Missoula whitewater rafter Daniel Berger (at rear) and friends float past three airliner fuselages dumped in Montana's Clark Fork river by a train derailment last week. (Courtesy Chuck Irestone)
The picture probably showed up in one of your feeds. It fit all sorts of algorithmic criteria for viral interestingness, shapes and colors and scale otherwise unseen in nature: The steep bank of a Montana river littered with the bare fuselages of three Boeing airplanes spilled from a train track above like oversized logs swathed in aquamarine-colored protective wrap. Or maybe not logs, but uniformly skinny whales beached far from any ocean. Either way, an eye-grabbingly irresistible curiosity. In the foreground, always, whitewater rafters taking selfies.
The river is called the Clark Fork. And I’ve paddled that stretch in canoes and rafts with some of the rafters who showed up in some of those pictures. It’s a section about 40 freeway minutes downstream of Missoula called Alberton Gorge, named for nearby Alberton, Montana—an off-Interstate mountain town of four or five hundred people. Within roughly seven easily accessible river miles are five major rapids that, depending on the flow, range from Class II to Class IV. The last of these is called Fang, and it was just downstream of Fang that the planes were tossed down the bank, coming to scattered rest with their snouts or tails in the water.
The Gorge is a fun stretch to run, but it makes you pay attention. While drownings are infrequent, substantial injuries are hardly unheard of. Boats are flipped all the time in Alberton Gorge, spilling bodies and gear that is later recovered or washed downstream to the intake grates of the next dam, at Thompson Falls, and trucked off to a landfill.
You wouldn’t know it from rocky Alberton Gorge, which is host to an almost constant stream of kayakers and rafters during the temperate months, but the Clark Fork is one of the most badly abused rivers in the United States, and simultaneously one of the luckiest.
In our soon-to-be released book, The Real Cost of Fracking: How America’s Shale Gas Boom is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food, we discuss the laws that affect local control of gas drilling in New York and Pennsylvania. At the time of writing, two cases were before the New York State Court of Appeals that would effectively decide if individual towns in New York could ban gas drilling using zoning ordinances (Mark S. Wallach, as Chapter 7 Trustee for Norse Energy Corp. USA vs. Town of Dryden et al. and Cooperstown Holstein Corporation vs. Town of Middlefield). On June 30, 2014, the decision was announced by the Court of Appeals in favor of the Towns of Dryden and Middlefield. It is important to note that “towns” in New York are subdivisions of counties, and constitute most of the land that is not a city or Indian reservation.
I was watching Monty Python’s The Life of Brian from 1979 recently, a hilarious rewriting of the life and death of Christ, and I realized how outrageous most of the jokes from the film would seem today. In fact, the film, with its religious satire and scenes of Christ and the thieves singing on the cross, would never make it into cinemas now. The Life of Brian was certainly received as controversial in its own day but when censors tried to repress the film in several different countries, the Monty Python crew used their florid sense of humor to their advantage. So, when the film was banned in a few places, they gave it a tagline of: “So funny it was banned in Norway!”
Humor, in fact, in general, depends upon the unexpected (“No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”); repetition to the point of hilarity (“You can have eggs, bacon, and spam; spam, eggs, spam, and sausage; or spam, spam, spam, and spam!”); silliness, non-sequitors, caricature, and an anarchic blend of the serious and the satirical. And humor is something that feminists in particular, but radical politics in general, are accused of lacking. Recent controversies within queer communities around language, slang, satirical or ironic representation, and perceptions of harm or offensiveness have created much controversy with very little humor recently, leading to demands for bans, censorship, and name changes.
As we celebrate the 238th birthday of the United States on July 4, 2014, one question remains as important today as it was when we declared our independence. What causes some citizens to be patriotic and others to become traitors?
Periodically this question arises during Congressional inquiries and in the press when a particular American is revealed as a potential or active domestic terrorist. Equally disturbing are reports about citizens who have emigrated to foreign countries to join anti-American organizations bent on producing death and destruction from afar.
The reasons for betrayal are complex and often highly personal, but one common thread seems to be the traitor’s long-standing inability to embrace the values of American society. With that in mind, I researched the lives of two late-eighteenth century couples who reacted to the ideals of the American Revolution in vastly different ways.
