Our decision to focus on the inner life of hotels might seem rather whimsical, but it wasn’t. The truth is, we were looking for the right instrument, for an angle on contemporary life that we could use to materially anchor our ongoing conversations about modernity, power, and release, about race, class, gender, and globalization, about a whole lot of things. Getting to the hotel—and getting to that moment of realization at the ZaZa—took us a year or two of back-and-forth in the off hours. Sitting down that day, ticking off on our fingers those points of shared concern, we finally got it; we simply looked around and recognized that we were surrounded by a weird, fascinating material object, with its own culture and politics, an object that could capture all of these dynamic points. A waitress brought us coffee with a flourish, and a small clutch of brown sugar nuggets appeared on the table, with a small silver spoon. Why not, we thought, try to write about all of that?
I’m going with Atomicocene because what has changed with this new time is not only humans and their activities, but specifically, and most dramatically, the role some humans in atomic states have played in the spreading of “artificial” radioactivity across the globe.
From the 888,246 poppies spilling from the Tower of London to the British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s controversial ad based on the 1914 Christmas truce, the 100th anniversary of the Great War’s commencement has led to a great deal of centenary commemorations. In some cases, artists and activists from the former belligerent powers have come together to create commemorative artwork in the streets of major cities like London and Berlin in hopes of encouraging passersby to reflect on the significance of the events that unfolded a century ago. Despite widespread recognition of the need to observe the centenary and honor the war’s fallen, however, there has been little consensus over the most appropriate way to do so.
When a new school board majority elected by Wake County, North Carolina, residents in 2009 began to alter the jurisdiction’s long-standing diversity assignment policy, it drew attention from media outlets across the globe. The story conveyed by reporters was that the county—possibly still believed to be a sleepy southern backwater by many—was fractured in two by this decision, with conservative white suburban residents supportive of the change and a coalition of liberal white urbanites and African Americans in vocal opposition. Although Wake’s school board politics are ostensibly nonpartisan, the new majority had ridden into office on a strong Republican tide that existed as a mild swell in the county just fifteen years before. They instituted, according to stylized accounts, a revolution in policy of similar magnitude.
It is certainly an interesting time for the creation, selling, and distribution of popular music (not to mention less-popular music, like jazz and classical, which encounter even more drastic dilemmas, as recently pointed out at Salon.com). Many of the artists taking a stand against the new status quo in recorded music allude to the history of music making in the United States, often referring back to earlier eras wherein musicians received unfair deals from recording companies and large majorities of performers struggled to make a living, even as a “top 1%” of musicians dominated sales and marketing. This look back to history makes sense.
One of the more touching moments in the story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination came when a surgeon announced that the president was dead, whereupon the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, broke the silence. “Now he belongs to the ages,” Stanton ostensibly observed, with a poetic spontaneity for which he was not known. Numerous people recount some form of the quote, but none of them recorded their memory of the phrase until a generation later, after it appeared in the multi-volume Lincoln biography by his former secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay. Nicolay was not in Washington that night; Hay is often depicted at the bedside, although the room was not big enough to accommodate all who have subsequently been placed around it at the moment of the president’s death.
“What Would Jesus Do About Measles?” asks Paul A. Offit, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in the opinion pages of the New York Times. Recalling the 1991 measles epidemic in Philadelphia (1400 people were infected; 9 children died), Offit points out that the outbreak was so virulent because two fundamentalist Christian churches that discouraged vaccination were at its epicenter. Public health officials brought the epidemic under control—in part—by getting a court order to vaccinate children over their parents’ protests. Citing the current measles outbreak and the approximately 30,000 children in the United States who are unvaccinated for religious reasons, Offit makes the case for eliminating the religious vaccination exemption. Moreover, Offit thinks Jesus—who stood up for children—would get them vaccinated against measles to keep them safe and to protect others.
I knew there were ample primary sources out there on what the Irish thought about race and racial identity. And as I dug into them in the course of my own research, I realized how much these previous scholars had missed by not listening to the immigrants’ voices. I learned, for example, that the differences between whites (along Celt/Saxon lines) were just as important, in the minds of many Irish, as the differences between whites and people of color. Moreover, the Irish talked about identity in transnational terms; they thought of themselves as members of a global community, capable of being Irish whether at home or abroad. These conclusions complicated, I realized, what many scholars have taken for granted regarding immigrant identity in the nineteenth century.
“Thus has another good work been wrought in the interest of peace and good order, on our often threatened and imperiled border.” So reported the Helena Weekly Herald on the successful raid by the U.S. Army on a Plains Metis camp just south of the forty-ninth parallel in November 1871. “This colony of British Nomads,” the Montana newspaper explained, “had brought with them large quantities of liquor and ammunition to barter with the Indians for robes and peltries.” These circumstances were part of a disturbing series of reports from this stretch of the forty-ninth parallel through the 1860s and 1870s that suggested that Plains Metis traders from north of the border were encouraging Indigenous peoples in the American West “to make war upon the government of the United States and its citizens.” Reports such as these introduced the Metis to American officials and underscored just how important it was to suppress these cross-border networks if the United States was to secure its northern border.
