A good part of the reason I started blogging was because I went to a history conference at a UT branch up between Dallas and Fort Worth and found that, contrary to belief, many well known academic historians have found community history projects to be invaluable because of their focus and details. Photos rated high. Photos with details rate high. Interviews with participants in events rated high. Interviews with older people rated high if you cover their experience and perspective.
- Prairie Weather


“Protest works. Just look at the proof”


The last place you will hear about the new American labor movement is in big American outlets.

Via lambert, via susie. See them, their blogrolls, Twitter hash tag #1u and just about any other outlet where citizens can get the word out.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

The CIW is a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. Via.


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The Hunting of the Snark



Sites participating in blogroll amnesty day

Jon Swift aka Al Weisel, may he rest in peace. Co-originator of Blogroll Amnesty Day

skippy the bush kangaroo (Co-originator of Blogroll Amnesty Day) (2012)

Vagabond Scholar (2012)
Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety. Keeper of the Jon Swift Memorial Roundup (The Best Posts of the Year, Chosen by the Bloggers Themselves)

Notes From Underground (2012)

Redeye’s Front Page (2012)

Wisdom of the West (2012)

Zen Comix (2012)

pygalgia (2012)

Mikeb302000 (2012)

The Agonist (2012)

Brilliant At Breakfast (2012)

Bacon and Eggs (2012)

'Ad hominem' is not Latin for 'I cannot rebut your argument'

Jonathan Chait’s latest adventure in pointless contrarianism has already been wrestled to the ground and noogied, with Alex Pareene doing an especially delightful job. The short version is this. With the exception of the incident at the top of the article (about which: intimidation, violence and threats of violence are completely wrong) Chait catalogues some snarky behavior and petty grievances, then tries to blow it up into a threat to democracy.

As Angus Johnston pointed out, everything else that Chait objects to in his article is speech. He says he’s in the “solution to speech you don’t like is more speech” camp, then proceeds to lament people using more speech to prevent, say, Condoleezza Rice from having yet another opportunity to share her unique thoughts about things. Those who didn’t want their university to sponsor one of the architects of the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history had, in Chait’s view, an unwillingness to encounter contrary ideas. (Does he not know what the point of protest is?)

So while in theory Chait favors more speech for everyone, he doesn’t really like how it can work out in practice. Those he disagrees with are welcome to their more speech, but only on the condition that it is exercised in a way no one notices.

He traces this troubling development to the beginning of the political correctness movement in the early 90s. This is kind of funny because the title of his essay recalls a formulation conservatives loved to use back then - invoking the phrase as a way to endorse reactionary positions. (“Well, this may not be politically correct, but (insert antediluvian sentiment here).”)

Whatever the origin, lots of people can now broadcast their opinions on social media. Someone says something, then others respond. If the first thing said is provocative then there might be lots of responses, and those responses might be pointed. Chait is totally fine with that first thing, which makes sense considering he’s a professional instigator at a major media outlet. But that second thing? Why, it’s “swarms of jeering critics” (everyone to the cellar!)

Here’s another curiosity. Chait deplores mansplaining as “an all-purpose term of abuse that can be used to discredit any argument by any man,” but he uses his own all-purpose term of abuse to respond to Pareene. (It also violates Rule #1 for Contrarians. Bad form!) In Chait’s case it’s “ad hominem.” This is something I’ve observed more and more lately - writers using that phrase as an excuse to not address substantive criticism.

A great deal of online criticism has a mix of styles. Some combine insults and mockery (the dreaded ad hominem) with substantive critiques. To grab one random example of someone who favors this approach, consider Jonathan Chait. In just the last couple of weeks he has called James Inhofe primitive, the opinions of climate-science skeptics “bizarre ramblings,” the Republican Party “obviously unhinged” and senseless, and so on. He certainly likes his personal attacks, doesn’t he?

Which is fine, or can be anyway. Name calling can be an effective rhetorical technique. Making your opponent look foolish can help persuade others that your position is the right one. What you can’t do, though, at least not without looking like a thin skinned and pompous twit, is use ad hominems when it suits you and then recoil in priggish horror when they’re used against you. And that’s exactly what Chait does in his response - one which, hilariously, both uses and decries ad hominems in the same sentence.

