Sunday, July 30, 2006

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Josie Fowler on July 14, 2006.

My Friend, Josie Fowler

On July 23rd 2006, my good friend from graduate school, Josie Fowler, died of cancer.

I met her in the early 1990s, having first heard about her from my advisor, who had been on the admissions committee when she applied. I got the impression that she was someone to pay attention to. And she was. When she came to grad school, she was in her thirties, already had a master's degree in historic preservation and had written a novel. I wanted to be her friend pretty much immediately, and sought her out.
We had one class together, one in immigration history, and little did either of us know at that time that by the end of her time in grad school that she would become one of the most innovative scholars in the history of US immigrants. She started out a dissertation project that would compare the history of Gays and Lesbians and Asian-Americans in the Communist Party of the USA, primarily in California. Since I had done a lot of research on the CPUSA as an undergrad, and was doing my own dissertation on the history of the American left, we were natural research allies and library buddies.
Josie was diagnosed with breast cancer early in her graduate school career, and continued in school despite a double mastectomy and intensive chemo-therapy. I well remember talking with her all through the time of her treatments and gave her my TV to watch during recovery time. She lived with another friend of mine, and through tbe years we would see each other at parties if we weren't both in the library. She talked me through a million dumb relationships with guys in and out of grad-school, and I talked her through some prelim worries and problems with grad school "hoop jumping." Eventually, she went to Russia for six months and was one of the few American scholars, and one of the only ones on the left, to read pieces of the Russian comintern records of American communists. Occasionally, we exchanged emails while she was there. At one point, I seem to remember that she was sleeping on a cot in the hallway of some dreadful rooming house. While there she assembled her own excellent archive of Japanese and Chinese American communist materials, all of which will be donated to an American library.
Back in Minneapolis, she first planned to write her dissertation as a historical play with an academic introduction, and indeed, she wrote the entire thing. However, she changed her mind, and wrote what her advisor said to me was one of the most "traditional" (in the best way) historical dissertations, involving meticulous archival research.
On the way there, she proofread a chapter of my dissertation for me, and when I defended it, she came, and joined me and friends for bowling and beers afterward. After I left graduate school, Josie was one of a very small number of people with whom I remained in regular contact. She came to New York on a fellowship at Barnard and I was lucky to spend time with her while she was in the city. One of the best times, she came to my birthday party, and I got to introduce her to a famous labor historian and activist whom I know. Later that year, she told me that her cancer had metastasized. This was devastating news, and I read a little and learned that the survival rate of stage four breast cancer was not very high, however treatments are always improving, and Josie was someone who would make sure that she got the best treatment available. She was always confident and maintained a good sense of humor about her treatments.
The next time I saw her was in New York City. She had just finished her dissertation, a two volume tour-de-force history of Asian American communism titled, “To be Red and ‘Oriental’: The Experiences of Japanese and Chinese Immigrant Communists in the American and International Communist Movements, 1919-1934," but had to defend it from bed because she had broken her foot in a fall. She broke it because the chemo-therapy had given her osteoperosis, and she had tripped on a cobblestone while on her way to lunch with Peter Kwong, the famous Asian-American labor historian, who took her to great Chinese restaurants. I was amazed when Josie told me that while she was in the hospital with the broken foot, she had made friends with her hospital-room-mate and they had written part of a musical comedy about American medicine together. I think one of the songs was "Nurse, where's my bed-pan?"
Of course, as she was a labor activist and lefty, the musical involved the bad working conditions of the nurses along with the pangs of the patients. If there's a manuscript of this somewhere, I would love to see it.
She spent almost a year back in Minnesota, teaching at Macalester, where she was a huge success, and also taught at Metro State Community College, where she just loved the students. It was her favorite teaching job. That year, however, she was forced to leave teaching and focus her attention on her health. She moved to Boston, where she lived until her death last week. During those last two years of her life, Josie got a book contract with Rutgers, and last week, before she died, she finished it. I last saw her on July 14th. What she was most concerned about in our conversations was the state of the world she was leaving behind. She was hungry to stay in touch with current events, and told me that she was frustrated with the state of cancer research in the US. "All they are interested in is drugs," she said, and they do very little research into the evironmental causes.
An activist to the end, her plans for her own remembrance include asking people to donate to some organizations that do more research on environmental causes of cancer. When I find out which specific organizations she listed in her plans I will post their names here.
As an academic and as a friend, she has left a big mark on the world, a bigger one than many who are here for longer do. She said she lived a full life, and she was right. I am just angry that it ended so soon, and I will miss her terribly. And yet, I know that she already gave me so much. She said to me before I left, "you have a good life." She was absolutely, I realized then, one of the most truly generous people I've ever known

Holy Enron, Batman! The US AID exposed!