We are saddened to learn of the death of beloved children’s book author Walter Dean Myers, who wrote so many important and life-changing books for America’s youth, including Bad Boy, Monster, Darius & Twig, Lockdown, and Autobiography of My Dead Brother. He also was a friend to the house, having contributed a wonderful introduction to A Time to Break Silence: The Essential Works of Martin Luther King, Jr. for Students. In that introduction, Myers, who was born in West Virginia but raised in Harlem, wrote about being a young soldier traveling to Louisiana and experiencing segregation there for the first time:
When I arrived in Louisiana, when I saw what institutionalized racism was, I was shocked. Restaurant signs read “Whites Only” or “Colored Served in Rear.” Some stores wouldn’t serve black people, and there were movie houses in which they were made to sit in the balcony or, in some cases, not even permitted to enter.... The signs did more than make me feel uncomfortable; they made me feel sick. I was being told that I wasn’t as good as some people simply because of the color of my skin. And yet I was in the military, ready and willing to sacrifice my life for this country.
Nearly 50 years ago, in the 1965 Griswold v Connecticut case, the Supreme Court declared birth control legal for married persons, and shortly afterwards in another case legalized birth control for single people. In a famous study published in 2002, “The power of the pill,” two Harvard economists reported on the dramatic rise in women’s entrance into the professions and attributed this development to the availability of oral contraception beginning in the 1960s. Several years ago, the CDC reported that 99% of US women who have ever had sexual intercourse had used contraception at some point. So the recent controversial Hobby Lobby case no doubt appears somewhat surreal to many Americans who understandably have assumed that contraception—unlike abortion–is a settled, non-contentious issue in the US.
To be sure, some conservatives, fearful of a female voter backlash in November, have tried to claim the case is about the religious freedom of certain corporations, and not contraception. But the case is about contraception. The Majority in Hobby Lobby made this clear, claiming the decision only applies to contraception and not to other things that some religious groups might oppose, such as vaccinations and blood transfusions.
So why are Americans still fighting about something that elsewhere in the industrialized world is a taken for granted part of reproductive health care? As Jennifer Reich and I discuss in our forthcoming volume, Reproduction and Society, contraception has always had a volatile career in the US, sometimes being used coercively by those in power, and at other times, like the present, being withheld from those who desperately need it.
Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington
Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law. It was a culminating moment in the civil rights movement, a movement that, as author and legal scholar Sheryll Cashin noted in her recent New York Times editorial, far from being isolated to southern black activists, involved an extensive and well-coordinated “grass-roots mobilization [that] was multiracial, from the integrated legion of Freedom Riders, to the young activists in the Freedom Summer in Mississippi, to the more than 250,000 demonstrators in the March on Washington, a quarter of whom were white.” The story of the act’s eventual success is the story of our nation passing through a moral gauntlet. That, fifty years later, we remain uncertain about how best to address the legacy of those racial divisions that first sparked the movement is a testament to how deep the fissures ran. And how brave and dedicated the movement’s heroes were—Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Bob Moses, and others—men and women whose names have entered the lingua franca of American history, synonymous with freedom, righteousness, and moral certitude. As Dr. King says in his classic narrative Why We Can’t Wait, “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to work to be co-workers with God.”To celebrate their struggles, and the efforts of all those “co-workers with God” who sacrificed so much to lay the groundwork for the passing of the Civil Rights Act, we’ve put together a list of essential books that we hope will empower the next generation for another fifty years and beyond.
When I discovered that I wanted to be a Muslim I don’t think I really knew what was involved. This was not for lack of knowledge about the religion but perhaps a lack of knowledge about myself, and a lack of knowledge generally. I knew that I would be required to kneel in submission to God five times a day, abstain from alcohol, along with a host of other minor ascetic measures. But when one actually finds himself in the throes of post-Shahada conversion, it becomes a different matter altogether.
I converted to Islam the previous spring, and spent the subsequent months in a frenzy of learning how to be a Muslim. So ensconced was I in the honeymooning phase with my new religion that one of the greatest obligations I have as a Muslim had crept up on me.