I don’t think many people who dive in to the rough and tumble of social and political debate have an unwavering sense of propriety. Calls for civility usually come from those who are on the inside looking out. If you’re on the outside, your voice may be all you’ve got. Sometimes it takes being a little bit loud and colorful to get noticed. That goes both ways though. It’s fun when your preferred targets are on the receiving end of ridicule, not so much when you or your allies are. But if you’ve been dishing it out you damn well better be able to take it.

You don’t get to have it both ways. You don’t get to say, this piece has personal attacks and therefore should not be dignified with comment, then gleefully use personal attacks in your own writing. If you do, anyone who’s paying attention will understand the real reason for not responding: you’ve got nothing. That’s certainly how it looks in this case.

Will the collapse in oil prices diminish fracking activism?

The dramatic fall in oil prices of late comes across as a pleasant surprise at first blush. Anyone who drives has presumably noticed the lower prices at the pump, and I don’t expect to hear much complaining about it. There’s also a certain schadenfreude in seeing speculators lose their shirts. That happy news is somewhat leavened (for me, anyway) by an exasperated sense of “what did you expect?” towards places like North Dakota that have bet heavily on the industry.

When you let drillers come in, create wild and uninhabitable boom towns, foul the environment and drag their feet on remediation, put people at a wide variety of risks, chew up the infrastructure, and so on - when you let all that happen during the good times, how do you expect it to be when it all goes south? Oil and gas extraction is not just cyclical, but notoriously prone to wild booms and busts. Whatever the dubious merits of giving the industry a free hand when extraction is profitable, doing so creates a positively bleak picture down the line - and degrades liberal democracy from the very beginning.

So while it’s nice to see drilling activity start to be affected by the glut, it’s also worth asking if that’s the best way for it to happen. One could take a practical view and say, who cares what’s causing the reduction in fracking as long as it’s happening? Does it really matter if it’s because of global over supply, or unexpectedly rapid well decline rates (that 200 year supply doesn’t look so sure these days, Aubrey), or a string of activist victories, or hell - because astro space zombies uprooted all the drilling rigs and launched them into the sun? Those of us opposed to fracking are starting to see the results we want; don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Still, there have been important wins this year, and it would be a shame for the issue to be treated with less urgency because of geopolitical intrigue. Fracking bans in New York state and multiple towns should be built on, efforts like the citizen audit of ODNR should continue, and so on.

A slowdown in new fracking operations doesn’t mean the impact of existing ones is diminished. It doesn’t cause gigantic methane clouds to dissipate. The health, environmental and community impacts will continue - they just won’t accelerate as quickly.

In fact, a time like this could be well used in making elected officials more responsive to public sentiment. An industry hemorrhaging money is one with reduced political clout. Now might be an especially good time to make lawmakers survey the wreckage and tell us how well giving drillers carte blanche has worked out for citizens. We may be entering a very receptive environment for new safeguards and regulations. Lord knows that won’t be the case once the price rout ends. Rather than become complacent or distracted, this is a moment to redouble our efforts.


Batocchio has posted his annual Jon Swift Memorial Roundup. Al Weisel, who passed away in 2009, ran the blog Jon Swift as a conservative parody. Here is a particular favorite of mine. Al was a great and generous supporter of bloggers, and a big believer in its ethos: individuals running small but independent sites as alternatives to more established outlets.

The blog world feels a little smaller these days. Some bloggers got picked up by mainstream sites, others went dormant as the novelty wore off, and still others largely migrated to social media where they were a better fit. But as Batocchio’s post shows, blogging is alive and well. See for yourself. And rest in peace, Al.


Best wishes to all for a very happy 2015, and thanks much for spending some time at Pruning Shears this year.

Will the collapse in oil prices diminish fracking activism?

The dramatic fall in oil prices seems to have caught everyone off guard. Anyone who drives has presumably noticed the lower prices at the pump, and I don’t expect to hear much complaining about it. There’s also a certain schadenfreude in seeing speculators lose their shirts, and - for me, anyway - a somewhat exasperated sense of “what did you expect?” towards places like North Dakota that have bet heavily on the industry.

