51Ok705RhtL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_Heather Ann Thompson’s much anticipated book, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, has finally been released by Pantheon. What makes this particular account of the much-chronicled riot unique is the discovery of a treasure trove of transcripts and other court documents that were never meant to see the light of day. As Thompson writes in her Introduction,

One might well wonder why it has taken forty-five years for a comprehensive history of the Attica prison uprising of 1971 to be written. The answer is simple: the most important details of this story have been deliberately kept from the public. Literally thousands of boxes of documents relating to these events are sealed or next to impossible to access.

Given the compulsive, almost paranoid, control over information that the New York DOCCS continues to exert today, this is hardly surprising. Thanks to years of research and reporting, though, Thompson was rewarded with a couple of phone calls alerting her to thousands of documents and artifacts that were deposited at the Erie County courthouse and the New York State Museum. Most people who have done a lot of research can well imagine Thompson’s feelings on first encountering musty documents and blood-soaked artifacts, stacked up in darkened rooms. It must have been like Howard Carter entering King Tut’s tomb.

Nearly all of the items have since sunk back into the earth, somehow, and vanished from the public eye. “I can only hope,” Thompson writes in an end note, “that these vital materials that were in Buffalo and Albany have not been destroyed…”

51IoDOIXubL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_A couple of words about the book’s rhetoric, before I get into the content.

First, the title. The use of “Uprising” is clearly deliberate, and, I think, a good choice. Not that “riot” would be wrong; according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word comes from the Medieval Latin riota, meaning “quarrel, dispute, uproar.” But the connotation of mindless, directionless violence is unavoidable, and it does not accurately reflect the deliberate nature of most of the uprising. Chapter 11 of Blood, for example, is called, “Order Out of Chaos.” The hook part of the title—”Blood in the Water”—is unfortunate. It’s certainly catchy, but feels unoriginal, and unnecessarily lurid. In fact, there is already a series of historical novels called Blood in the Water, based on ocean combat.

This overwrought quality sometimes creeps over into the prose, as well. For example, Part 1 opens with a profile of one of the principles in the story:

Frank “Big Black” Smith wondered if he would ever get used to being locked up. His cell felt like a casket with the lid left off just far enough for noise, bugs, and weather to get in, and conditions outside of that cage were also grim.

This is not a direct quote from Smith, nor is it cited. Thompson probably didn’t know exactly what Smith was wondering, and there’s no way to tell if the casket metaphor was his, or hers. The Attica uprising is sufficiently compelling in its own right; this particular lily does not need to be gilded.

But such concerns are pedantic. They are also insignificant in the face of the sheer magnitude of Thompson’s undertaking. Almost anyone who has composed a paper knows how hard it is to structure the thing, even if it’s only five pages long. Thompson created an extensive narrative from a mass of flotsam and jetsam—brief notes, personal letters, interviews, artifacts, court reports, unpublished dissertations, previous articles, and newspaper accounts—most of it piled in jumbles on shelves, or packed indiscriminately into boxes. Her citation is at once immense and extraordinarily detailed. Some of it appears to be necessarily ad hoc, due to the unique nature of her sources. Here’s one specimen:

Russell G. Oswald, Commissioner, Department of Correctional Services, Memorandum to Nelson A. Rockefeller, Governor, Subject: “Activities Report—February 8, 1973–March 7, 1973,” March 7, 1973, Nelson A. Rockefeller gubernatorial records, Departmental Reports, Series 28, New York (State), Governor (1959–1973: Rockefeller), Record Group 15, Box 2, Folder 32, Rockefeller Archive Center, Sleepy Hollow, New York.

This is definitely one to share with my students when they’re having trouble citing a web page.

Next Up: The Causes.

Inmates at Attica State Prison in Attica, N.Y., raise their hands in clenched fists in a show of unity, Sept. 1971, during the Attica uprising, which took the lives of 43 people. (AP Photo)


1b52b3955b99483d6c9fd65f5284825dThe year 2016 saw Disney give Rudyard Kipling a new cinematic boost. Not to be outdone, Rudy Giuliani has gone #FullBurden in an attack on Beyoncé’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Here’s Giuliani, according to Politico:

I saved more black lives than any of those people you saw on stage by reducing crime and particularly homicide by 75 percent…Of which, of which maybe 4,000 or 5,000 were African-American young people who are alive today because of the policies I put in effect that weren’t in effect for 35 years…I didn’t fail Harlem. I turned Harlem around. I didn’t fail Bedford-Stuyvesant, I turned it around. Go there now. Go walk in Harlem. Then flash back to 25 years ago and go to Harlem before I was mayor, and one was a place where crime was rampant and no national stores and now there’s a thriving community in Harlem.

Sorry, Bwana, but you are not the first to express such outrage. Here are some comments by Lyndon Johnson, from a 1976 New York Times article, written by Doris Kearns (!):

How is it possible that all these people should be so ungrateful to me after I have given them so much? Take the Negroes. I fought for them from the first day I came into office. I tried to make to possible for every child of every color to grow up in a nice house, to eat a solid breakfast, to attend a decent school, and to get a good and lasting job. I just asked a little in return. Just a little thanks. Just a little appreciation. That’s all.

