinks she knows why these girls wanted to get pregnant. Ireland, 18, gave birth her freshman year and says some of her now pregnant schoolmates regularly approached her in the hall, remarking how lucky she was to have a baby. "They're so excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally," Ireland says.
Also, its apparent that both groups of teenage girls may have coordinated their actions. Although many believe that the Salem accusers were victims of mass hysteria, perhaps even chemically induced, there is also evidence that they were just "hav[ing] some sport."

Daniel Elliott: Deposition for Elizabeth Proctor

the testimony of Daniel elet aged 27 years or thear abouts who testifieth & saith that I being at the hous of leutennant ingasone one the 28 of march in the year 1692 thear being preasent one of the aflicted persons which cryed out and said thears goody procter William raiment juner being theare present told the garle he beleved she lyed for he saw nothing then goody ingerson told the garl she told aly for thear was nothing: then the garl said that she did it for sport they must have some sport

( Essex County Archives, Salem -- Witchcraft Vol. 1 Page 27 )

The Gloucester baby mamas consciously decided to get pregnant and raise their kids together.
By May, several students had returned multiple times to get pregnancy tests, and on hearing the results, "some girls seemed more upset when they weren't pregnant than when they were," [school principal Joseph] Sullivan says. All it took was a few simple questions before nearly half the expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together.
And once each group embarked on their respective escapades, they knew that adults were in place to provide, shall we say, support. In the case of the Salem girls, society was predisposed to attribute their actions to supernatural causes:
At the time, however, there was another theory to explain the girls' symptoms. Cotton Mather had recently published a popular book, "Memorable Providences," describing the suspected witchcraft of an Irish washerwoman in Boston, and Betty [Parriss]'s behavior in some ways mirrored that of the afflicted person described in Mather's widely read and discussed book. It was easy to believe in 1692 in Salem, with an Indian war raging less than seventy miles away (and many refugees from the war in the area) that the devil was close at hand. Sudden and violent death occupied minds.

Talk of witchcraft increased when other playmates of Betty, including eleven-year-old Ann Putnam, seventeen-year-old Mercy Lewis, and Mary Walcott, began to exhibit similar unusual behavior. When his own nostrums failed to effect a cure, William Griggs, a doctor called to examine the girls, suggested that the girls' problems might have a supernatural origin. The widespread belief that witches targeted children made the doctor's diagnosis seem increasing likely.

Meanwhile, the number of girls afflicted continued to grow, rising to seven with the addition of Ann Putnam, Elizabeth Hubbard, Susannah Sheldon, and Mary Warren. According to historian Peter Hoffer, the girls "turned themselves from a circle of friends into a gang of juvenile delinquents." ( Many people of the period complained that young people lacked the piety and sense of purpose of the founders' generation.) The girls contorted into grotesque poses, fell down into frozen postures, and complained of biting and pinching sensations. In a village where everyone believed that the devil was real, close at hand, and acted in the real world, the suspected affliction of the girls became an obsession.
The Gloucester girls are surrounded by a support system of a different kind.
The high school has done perhaps too good a job of embracing young mothers. Sex-ed classes end freshman year at Gloucester, where teen parents are encouraged to take their children to a free on-site day-care center. Strollers mingle seamlessly in school hallways among cheerleaders and junior ROTC. "We're proud to help the mothers stay in school," says Sue Todd, CEO of Pathways for Children, which runs the day-care center.

But by May, after nurse practitioner Kim Daly had administered some 150 pregnancy tests at Gloucester High's student clinic, she and the clinic's medical director, Dr. Brian Orr, a local pediatrician, began to advocate prescribing contraceptives regardless of parental consent, a practice at about 15 public high schools in Massachusetts. Currently Gloucester teens must travel about 20 miles (30 km) to reach the nearest women's health clinic; younger girls have to get a ride or take the train and walk. But the notion of a school handing out birth control pills has met with hostility. Says Mayor Carolyn Kirk: "Dr. Orr and Ms. Daly have no right to decide this for our children." The pair resigned in protest on May 30.

There are also other reports attempting to link the episode to celebrity culture, "abstinence only" education or a reduction in sex education classes in Massachusetts.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that teenage girls are probably the clique-iest species in the world. Perhaps all that can be concluded is that the phenomena of girls behaving badly is really nothing new: its easier to act out against social mores with your peers than by yourself. And there really is safety in numbers. If you are a teenage girl and you and a group of your friends cross the line, many adults--including your own parents--will trip all over themselves to find alternative explanations for your behavior. If you do something stupid all by yourself, then you, young lady, were just being an idiot. But if you are wise enough to get a group together to engage in unacceptable behavior, then the temptation is to shift the burden of responsibility from the individuals to the larger society.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

US Navy To Raise Sunken Russian Sub

Providence, Rhode Island's sunken Russian submarine will finally be raised as part of a training exercise by the US Navy. The sub, which was used in a Harrison Ford movie and served as a floating museum on the Providence waterfront, has been underwater for a year after sinking during a storm. Unfortunately, it looks like its days as a museum may be over. The Providence Journal has details:

Next week, a team of Army and Navy salvage divers will pull the sunken Juliett 484 upright using heavy machinery. Once the sub is standing straight, they expect to raise it out of the water, probably on July 15.