When you let drillers come in, create wild and uninhabitable boom towns, foul the environment and drag their feet on remediation, put people at a wide variety of risks, chew up the infrastructure, and so on - when you let all that happen during the good times, how do you expect it to be when it all goes south? Oil and gas extraction is not just cyclical, but notoriously prone to wild booms and busts. Whatever the dubious merits of giving the industry a free hand when extraction is profitable, the picture turns positively bleak down the line - and degrades liberal democracy the entire time.

So while it’s nice to see drilling activity start to be affected by the glut, it’s also worth asking if that’s the best way for it to happen. One could take a practical view and say, who cares what’s causing the reduction in fracking as long as it’s happening? Does it really matter if it’s because of global over supply, or unexpectedly rapid well decline rates (that 200 year supply doesn’t look so sure these days, Aubrey), or a string of activist victories, or hell - because astro space zombies uprooted all the drilling rigs and launched them into the sun? Those of us opposed to fracking are starting to see the results we want; don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Still, there have been important wins this year, and it would be a shame for the issue to be treated with less urgency because of geopolitical intrigue. Fracking bans in New York state and multiple towns should be built on, efforts like the citizen audit of ODNR should continue, and so on. A slowdown in new fracking operations doesn’t mean the impact of existing ones are diminished. It doesn’t cause gigantic methane clouds to dissipate. In fact, a time like this could be well used in making elected officials more responsive to public sentiment. An industry hemorrhaging money is one with reduced political clout. Now might be an especially good time to make lawmakers survey the wreckage and tell us how well giving drillers carte blanche has worked out for citizens. We may be entering a very receptive environment for new safeguards and regulations. Lord knows that won’t be the case once the price rout ends.


Batocchio has posted his annual Jon Swift Memorial Roundup. Al Weisel, who passed away in 2009, ran the blog Jon Swift as a conservative parody. Here is a particular favorite of mine. Al was a great and generous supporter of bloggers, and a big believer in its ethos: individuals running small but independent sites as alternatives to more established outlets. The blog world feels a little smaller than it used to. Some bloggers got picked up by mainstream sites, others went dormant as the novelty wore off, and still others largely migrated to social media where they were a better fit. But as Batocchio’s post shows, blogging is alive and well. See for yourself. And rest in peace, Al.


Best wishes to all for a very happy 2015, and thanks much for spending some time at Pruning Shears this year.

Citizen audit of Ohio wells: Doing the regulators' jobs for them

Earlier this year I wrote about the challenge activists face in working with structured data. In short, public agencies increasingly make systematized information like well inspection reports available for download as very large database files. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has a page where anyone can download a large (213 MB as of last Friday) file with detailed well history going back as far as 1980. While it’s great to have so much information available, it’s impossible to go through manually - and that’s provided you already know how everything connects together.

I wrote about it at the time because I was helping out with a project that I wasn’t sure would ever see the light of day, but last week it did. Melissa English and Nathan Rutz of Ohio Citizen Action published a citizen audit of the well data, and I’m happy to be listed as a contributor. The body of the audit is available as a PDF here (appendices separate). Its purpose: “The authors of this report recommend that the U.S. EPA suspend the ODNR’s authority to operate the Underground Injection Control program until completing a thorough audit of all of Ohio’s active injection wells and only reinstating that authority if and when the ODNR’s competence and independence from industry influence can be demonstrated.” The audit is only 17 pages long and is very readable (though I write that as someone who’s been engaged on the issue for a while), and it’s meant to be understandable even by those who aren’t especially familiar with the issue.

Part of the reason for it was because the US EPA promised much better oversight of ODNR than it has delivered. It produced audits in 2005 and 2009, with the latter being (as the Ohio Citizen report notes) an 80% copy and paste of the former. The actual work that was done was somewhat cursory, and in any event this was all before fracking really took off in Ohio. In 2009 the EPA said the next audit would occur in 2012 or 2013, and here we are about to close the books on 2014 with nothing. So part of the reason for the project was simple frustration with the EPA not following up on what it said it would do. Can’t be bothered to do an audit? OK, we’ll try one ourselves.