Was anyone else surprisedto read this? The sort of thing they describe is this:

The hospital’s construction budget was $50 million. By April of this year, Bechtel had told the aid agency that because of escalating costs for security and other problems, the project would actually cost $98 million to complete. But in an official report to Congress that month, the agency “was reporting the hospital project cost as $50 million,” the inspector general wrote in his report.

The rest was reclassified as overhead, or “indirect costs.” According to a contracting officer at the agency who was cited in the report, the agency “did not report these costs so it could stay within the $50 million authorization.”

Now, why the cost overruns? It's all because the situation is so insecure that the majority of "reconstruction" money is going into military operations, dubbed "security" in these regions. At least, that's how it seems to me, especially since last night I was listening to Colby Buzzell on This American Life's "Strangers in a Strange Land" explaining to the local Sheiks why he couldn't do any public works projects there.

oh, yeah, things are going Great in Iraq. and um, the situation is just getting better and better with all the help from the US.
After checking out Juan Cole's blog today, I may just head over to the bodega on the corner to pick up a copy of the Sunday Times so that I can read Frank Rich's column, which points out that what with the disastrous situation in Lebanon, there's been a decrease in news from Iraq. Juan Cole says Rich is being unfair because,
If they tried to cover two important issues like Iraq and Israel-Lebanon, the television news producers would ask, how could they fit in the missing white women and the small town murder mysteries?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Activist Opportunities In NY

An anonymous poster quoted a Military Families Speak Out member Georgia Stillwell in a new comment here. I hope the implication of the excerpt from the brave anonymous reader wasn't to suggest that the keeper of this blog or its readers are a bunch of comfort-zone livin', easy-chair sittin' armchair types.
Generally, I agree. People gotta get out there. I've been wondering myself just what opportunities there are for activism in NYC right now. So, here are a few:

Friday, July 28
3:30PM to 6:30PM
Location: Israeli Mission to the UN (42nd St. & 2nd Ave.)

Israel out of Gaza! Israel out of Lebanon! Justice for the people of the
Middle East!


This Saturday there is a major march against the Israeli invasion of
Lebanon and assault on Gaza. It will be the largest city-wide
demonstration of opposition to the continuing horrific news. Please
come out to show our outrage and our solidarity.

STOP U.S. Sponsored Israeli Terror
March Across Brooklyn Bridge

Stop the Invasion of Lebanon!
End the Occupation of Palestine!
Stop U.S. Aid to Israel!
Free Arab Political Prisoners in Israel!

Gather at CADMAN PLAZA PARK, Brooklyn

Sponsored by the Ad-Hoc Coalition for Justice in the Middle East
Endorsers: Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, International
Solidarity Movement- NYC, International Socialist Organization,
National Council of Arab-Americans, Network of Arab-American
Professionals of NY-PC, NY Campaign for Boycott,Divestment, and
Sanctions, Jews Against the Occupation NYC.

United for Peace and Justice have also published a general call to oppose Israeli aggression. (check their events calendar for weekly anti-recruiting actions with teh War Resisters League.)

NEW: for Monday:
When: 5:00 P.M. - July 31, 2006
Where: Dag Hammarsjold Plaza at 46th and 1st, slightly north of the
United Nations, followed by a march to Ralph Bunche Park, directly
across from the UN. From there, march on 42nd street, past Grand
Central, to Times Square.
Why: On July 30, 2006 Israel bombed a building where 100 civilians
had taken shelter, massacring at least 54 Lebanese civilians,
including 37 children in the city of Qana. Israeli missiles struck
just after one in the middle of the night, leveling a three-story
building where two extended families had taken refuge in the basement
from heavy Israeli bombardment in the area.
France, Britain, Spain, the European Union, the United Nations and
countries throughout the world condemned the Israeli attack on Qana.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora denounced the attack as a "war
crime," demanding an immediate ceasefire in a conflict that has now
killed more than 750 Lebanese people, more than half of which were
children, and has left a trail of destruction across the country.
The attack was eerily reminiscent of the Israeli attack in April 1996
on a United Nations base in Qana that killed more than 100 civilians
who were taking refuge in the base during Israel's "Grapes of Wrath"
bombing campaign.
This is not the first massacre Israel has carried out. This is not
the first time Israel is condemned by the international community for
its attacks against civilians. If we do not act now it will not be
the last.
Come out to protest this vicious attack against the people of Lebanon.
Demand that your tax-dollars stop being sent to kill people in
Palestine and Lebanon.
Support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.
Bring Palestinian and Lebanese flags and signs demanding an
unconditional ceasefire, an end to U.S. Aid to Israel, and U.N.
Sanctions on Israel.
Ad-Hoc Coalition for Justice in the Middle East –