I was completely unprepared for Ramadan that first year. I had not prepared myself, physically or mentally, for the rigors of a month long fast. I was, in fact, still largely oblivious to what that entailed.
Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegrini, and Michael Amico came to Boston last fall to read from their new book, “You Can Tell Just by Looking”: And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People. The book confronts some of the most common myths and misunderstandings about LGBT life and people. Myths, such as “All Religions Condemn Homosexuality” and “Transgender People Are Mentally Ill,” have been used to justify discrimination and oppression of LGBT people. Others, such as “Homosexuals Are Born That Way,” have been embraced by LGBT communities and their allies. In discussing and dispelling these myths—including gay-positive ones—the authors challenge readers to question their own beliefs and to grapple with the complexities of what it means to be queer in the broadest social, political, and cultural sense.
While waiting for the event to start, we had the opportunity to ask the authors about some key myths affecting the cultural landscape of LGBT people, and about LGBT parents in particular, a demographic sure to rise given marriage equality’s gaining acceptance. As the authors say in the book, “The often bitter debate that swirls around LGBT families cloaks the larger discussion: how do we all create a culture that nurtures all children, in all kinds of families, to grow into happy, loving, successful adults?...Until we create new ways for parents and children to live healthily together, neither will grow and thrive, especially as families.”
I had the honor (and great pleasure) of working with her at Farrar, Straus and Giroux on her gutsy book about Bernie Goetz, Quiet Rage. She was uncompromising in her support of the disadvantaged, always, and so had no tolerance for fools like Goetz. Out on tour to promote the book, she walked into the studio of a right wing talk jock who was so enraged by her thoughtful and utter rejection of vigilantism that he chased her down the studio hall yelling. She found that story, typically, far more amusing than frightening.
J. D. McClatchy, Ben Klein, Stephen S. Mills, Essex Hemphill, and Adrienne Rich
I often feel that poetry gets the short end of the stick when celebrating LGBT literature. There are so many rich options that it can often be overwhelming to know where to begin. My first real brush with LGBT poetry was the Everyman’s Library Pocket Series anthology Love Speaks Its Name: Gay and Lesbian Love Poems, which gave me an introductory and historical look at the challenges and loves of LGBT poets within the last century. While thinking about books to recommend in honor of Pride this June, I wanted to offer some classic choices alongside brand new ones that might someday be part of the canon of celebrated LGBT poetry. These collections offer everything from lusty hookups to images of domestic bliss with a long-term partner to frustrations over the current state of LGBT rights. There’s even an image of gay icon “Little” Edie Beale of Grey Gardens. I hope you enjoy.
1974 file photo: white students in West Roxbury jeer black students arriving by bus
I first became manager of Coolidge Corner’s Paperback Booksmith (now the Brookline Booksmith) back in 1978, just four years after Judge W. Arthur Garrity’s historic decision to integrate the Boston School District through the “forced busing” of students, as it later became known. It was a time when the fallout over that decision was still shaking the communities of Boston, and a time I revisited when Beacon first published Michael Patrick MacDonald’s All Souls, a powerful account of what it was like to be a young man growing up in Southie during the time when busing came to that neighborhood.
One of my first acts as a new manager was to clean out the store, and I remember coming across several boxes of pamphlets of the Garrity Decision that the store’s owner Marshall Smith had evidently published. I was always intrigued that his idea of being a bookseller was broad enough to include such an activity. Marshall is an entrepreneur to the core, a legend in the bookselling business. The Paperback Booksmith chain that he founded grew to cover the entire New England region, and Marshall went on to found several other local business ventures, all while staying closely involved in the operations of his Brookline flagship store. As the 40th anniversary of the Garrity Decision approached, I decided to give Marshall a call and finally get the backstory on why he felt it necessary to publish the decision on his own.
I spoke to Marshall a few days before the anniversary, as Boston was once more revisiting the complicated, troubled legacy of Tallulah Morgan et al. v. James Hennigan, otherwise known as the Garrity Decision.
Dov Charney, founder and CEO of American Apparel, was ousted last week for “alleged misconduct.”