ODNR gets the lion’s share of attention though, as it should. English and Rutz highlight problems in the inspection reports that a layman can understand. In one, the “well’s operational permit requires annulus pressure to be 200 or greater, the annulus pressure is less than 200 PSI 23 times and the well is never cited for a violation.” Wild swings in annulus pressure can indicate mechanical problems. 34 of the 43 wells reviewed “showed instances of injection pressure fluctuations greater than 100 PSI from inspection to inspection at some point,” yet no action was apparently taken. (This was the part of the report I contributed to - helping out with going through a well’s inspection history, flagging items like substantial pressure swings, and so on.)

The report shows how ODNR inspectors have varying standards for testing and reporting, with some recording nearly identical “everything is fine” comments even when the inspection reveals clear problems. Individual inspectors are sometimes vigilant for certain problems but lax for others. In short, there does not appear to be any clear and consistent practice for inspections. While individual ones might read fine, looking at them as whole is kind of a mess.

Finally, there is a section called “ODNR Disdain or disrespect for public inquiries and requests.” One of the items mentioned is this:

In August 2014, a Monroe County citizen asked the ODNR why notice of a new injection well permit had not been published in a county newspaper, as the law required. Jennifer Gringas of the ODNR replied that public notice doesn’t necessarily have to be published in a newspaper of the county where the injection well will be, just a newspaper published nearby.

This is consistent with what we have seen locally. A couple years ago I wrote about how ODNR made its public notice of new permits in a virtually unknown, online-only site called the Portage County Legal News. ODNR seems to either (charitably) not put much effort into identifying the major newspaper in a community or (uncharitably) look for an obscure publication that technically meets requirements in order to slip it in under the radar. The report also mentions the information session it held on the permits, which included armed guards and a canine unit but little actual information. (I wrote about that as well.)

In all, the Ohio Citizen Action report makes a strong case that the US EPA is not providing adequate oversight of ODNR, ODNR’s inspection process is subpar, and the agency is not responsive to the citizens it is supposed to serve. Bringing these deficiencies to the public’s attention is a valuable service. If we’re lucky, maybe bad PR will get regulatory agencies to act as they are supposed to. Simply expecting them to do that on their own is apparently not enough.

Best Music of 2014

Introduction

If you dig these songs please consider buying them; most can be had for less than a buck. Links will be live for one week. If you hold the copyright on one and would like it removed, please let me know and I’ll comply. You heartless, small-minded, ungenerous b******.

Some lyrics may be NSFW. Listen at your own risk.

Here are my favorite songs this year from my RSS feeds. I use Sharp Reader as my aggregator. See the “Free MP3 sites” part of my blogroll for my current feed list.

This is roughly the top 1% of music I listened to this year, so even if you hate the songs you have to admit that’s a pretty discriminating list. If you fall in love with my taste in music drop me a line and I’ll get you the rest of the songs I considered but didn’t have room for.

Honorable Mention

I usually reserve an Honorable Mention spot for a longer song. Most years there’s at least one 7+ minute song that I like quite a bit, but since I try to get lots of different artists on the list I don’t want a single tune to crowd out several other candidates. When a longer song really blows me away I’ll make room, but overall I prefer to keep my selections under five minutes or so.

22. “Molly” - Princess (Buy)
I like the combination of the loping beat and the guitar freakout.

The List

(Fits on a single 80 minute CD.)

21. “Milly’s Garden” - Steve Gunn (Buy)
I wish I could say why I like it. There’s no one part that jumps out, it just works really well together. All I can say is, here is an extremely good song that I think you will enjoy listening to over and over.

20. “A Perfect Storm” - Casual Sex (Buy)
Brilliant minimalism. Spare percussion, guitar notes that drop in for a few seconds then disappear, and more (or less).

19. “Bleed” - Mirror Kisses (Buy)
A good solid beat and stuttering synth.