Friday, July 21, 2006

Websites of the Day - Rotten History

Are you one of those people who thinks things now are as bad as they've ever been? If you're talking about the Middle-East you're probably right. However, in the US, I don't know if it's ever been as bad as it was between 1917 and 1920, although right after that, if possible they just seemed to get worse (in a couple of weeks, I'll be posting Sacco-Vanzetti sites).

After the US entered the wildly unpopular "Great War" to end all war in 1917, the US govt. put a propaganda apparatus in motion that combined old-fashioned stump-speaking "four minute men" and army clubs with the modern media techniques of public relations.
Among the many Americans who didn't see entering WWI as in the interests of the US' people, were many labor activists, who not only opposed the war, but were frustrated with super-controlled wart-time working conditions and post-war wage cuts. They engaged in a large number of militant strikes that in some cases proclaimed solidarity with the recent revolution in Russia.
The result? A crackdown on anti-war activism and labor organizing that included not only imprisonment and deportations based on nothing but dissent, but also vigilante attacks on anyone either pro-labor or against the war. IWW activists, Frank Little and Wesley Everest were lynched by mobs in Montana and Washington State, their mutilated bodies left hanging as warnings to other labor organizers in the region. But you could be lynched for being less radical. In 1918, German American Robert Prager was lynched in Illinois for saying something negative about the president.
If the "mainstream" didn't accept labor action, they were even less amenable to African-American rights-struggles. As a result of whites leaving industrial jobs to fight in the war, African-Americans moved North in large numbers, as European immigration virtually halted. Blacks joined the military to "fight for democracy," and trained for war in segregated southern camps, or returned from the war with freshly showing self-respect only to meet vicious reprisals from whites. During and after World War One, not only were individual blacks lynched for the usual offences (sauciness, joining a union) but whites went on rampages attacking Black neighborhoods in several different cities, in some cases burning whole communities to the ground. In East St. Louis 1917, Chicago, Elaine, Arkansas and at least 18 other towns and cities in 1919, Tulsa in 1921, and Rosewood, Florida in 1922. In one famous case, the men of the 24th regiment, the famous "buffalo soldiers" who were stationed in Houston 1917, fought Houston's white police because of a threatened attack following an attempt by one of the soldiers to thwart the unjust arrest of a black woman.
To give you an idea of just HOW simultaneous all these events were, the NAACP wrote to the New Republic magazine looking for "John Reid" (sic) or some other "young man" to go down to Houston and get the facts on what had happened there. Unfortunately, he couldn't go, because Reed had just gone to Russia (where he would live through the Bolshevik Revolution and write Ten Days that Shook the World.)
Of course, at that time, we also had John Reed, and the Russian revolution, not to mention W.E.B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey to be excited about. At the moment, I'm not doing too well coming up with the hopeful trends or individuals on the same scale from today's world. Anyone? Anyone?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"How many have to die before the swaps begin?"

That's what Robert Fisk wants to know about the current crisis in the Middle-East. So, if you were paying attention to CNN this week, what you'd mostly be hearing about would be Israel's attack on Lebanon, and you'd be hearing that this was all about "retaliation" for the capture of Israeli soldiers/missile attacks on Israel. You'd also hear that it was somehow connected to the ongoing attack on Gaza,a about which you might not be hearing much at all, certainly not about the way that the bombing of the power-plant has already led to a massive humanitarian crisis. And because of Bush's latest over-heard conversation, you'd also know that he was blaming Syria for the actions of Hizbollah in Lebanon. If you watch Fox news you'd probably be hearing that all this had to do with radical Islam.
Yes, Hizbollah are Shia fundamentalists and Hamas are another fundamentalist group, but that's not the main reason that all this is happening.