Long before the board of American Apparel decided to fire founder and CEO Dov Charney for ethical misconduct (involving nude photos, no less), Fran Hawthorne had come to the same conclusion, saying that Charney’s “cavalier (or worse) personal attitudes toward sex and women have set the tone of the workplace” and that “To earn a social-responsibility badge, American Apparel would have to take a major step: dump Charney.” In the following excerpt from her award-winning book Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love, Hawthorne profiles the problematic former head of American Apparel, and the long history of ethical lapses that provided the framework for his latest fall.
The tales have been repeated in news articles and lawsuits for years and to some degree even confirmed by Dov Charney. Allegedly, he walks around nearly nude in the office and has held business meetings in a similar state of undress, calls employees “sluts” and “whores,” favors staffers who sleep with him, hires young women on the basis of their looks, screams at employees, grabs their hair, describes graphic sex to them, and more. [A] Portfolio article talked about a half dozen male employees in their twenties who lived with Charney in his mansion, including one “loud, pear-shaped” PR apprentice who called the boss “Daddy.” New York Times Magazine consumer columnist Rob Walker wrote in his book that he was in the CEO’s office with one male and two female staffers while “Dov Charney was naked from the waist down”—but the punch line is that Charney was trying on prototypes of a new line of men’s underwear. He has certainly dated female staffers, at least three of them seriously. Most notoriously, writer Claudine Ko, in the June–July 2004 issue of Jane magazine, described a female employee presumably performing oral sex on Charney in a hotel room in front of Ko. A week afterward, the article continued, Ko was in a corporate apartment with Charney while the CEO masturbated and “we casually carry on our interview, discussing things like business models, hiring practices and the stupidity of focus groups.”
Nine female employees or ex-employees have filed lawsuits or legal complaints officially asserting sexual harassment. One was dropped, one was settled, and the rest were pending at the time of this book’s publication, one of them for years.
Michael Shelton wrote Family Pride: What LGBT Families Should Know about Navigating Home, School, and Safety in Their Neighborhoodsas a resource for queer parents, their families, and allies that emphasizes community safety. While the national focus remains on the mistreatment of LGBT people in schools, the reality is that LGBT families also face hostility in various settings—professional, recreational, and social. Drawing on his years as a dedicated community activist and on the experiences of LGBT parents, Shelton put together a few concrete strategies culled from his book that LGBT families can use to intervene in and resolve difficult community issues, teach their children resiliency skills, and find safe and respectful programs for them.
Buses arrive at South Boston High School, Jan. 8, 1975, as classes resume at the racially troubled institution. Police were on hand to provide protection as black students arrived. (AP)
Forty years ago this Saturday, on June 21, 1974, US District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Jr. found Boston’s schools to be unconstitutionally segregated, instituting a plan of forced busing between some of the city’s poorest (and most racially divided) schools. Far from correcting the racial imbalance in the Boston city schools, Garrity’s decision instead sparked wide protest, racial conflict, and riots throughout the city. Michael Patrick MacDonald was a young boy in South Boston—targeted as one of the first schools to be integrated—when news of the decision swept through this troubled, fiercly insular, mostly white and poor working-class enclave. In an excerpt from his powerful memoir All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, MacDonald writes about the firestorm of racial tension that spread throughout the neighborhood in the wake of Garrity’s decision, leading up to the tempestuous autumn when Garrity’s plan was set to begin.
It was on one of those days at the intersection in the spring of 1974 that we saw the headlights blinking and heard the honking and loudspeakers screaming something about the communists trying to take over South Boston. Everyone came running out of the project to line the streets. At first it was scary, like the end of the world was being announced. But then it seemed more like a parade. It was even along the same route as the St. Paddy’s Day parade. One neighbor said it was what they called a motorcade. The cars in the motorcade never seemed to stop coming. It went on for a good half hour. Irish flags waved out of car windows and one sign on a car read WELCOME TO MOSCOW AMERICA. Many more had RESIST or NEVER written on them. My favorite one was HELL NO SOUTHIE WON’T GO. That was a good one, I said. I started clapping with everyone else. But then I had to ask someone, “Where are we not going?” One of the mothers said, “They’re trying to send you to Roxbury with the niggers. To get a beatin’,” she added. Someone else told her not to say that word to the kids, that they were blacks, not niggers. “Well it’s no time to fight over that one,” someone else said. “It’s time now to stick together.” When I asked who was trying to send us, someone told me about Judge Garrity; that a bunch of rich people from the suburbs wanted to tell us where we had to send our kids to school; that they wanted us to mix with the blacks, but that their own kids wouldn’t have to mix with no one, because there were no blacks in the suburbs.