What about the second major surrender, that of Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston to U.S. general William T. Sherman, at a farmhouse between Hillsborough and Durham Station, North Carolina? There were several smaller, later surrenders, too, the last of them that of the C.S.S. Shenandoah by Captain James Waddell to a captain of the British Royal Navy in Liverpool on November 6, 1865. But the negotiations initiated by Johnston—in a letter written April 13 and received by Sherman April 14, which was also Good Friday and the same day John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater—led to the largest surrender of the war. Although more than 30,000 soldiers in the Army of Tennessee surrendered in North Carolina (fewer Army of Northern Virginia veterans were paroled at Appomattox), in fact the terms signed by Johnston and Sherman officially disbanded Confederate units fighting in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, putting the number of soldiers involved close to 90,000.
Why do most of us hear and know so much less about this surrender, the largest of the war?
Whether you want to redesign your entire landscape, find a project for this weekend, or simply reduce overall outdoor maintenance, taking steps to make your garden greener, or more sustainable, may be the answer. Sustainable landscaping is a way to design and care for yards, gardens, and the larger landscape to create outdoor spaces that are attractive and healthy for humans, wildlife, pets, and the environment as a whole. Growing greener does not have to entail huge effort or become a life-altering process. While enthusiastic gardeners may be inspired to plant a wildflower meadow or create a native woodland garden, far simpler steps also can be beneficial.
“Why didn’t we learn about this stuff earlier? I can’t believe I’m in college and this is the first time I’m learning in class about present-day racism, sexism, and homophobia.” These are the types of comments that I often hear from students in the classes I teach on Urban Education, Youth Identities, and Gender & Education. Once, a white young woman, a graduate student, broke down in tears during class as she opened up about her sense of shame. She was outraged about the indignities experienced by poor children of color in urban schools and she felt ashamed that she was previously unaware of these realities. I can see on their faces when it begins to dawn on them that not only have their educations been amiss in preparing them to take action against injustice, they have not even been given the tools to see or acknowledge the inequalities of which they themselves are a part.
Yosemite National Park made the evening news on Wednesday, January 14, 2015. American rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson reached the top of El Capitan by ascending Yosemite’s Dawn Wall. The climbers’ years of preparation, 19-day free-climb, and personal stories riveted television audiences nationwide. News programs also gave audiences a rare treat: panoramic views of the park’s natural beauty that included cascading waterfalls, granite formations, and snow-dusted trees.
Yet Yosemite almost did not become a national park.
On March 12, a rank-and-file caucus of Branch 36 (Manhattan-Bronx) of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) spearheaded the demand for a branch strike vote. Striking the federal government has been illegal since 1912. But that is exactly what Branch 36 voted to do on March 17. Picket lines went up at midnight all over New York City. Other NALC branches voted to strike, spreading upstate and into New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania; then west to Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado, and California. Together they shut down 671 post offices in dozens of cities and towns across the United States. Clerks, mail handlers, maintenance workers, motor vehicle operators, and other crafts from other postal unions joined what became the largest “wildcat strike ” (one not authorized by a national union) in American labor history. Over 200,000 postal workers struck for eight days. Despite the inconvenience of a total mail stoppage, strikers enjoyed the support of the majority of Americans.
But while Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations have often brought people together under the banner of “Irishness,” they have also served as bellwethers for deep-rooted concerns. After achieving political independence from Britain in the early 1920s, for example, the Irish government sought to consolidate their claims to respectability by prohibiting the sale of alcohol on the saint’s feast day. Throughout the twentieth century, Saint Patrick’s Day parades in Ireland were dour, formal affairs, often conducted through driving curtains of spring rain.
I am in one of the uncanniest locations to learn of this tragedy on the other side of the globe. Richland was the bedroom community for scientists, engineers, and managers working at the Hanford Site, a top-secret complex created for the Manhattan Project. After the war, Hanford was a key location for nuclear bomb production during the Cold War. Now the site is mostly dedicated to cleaning up after those nuclear adventures.
Waterfalls are constantly changing. A rapid surge in stream flow following a heavy rain can turn a modest waterfall into a raging torrent of water. Dry periods can transform a waterfall into a trickle of water (much to the disappointment of waterfall enthusiasts). A slight breeze can elicit a shimmering spray, and if the light is right, a colorful rainbow. If passing clouds obscure the sun, the brightly reflective waterfall changes to softer hues, and the rainbow vanishes into thin air.
A lesser known failure of the Confederacy, however, involved agriculture. In 1861, Southerners considered agriculture an element of power similar to military power, which, combined, would guarantee secession and independence. They were confident that not only would Union armies not prevail but also that their own agricultural capability would prevent the Union from starving the Confederacy into submission. Southerners could fight, feed themselves, and use cotton as a diplomatic tool–assumptions that in the minds of many already made the Confederacy independent.
2014 was marked by protests across the nation insisting that Black Lives Matter. Many decry the justice system, which has failed to indict officers and vigilantes who have killed unarmed black children, while girl victims receive little notice in the press. We have an urgent need to tell and listen to deeper, more nuanced stories about these youth and other youth of color who remain either invisible or hyper-visible in marked, stereotyped ways.
One thing a détente between the U.S. and Cuba will do is reveal the truth or falsehood of an urban myth in Havana, which holds that numerous pristine 1950s Detroit models are stored in secret garages across the city.