First, the attack on Gaza is part of long-range Israeli government goal of eliminating what they call "the Palestinian problem." For a long time, they hoped to do this by encouraging the Palestinians to migrate to Egypt and Jordan. Now, they're just wearing them down in a war of attrition. As Tanya Reinhart explains in "The Palestine Chronicle," Israel has been planning the current attack on Gaza since long before these hostages were taken by Hamas.
It also helps to know that Lebanon for Israel is like Vietnam for America. It sparked some of the first conscientious objectors in the Israeli military, and included aerial bombardment of urban apartment blocks and the use of white phospherous, not to mention the collusion in the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, to attack Palestian refugees living there in camps like Sabra and Shatila (hence the massacre), and allied with the Christian-fascist Phalangists (Maronite Christians) against the Palestinians and their Muslim allies. Syria, Lebanon's Norther neighbor, also wants a piece of Lebanon and came in 1976 during the civil war, which was related to the Palestinian refugee camps and the PLO.

So,not only were the attacks on Gaza long-planned, but according to Fisk, Hizbollah's attacks on Israel were too, in coordination with the Syrian government, so eager to retain their influence on Lebanese politics .The escalation of aggression now going on in Lebanon is eerily reminiscent of the 1982 fiasco that led to the creation of Hizbollah in the first place. And just as in the past, it involves Syria.
So, wait a minute, does that mean that Robert Fisk and George Bush agree?
Not exactly...but my hour of web-time is up. More on this issue soon.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

New Website Of the Day

So every now and then I hear from some of you in real time that you're checking out my blog. Thanks! Glad to know my flower garden's getting noticed by someone besides the nice lady with alzheimer's that lives across the street. Once she came over and said to me, about six times in a row, "This is the best garden on the block." You have no idea how satisfying that is. Or maybe you do.
* * *
Today's website was easy to choose. I'm working on chapter two, and in the midst of rifling through old notes and looking for which library had which copy of the exact thing I needed, I turned to the web and found almost everything about the Haymarket bomb trial in one damn place.
But just to keep things a little more exciting, let me also link to the brouhaha about Timothy Messer-Kruse's sort-of-recent (recent in academic terms) article about anarchist bomb-making on h-labor. (just keyword search "haymarket")

And now, I must go back to work.
And to those of you who read, please comment, please!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Jesse James vs. John Brown : Americans Sure Love Those Confederates

In doing some research between chapters, I recently read quite a lively and distressing biography of Jesse James by T.J Stiles. Most people think of the Jesse James they saw in Western movies, a train-robbing Robin Hood who only hated banks. Johnny Cash and Kris Kristoferson even made a movie about him. Some of that, Stiles, explains is because James constructed his image self-consciously that way. He wrote letters to the newspapers signed "Jack Shepherd" after a famous English criminal folk-hero. What most people don't know is that James got his start running with William Quantrell's pro-slavery "border ruffians" in the Kansas border wars. James stayed true to the Confederate cause, and when he quoted from his “Jack Shepherd” letter during an Iowa train robbery he and his gang were dressed in Ku Klux Klan outfits. Jesse James is still popular, and thanks to the internet, we can sort of measure his popularity. If PBS’s “American Experience” poll of viewers of their recent documentary about James is any indication, On July 8, 2006, 66% of those who responded to the poll said that James’ “life of crime” was justified.
While PBS doesn’t have a poll on John Brown to correspond with its most recent documentary John Brown’s Holy War, American Heritage does have a Brown poll, in which 46% found John Brown to be a “madman” and only 13% found him to be a hero.
Ideology works a lot of magic.

Monday, July 03, 2006

More Drama at Air America; Translation Debates

Someone posted to the comments section that Marc Maron will be making some kind of announcment on Wednesday about his future at Air America. Over on his blog, someone made a comment that Randi Rhodes just made a hint that maybe they are changing the morning line-up again. Could it be good news this time?
Meanwhile, I must return to Jean Valjean's flight from Javert.* If you have an opinion about the many translations of Les Miserables, post a comment here. I am reading Norman Denny's translation, which Hugo biographer, Graham Robb referred to as "swiss cheese." I started with Charles Wilbour's five years ago and found it less than artful. I haven't tried the others. I wrote my own Amazon review of Denny's translation, which I am enjoying. He got some props on the back from A.S. Byatt as "inventive, witty, sly, innovatory" and he's somehow associated with the NYRB, which despite their occasionally conservative commentary, know their literature.

* this is indeed related to my own book. It's one of my mandatory to-read books, and did you know that Huey P. Newton read Les Miserables THREE TIMES in highschool?