“Bulindi survivors” Sylvester and Keeta crossing the main road in Bulindi, Uganda
Nancy J. Merrick came to Boston recently to talk about her new book Among Chimpanzees: Field Notes from the Race to Save Our Endangered Relatives. Over lunch, she passed around a series of photographs taken by chimpanzee researcher Matthew McLennan. The photos were compelling, showing key members of a chimpanzee group in Bulindi, Uganda. In them, one could see all the intelligence, emotion, and wild beauty that first captivated a young Merrick in 1972, when she was a student of Jane Goodall’s at the famed Gombe Stream camp in Tanzania. Chimpanzees—as Goodall and the rest of the world would discover—can fashion tools, solve problems, and have complex societies and relationships. And they share 98% of our DNA, making chimps our closest relatives. The chimpanzees in the photographs seemed to have enough charisma to ignite the imaginations of anybody they encountered. But the photographs also showed a darker side: chimpanzees sharing a road with local villagers while the humans looked on, wary but not surprised.
Growing up queer and a heavy reader, I can’t help but envy today’s teens the ever-growing number of books written for their demographic that feature central LGBT characters and themes. When I delve into these titles, I devour them. I read them gluttonously, vicariously re-imagining the trajectory of my own coming-of-age had these characters and their voices been available to me at the time. Because of this, I can—unlike some—fault no one for avidly reading young adult literature on into adulthood. It’s uplifting to see that not only does “it get better” as you grow up, but the very process of growing up seems to be getting better, too. Young readers have more role models and better access than ever to proof that they are not alone, and that’s a wonderful thing.
So for June, for Pride Month, I’ve put together a short list of reading recommendations for LGBT youth, or those seeking some literary insight into their experience.
TIAA-CREF CEO Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. speaks at the Standard & Poor's 29th Annual Insurance Conference in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, June 5, 2013.
TIAA-CREF, the retirement plan of many university professors and administrators as well as others, has escaped much of the increasing criticism of 401(k)-type plans. A number of academics with TIAA-CREF are even unaware that it is a 401(k)-type plan, thinking that the growing criticisms of 401(k)s don’t apply to their situation.
TIAA-CREF has enjoyed relative immunity from criticism for two reasons. It is a nonprofit company that is presumed to operate exclusively in the best interests of its participants because it does not have shareholders. And precisely because it is the plan of so many highly-educated professors, it is presumed to be good because surely they must know what they are doing.
Yet TIAA-CREF participants fare no better in retirement income than 401(k)-type plan participants with other financial services industry companies such as ING, Vanguard, and Valic. That in turn means that they fare much worse than employees with traditional defined benefit pension plans.
As Father’s Day approaches, I’ve been thinking of books I’d recommend to my own father. I have fond memories from childhood of sitting with my father while he watched “his shows,” the science and nature and history programming on public televison channels that my other siblings would spurn as too educational to be entertaining. My father, a former Navyman who’d traveled the world in his youth, loved pointing out places he had been to, and I loved discovering a sense of the world through his eyes. Later, after we moved to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, we would go on hikes together and stand at the summits, taking in the vastness. Or we would go fishing together, which seemed mainly an excuse to sit in inflatable rafts and read, or listen as nature filled in the quietness between us. I don’t know if I inherited my curiosity of the world from him, or if I was drawn to that part of him that intersected with my own sensibilities. In a way, it doesn't matter. It’s the commonality one cherishes.
Here are five titles that, like my father, share a deep interest in the world, or that tell the story of fatherhood itself, with all its memories and complexities and sometime revelations. If your father is anything like mine, I’m sure he would take any of these books, find a quiet place to sit, and then read every word.