Puritans and the Texas State Board of Education

by Lana Lynne on 5.30.2010

A week ago, the Texas State Board of Education passed their revised curriculum -- and with it comes a new version of U.S. history. Granted, we all know the history we learn in school is from the perspective of the 'winners.' So perhaps the new whitewashed narrative the Board has chosen is so appalling simply because we have actually witnessed its germination.

A few of the changes were outlined by Devona Walker in "Texas textbook tragedy: Whitewash of American history":
In Texas schools, the Slave Trade is officially no more, it’s the Atlantic triangular trade. Country music is an important modern cultural movement; hip-hop isn't. Thomas Jefferson deserves to be erased from a list of "great Americans." But we apparently need additional chapters on Ronald Reagan.
On Sen. Joe McCarthy, well apparently we’ve all got it wrong. He was not a communism-obsessed loon but an American hero. President Obama, though they didn’t entirely erase him out of existence, they did intentionally insert his middle name. He’s now Barack Hussein Obama. Apparently Republican former House speaker Newt Gingrich deserves studying and the National Rifle Association deserves praise for upholding the U.S. Constitution. And Jefferson Davis, the slave-owning president of the Confederacy, should be taught alongside Abraham Lincoln -- who effectively ended slavery.
In addition to the tragic omissions in this curriculum, the Board has also reinforced the same old anti-intellectual, anti-learning message that already pervades classrooms. The whole debacle calls to mind a passage in Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates, in which she chronicles the evolution of American Protestantism:
Protestantism's evolution away from hierarchy and authority has enormous consequences for America and the world. On the one hand, the democratization of religion runs parallel to political democratization. The king of England, questioning the pope, inspires English subjects to question the king and his Anglican bishops. Such dissent is backed up by a Bible full of handy Scripture arguing for arguing with one's king. This is the root of self-government in the English-speaking world. On the other hand, Protestantism's shedding away of authority...inspires self-reliance -- along with a dangerous disregard for expertise. So the impulse that leads to democracy can also be the downside of democracy -- namely, a suspicion of people who know what they are talking about.
So, three centuries later, if we had any concern that we would have shed these fears of intellectualism/learning/individuality, the Texas State Board of Education just laid them to rest.

A New Earthquake: Monsanto Threatens Food Sovereignty in Haiti

In efforts to maintain food sovereignty, Haitian farmers decided earlier this week to burn 60,000 toxic seed sacks which will be donated by those omnipresent swindlers, Monsanto, reported Beverly Bell on Truthout. In what can only be a transparently backhanded "gift" (a Trojan Horse, as one commenter put it), the food giant offered the struggling country corn and vegetable seeds -- all non-GMO, they assure -- but nevertheless treated with the toxic pesticides at which Monsanto excels.

Executive director of the Peasant Movement of Papay and the spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, called the donation a "new earthquake," expressing concerns that Monsanto's entrance into Haitian agriculture would be "a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds ... and on what is left [of] our environment in Haiti."

Bell's look at the toxicity of the donated seeds supports the Haitian farmers' concerns:
The hybrid corn seeds Monsanto has donated to Haiti are treated with the fungicide Maxim XO, and the calypso tomato seeds are treated with thiram. Thiram belongs to a highly toxic class of chemicals called ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs). Results of tests of EBDCs on mice and rats caused concern to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which then ordered a special review. The EPA determined that EBDC-treated plants are so dangerous to agricultural workers that they must wear special protective clothing when handling them. Pesticides containing thiram must contain a special warning label, the EPA ruled. The EPA also barred marketing of the chemicals for many home garden products, because it assumes that most gardeners do not have adequately protective clothing. Monsanto's passing mention of thiram to Ministry of Agriculture officials in an email contained no explanation of the dangers, nor any offer of special clothing or training for those who will be farming with the toxic seeds.
Of course, some pesticides aren't the only reason Haitian farmers are revolting (though when you take into consideration that Monsanto was paid $25 million by the U.S. government to supply a concentrated version of Roundup to kill Colombian drug crops, and that the communities affected now suffer increased rates of birth defects and cancers, as well as a decimated food and water supply, the pesticides certainly are enough reason). To date, Monsanto owns 650 seed patents, over half of the world's seeds. The company has won $21.5 million from lawsuits against U.S. farmers, and investigates some 500 farms a year to make sure its seed patents are being respected. All hail...

Read the full article on Truthout.
Image credit: Beverly Bell

New David Lynch Film - a Commercial?