While it’s a great training exercise for the military’s salvage divers, they may be among the last people who will ever set foot inside the Russian sub; its days as a museum boat are likely over, thanks to the rust and growth inside. They won’t know for sure until the submarine is refloated.

“If it’s in really bad shape, we have to be realistic, it’s been underwater for a year,” said Frank Lennon, president of the USS Saratoga Foundation, which operates the museum.

There’s still a chance the submarine could be restored, but that would likely be too expensive for the foundation. It’s possible that it could be beached somewhere, or that the military could have a hand in restoring it, but it’s equally likely it could end up as scrap, or sunken again to serve as an underwater reef.

One thing is certain: the Russian sub museum at Collier Point Park is a thing of the past. “That is not an option,” Lennon said.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

New Nathaniel Greene Bio Coming Next Week

A new book by Rhode Island author Gerald Carbone, Nathanael Greene: A Biography of the American Revolution, may finally put one of America's finest generals into the spotlight. Historians of the American Revolution know that Nathanael Greene, son of a Rhode Island Quaker family, was the most successful general in the Continental Army. But, he has been overshadowed by a certain other General (you know, Father of the Country and all that) and his victories came in the South, which has always been kind of the sub-plot to the Northeast-centric narrative of the AmRev.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Review: Sin in the Second City

Karen Abbott, Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America’s Soul.

Minna and Ada Everleigh owned the preeminent brothel in turn-of-the century Chicago and entertained prize-fighters and princes during the decade plus tenure as proprietors of the eponymous Everleigh Club. World famous, the establishment catered to well-monied men of expensive tastes—a conscious decision on the part of the sisters—and engendered jealousy (from competitors) and anger (from reformers) as well as revenue (for the sisters and the politicians they bribed). Oh, and they have been credited with helping to proliferate a certain term for coitus, based upon a pun on their name.

Abbott exposes their invented backstory for what it was, though there is still plenty of murkiness about their past. What is known is that the ladies set up shop in Chicago and found instant success. But they didn’t do so blindly. They weren’t your average prospective madams; they knew the importance of market research and selected Chicago after a nationwide canvassing of various cities. It was a good choice and they prospered so long as they bribed the right politicians and deflected attention away when various incidences could have caused them trouble.

Yet, they also went into business at the same time that a nascent Progressive movement was growing, encompassing everything from banning cigarettes and alcohol to advocating against prostitution. Obvoiusly the Everleighs were concerned mostly with the last and Abbott intersperses her story about the business of running the Everleigh Club with snippets regarding the growing movement against white slavery, which quickly became a proxy for the fight against prostitution.

As the years went by, the reformers became more aggressive and even resorted to exaggeration or outright lies in an effort to shut down red light districts across the nation. The Everleighs avoided trouble and continued to reap the rewards for supplying their vice. Eventually, however, the wrong Mayor got elected and the wrong review committee suggested that Chicago clamp down on prostitution. And what better target than the high-profile Everleigh Club to set the example? The end was quick, and despite initially thinking they could re-establish themselves, the Everleigh’s eventually retired in anonymity to New York City, living out their days amongst the remnants of their wealth.

To be sure, Abbot’s sympathies are clearly with the sinners rather than the saints in this story. This leads to a tendency to gloss over—or leave unmentioned—some of the consequences of the Everleigh sisters actions. There can be little doubt that their support for local politicians via bribes helped to seed and strengthen organized crime. And regardless of whether or not they ran a high class establishment, the sisters contributed to the corruption of many a person. Abbott does try to be fair to the reformers, but they are clearly the antagonists in this tale.

Sin in the Second City is a hybrid work. Abbott combines her knowledge of the historical record--backed by extensive research--with her interpretation of the words and psychology of the several “characters” who make up her story. This is not historical fiction, but Abbot offers up a substantive amount of speculation—from quotes, to divining motivation or thoughts, to describing impossible to know physical actions—to dissuade one from calling this a work of straight history. But her research shows in the attention to detail and the overall result is a highly readable and interesting story that allows the reader to appreciate one version of this interesting era.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Medieval Mass Transit

I wonder if they were talking about this at K'Zoo:
With no end in sight to the rise in fuel prices, commuters in Albany are using a network of trebuchets to save on gas and the airlines are taking notice.

“We have a high-density of renaissance festival attendees, so it’s only natural that the trend started here,” said Clinton Decola who heads the Trebuchet Transport Cooperative of Albany (TTCA). “In medieval times the trebuchet was accurate, but with today’s technology we can make it even more accurate. People can launch themselves from house to house until they’re near enough their work to walk.”

The members of the TTCA operate over one hundred trebuchets and catapults around the Albany area. Members pay a small fee to maintain the trebuchets, then they can use the network to travel anywhere the trebuchets launch to.

Christian Rega uses the network to fling himself to work and back saving over $100 a week on gas. “I save money; I’m helping break America’s addiction to oil and defying death every day. It doesn’t get much better than that,” said Rega.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Kudo's to the Cliopats

'Spose "kudos" are in order to the Cliopats and their fellow travelers for the part they played in helping He Who Is Change gain the Democratic Party nomination. Me? I don't get the infatuation, but I've also not seen as effective a political cipher as mssr. Obama. Anyway, congrats to Ralph et al. For the rest of us, take note of the list of HfO historians, check it twice and keep it in mind thirty years on when the history of the Obama campaign/Presidency is written. There sure are a lot of candidates for court historian, no?