18. “Doin Fine” - Snow Tha Product (Buy)
This is kind of a cheat. Good Nights and Bad Mornings 2 (The Hangover) (recommended) was released in 2013, but I didn’t start listening to it until January. It’s a phenomenal album, so when this song was released as a single this year I had my excuse to sing its praises. Check it out.

17. “Crazy” - Nights (Buy)
If you’re only going to release one song in a year, as Nights did in 2014, this is a pretty good way to make the most of it: Ethereal vocals floating over buzzsaw guitars and a relentless beat.

16. “Heaven’s Made For Two” - Haley Bonar (Buy)
Catchy as hell, and Bonar’s vocals are wonderful.

15. “She Comes In Colour Stereo” - SlowPlaceLikeHome (Stream)
Electronica, baby.

14. “I Don’t Know You Anymore” - Bob Mould (Buy)
Off of Beauty and Ruin (recommended) which, along with Silver Age, comprise a pretty good case that Mould is making the best music of his career these days.

13. “Giving Up” - Allison Weiss (Buy)
A great pop song sounds easy, like anyone could have done it. But everyone doesn’t. Which is why effortless gems like this are so rare.

12. “Schizophrenia” - Dreezy (Buy)
This one sort of sneaked up on me. I wasn’t that crazy about it at first, but by about the fifth listen I was hooked.

11. “Psyche” - Slander (Buy)
It’s fitting that in the year Chrissie Hynde made a fine return to form, a new vocalist echoed her husky, lower register sex goddess style. Also: bassist Nick Maynard is this band’s secret weapon.

10. “International Lovers” - Daryn Alexus (Buy)
What does perfect pop R&B sound like? This. This is what perfect pop R&B sounds like.

09. “Bislett Stadion” - Oslo Ess (Buy)
Forget the Norwegian lyrics, this song speaks the universal language of ROCK AND ROLL BABY!

08. “Time of Delight” - Donna Lynn Caskey (Buy)
Many country music fans love to moan about how country has become artificial, how back in the day we had honest to God artists like Patsy and Hank, how everything now is overproduced and focus tested, how none of it has heart or soul anymore, and so on and so forth.

Those people are full of shit, and here is why.

There is plenty of real country music out there, in the form of albums like Nameless Heart (highly recommended). In addition to beautifully articulated love songs like this and “Good for What Ails Me,” it covers plenty of real territory such as coming to grips with the death of a soldier and spouse (“They Go On”), staring the reality of illness in a country that considers health care a privilege (“Who Will Care”), and generally meets just about any definition of real you’d care to use.

If the ones lamenting the fallen state of country music were sincere, they’d be talking up the likes of Caskey. Unless, that is, they are simply unaware that such vibrant music is out there begging to be discovered. In which case, too bad dummy - you get the country music you deserve.

07. “Lady Luck” - Mr Little Jeans (Buy)
Is your dance party failing to take off? Here is the cure! Off of Pocketknife (recommended).

06. “Somewhere Else To Be” - Wormburner (Buy)
Opening line: “One street over and two flights up from the laundromat,”

Guy knows how to suck an audience in. Tell me more!

05. “Lost Boys And Girls Club” - Dum Dum Girls (Buy)
Off of Too True (2014 Album of the Year). Ten songs, around 35 minutes, all great. Keepers from start to finish. Buy it now. You’re welcome.

04. “Throw It Up” - Nature (Buy)
Best beat of 2014.

03. “Someone Belongs Here” - Emilyn Brodsky (Buy)
It’s wacky and loopy and strangely mesmerizing. A three minute and fifty five second trip to an alternate universe.

02. “Things I Never Said” - DreaGreen (Stream)
Off of FINALLY VENTING (recommended). Green’s beats are catchy and her lyrics compelling. She wrestles with anger and forgiveness, certainty and doubt, and thickets of emotions from circumstances that probably aren’t terribly uncommon - but aren’t often heard in contemporary music.

01. (2014 Song of the Year) “Blue Collar Jane” - The Strypes (Buy)
Three teenagers wailing away at their instruments and a dude singing about crushing on a girl. Perfection.

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