We don't typically promote random corporate efforts here at Recycled Minds, but we're going to make an exception for this one. The dark and wondrous David Lynch, one of our favorite film directors, just released a new 16 minute film with only one problem - it's actually a very long commercial. Still, the film is distinctly Lynchian, and worth a look - especially because you can watch it right here:

Petition to Suspend Shoddy BP Atlantis

Food & Water Watch launched a campaign today to shut down BP Atlantis, another oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that reportedly has the potential to create an even more catastrophic disaster than the recent Horizon breakdown.

BP Atlantis began production in 2007, and a year and a half later, reports surfaced that the operation was missing 89% of its required engineering certification for piping and shutdown systems. It is the largest and deepest submerged oil platform in the world.

As the broken well at BP Horizon continues to spew an estimated 146 gallons of oil a minute into the Gulf, take a minute here to sign Food & Water's petition at spillthetruth.org.

For a disturbing time line of oil spills and shady connections that date back to 1969, see Jotman.

Links Friday!

Check out some of these interesting and poignant stories that we found over the last week:

From National Geographic: The Gulf Oil Spill could last for years, and we have no idea how to stop it. Plus, why the Gulf Coast should prepare for the worst is explained. Read the story here>>>

From Boston.com, the Big Picture: a photo essay of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. If you're familiar with the Big Picture, you know these photos will be touching (the above photo is an example - dolphins swimming through oily water off the coast of Louisiana). If you haven't seen their photo essays before, check out this one, and then go look for more - they're usually amazing. See more photos here>>>

From NBC comes this story about a Native American tribe from Louisiana, the Huoma, reeling from the effects of not only the recent Gulf Oil Spill, but also decades of marginalization. Read the story here>>>

If you haven't heard about the Student Strike occurring in Puerto Rico, you have to check it out. This piece from the SocialistWorker.org explains the background of the strike and details its wider effects. Read the story here>>>

From Better Health: The effects of "the Pill" on women's sexuality - recent studies suggest the use hormonal birth control raises the risk of sexual dysfunction. Read the story here >>>

From the East Bay Express: an interesting article on hunger in the U.S. - how the government defines it, the effects of the economic downturn, and how extensive hunger actually is. Also comes with an associated photo essay. Read the story here>>>

Picture of the Gulf Oil Spill from Boston.com the Big Picture

Drugs are Here to Stay

Our relationship with drugs is confounding and confusing to say the least. An AP article picked up by Yahoo News made the rounds yesterday and explained the failure of our Drug War - on which we have spent over $1 trillion over the years. That's a whole lot of money that could certainly be put to better use, especially considering the utter failure of the uses on which it has been spent. Even the U.S. drug czar admits as much:
"In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."
Despite this recognition from those in the position to perhaps change or affect policy, the Obama administration has decided to travel the same old long and tired road:
"His administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget"
This all says nothing about the legal drugs that the U.S. consumes in greater and greater numbers. According to a visual produced by Good.is Transparency, the pharmaceutical industry spent $4.5 billion on advertising in 2009 alone. This figure does not include the many millions spent by the industry on lobbying in Washington. In contrast, this spending seems to be working - in 2009, there were more pill prescriptions written than there are people in the U.S. So we have the government spending billions in efforts to control "illegal" drug use, and corporate America spending billions trying to get us to take "legal" drugs (many of which are taken illegally). This is a confusing message for the general population to try and decipher. Are drugs good or bad? The message seems to say both, and it looks like billions of dollars are being spent to confuse the people, keep them in an unknowing limbo, and allowing at least a certain cut of the profits to stay in the "proper" coffers - those of the corporate elite.
Here's the image on pharmaceutical drug use referenced above, and be sure to visit the Good.is website for an interactive (and larger version) here>>>

Everyone is an Artist: The Rise of Self-Publishing

"Everyone is an artist" can be taken two ways: as a lament (in which case the phrase is said sarcastically with requisite eye roll) or as a celebration (in which case the phrase becomes more of a mantra one lives by, one would think, rather than spoken). In a sense, the phrase encapsulates a dilemma at the center of art's role in the marketplace. Everyone can't be an artist in the conventional model, for such a situation would no doubt collapse the value system used to stratify art. If a particular piece of art is to be meaningful, it is much more likely not to appeal to a wide audience, and if it does, the artist has sold out. Or, do as Jonathan Franzen did, and condescend to the millions of readers who found The Corrections through Oprah's book club.

But meanwhile, that conventional model may have already changed. Nowhere is this more evident than in the rise of self-publishing. A recent New York Times article points out that the amount of self-published books increased by 181% from 2008 to 2009 for a total of 764,448 titles (by comparison, 288,355 titles were published by conventional publishers).

But it's not just the numbers that have changed (for everyone is an artist, aren't they?); more importantly, the stigma attached to self-published titles is changing as well. Virginia Heffernan writes:
In this time of Twitter feeds and self-designed Snapfish albums and personal YouTube channels, it’s hard to remember the stigma that once attached to self-publishing. But it was very real. By contrast, to have a book legitimately produced by a publishing house in the 20th century was not just to have copies of your work bound between smart-looking covers. It was also metaphysical: you had been chosen, made intelligible and harmonious by editors and finally rendered eligible, thanks to the magic that turns a manuscript into a book, for canonization and immortality.

And self-published books are not just winning in terms of numbers but also making up ground in cachet. As has happened with other media in this heyday of user-generated content, last century’s logic has been turned on its head: small and crafty can beat big and branded. As IndieReader, an online source for self-published books, puts it, “Think of these books like handmade goods, produced in small numbers, instead of the mass-marketed stuff you’d find at a superstore.”
The changing face of the literary marketplace will undoubtedly have an impact on canonization and criticism in general. But what direction will this impact take? Without expectations, rules and a jury of your peers, can anyone be an artist?

Enriching the Rich through Economic Meltdowns

I'm currently reading David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism and am struck at how prescient many of his insights are. Written in 2005, Harvey is able to reflect on world affairs up into the Bush II era, however it is unlikely that he could have foreseen the calls for change that led to Obama's election and the ensuing difficulties of executing that change. The recent economic collapse likewise was not foretold, but still could be seen as an expected development in what is actually the era of neo-neoliberalism. The outcome of the most recent collapse however, does fit perfectly with trends in policy response to such economic troubles in the past. In short, the rich have gotten richer, while the poor (and middle classes) are stretched thinner and thinner.

Harvey describes the core position of this neo-neoliberalism as being firmly rooted in the belief and advocacy for absolute personal freedom. This, of course, includes personal corporate freedom as well. This perhaps sounds like it fits squarely within traditional American ideals and values, and, in fact, it does. The appeal to such traditional values is one of the main reasons why neoliberal policies and actions have generated and maintained support not only in the US, but in other developed countries as well. However, there is a flip side to this American ideal of freedom, and it was explained in 1944 by the European intellectual Karl Polyani. Harvey summarized:
"There are two kinds of freedom, one good and the other bad. Among the latter he listed 'the freedom to exploit one's fellow, or the freedom to make inordinate gains without commensurable service to the community, the freedom to keep technological inventions from being used for public benefit, or the freedom to profit from the public calamities secretly engineered for private advantage."
The conundrum is in the "good" types of freedom - again Polyani summarized in Harvey:
"But 'the market economy under which these freedoms throve and also produced freedoms we prize highly. Freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of meeting, freedom of association, freedom to choose one's own job'. While we may 'cherish these freedoms for their own sake', they were to a large extent 'by-products of the same economy that was also responsible for the evil freedoms."
This dual nature of the concept of freedom is exactly what neoliberalism uses for the advancement of the interests of those who hold wealth and power. The "good" aspects of freedom are used to cover-up or obfuscate the "evil" aspects of freedom that are actually being put into action. What is perhaps most startling, is that there is evidence for this (at least in terms of outcomes) in the news everyday. One has to look no further than the huge financial bailouts that were given to the banking industry that not only covered losses incurred by the banks, but also provided large bonuses to those at the top of the ladder. Or take a look at this article from the Times Online from the UK that notes that the richest people in Britain have seen their wealth increase by 30% in the last year - smack in the middle of the worst global recession in recent history.

Still not convinced? Check out this article from the LA Times that spotlights who is responsible for what may turn out to be the largest and most damaging oil spill ever. Guesses? Look no further than Halliburton, the corporation with links to Cheyney, that has made huge profits through it's "involvement" in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The weakening of federal regulations during the Bush-Cheyney era may be directly responsible for sub-par construction methods on the leaking oil-rig. Halliburton was sub-contracted to perform the work, and the article reports that they are under investigation in Australia for a similar construction failure that led to a massive oil leak there.

Interested in some more damning evidence? Check out this commentary on Mongabay, BP’s Oily Political Connections: from the Bush to Obama Era, that details the political influence that BP as wielded in the administrations of both the Republicans and the Democrats. Freedom, good or bad, is clearly not a partisan issue.

So I ask, whose interests are being promoted and protected here? What freedoms are being advanced? Can we afford to take the "bad" freedoms with the "good" that we value so much? Can we have the "good" without the "bad"?

These are questions that I will continue to ponder, and I'm interested in others' thoughts and opinions on the matter.