There’s plenty more to that quote, of course, as the White Savior butthurt runs long and deep. But let’s go back even more, to 1899, and Rudyard Kipling:

Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.

It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.




Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 10.51.30 AM
Katherine Krueger, at Talking Points Memo, writes,

If Republican Donald Trump wins the White House in November, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said he expects unprecedented “levels of violence” from upset liberals.

Of course he does. That kind of rhetoric is pretty much boilerplate in some quarters. For example, Brian Tashman, at Right Wing Watch, has a blog post called, “Five Right-Wing Predictions About Marriage Equality That Still Haven’t Come True,” in which he presents a whole list of horrors that were supposed to have brought the country down by now. Here’s one:

Radio host Rick Wiles predicted that “God will cut off America’s food supply and this nation will be hit with disease, pestilence, drought, natural calamities and a great shaking” and urged people to flee the country.

Where does this apocalyptic mindset come from? Possibly, it has something to do with our religious heritage: terrified Puritans clinging to the edge of a “howling wilderness,” listening to Jonathan Edwards, or fiery leaders of the Second Great Awakening. One such was James McGready, a Presbyterian minister who, according to George McKenna, in his book, The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism,

depicted the “furnace of hell with its red-hot coals of God’s wrath as large as mountains”…People fell in trances and some even went into seizures known as “the jerks”…Strange as “the jerks” were, there were reactions even stranger. There were, for example, “the barks.” One contemporary observer described them this way: “Both men and women would be forced to…move about on all fours, growl, snap the teeth, and bark in so personating a manner as to set eyes and ears of the spectator at variance.”

On the other hand, a historian I know believes apocalyptic rhetoric reflects the “slave-owning mentality.” When I think about how much of this hysteria is reserved for even the slightest expression of Black agency, his label makes sense. Here, for example, are a handful of quotes. The first is from Bill O’Reilly, as quoted by Caitlin Cruz, at TPM; the others were made by antebellum slavers, as quoted by James McPherson, in Battle Cry of Freedom:

“Here are two extremely famous individuals,” O’Reilly said [of Beyoncé and Jay Z], to briefly explain the couple’s accomplishments. “Do you think they know they’re giving money to an anarchistic group like [Black Lives Matter] that wants to tear down the country and talking about genocide, really extreme things?”


James Hammond, of South Carolina, commenting on the Wilmot Proviso in the 1840’s: Enactment would “proclaim freedom or something equivalent to it to our slaves and reduce us to the condition of Hayti…Our only safety is the equality of POWER. If we do not act now, we deliberately consign our children, not our posterity, but our children to the flames.”


“Do you love your mother, your wife, your sister, your daughter?” a Georgia secessionist asked non-slaveholders. If Georgia remained in the Union “ruled by Lincoln and his crew…in TEN years or less our CHILDREN will be the slaves of negroes.”


“If you are tame enough to submit,” declaimed South Carolina’s Baptist clergyman James Furman, “Abolition preachers will be at hand to consummate the marriage of your daughters to black husbands…Submit to have our wives and daughters choose between death and gratifying the hellish lust of the negro!!”

Birth_of_a_Nation_Still-Lust_view2(It’s interesting—and pertinent—to note that the “wives and daughters” routine is also the default argument resorted to by most of the people scare-mongering over transgender bathrooms.)

Another example of this fear of a Black planet is the freak-out over Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance, which Saturday Night Live perfectly skewered in “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black.” Still another, even more recent, is the controversy that rocked the heretofore impervious bastion of West Point, over a photo of 16 Black women cadets raising their fists. The Army Times quotes Sue Fulton, a former Army captain and “long-time diversity advocate” for the military:

I would not have re-tweeted the raised-fist photo because I am well aware that our culture views a black fist very differently from a white fist…I knew it was their expression of pride and unity, but I am old enough to know that it would be interpreted negatively by many white observers. Unfortunately, in their youth and exuberance, it appears they didn’t stop to think that it might have any political context, or any meaning other than their own feeling of triumph.

In other words, they weren’t intelligent enough to know what they were doing, and they didn’t defer enough to White fears. Apparently, they should have known that, when many White Americans look at a picture like this:

635979918593929460-black-lives-matterthey actually see this:


Must have been their “youth and exuberance.”

My favorite response to all these apocalyptic visions comes from Sojourner Truth who, in an 1851 speech, said:

The poor men seems to be all in confusion, and don’t know what to do. Why children, if you have woman’s rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they won’t be so much trouble….But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.

And now BLM and the LGBTQ community are “coming on him,” too. That would be enough to give anyone with the slave-owning mentality a case of the barks.


On March 1, Real Clear Politics reported on an exchange between Van Jones and Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord. According to the article,

Lord argued the Ku Klux Klan was a “military, terrorist arm of the Democratic party.”

“For God’s sake, read your history,” Lord said to Jones.

Ah, yeshistory. We’ve been here before. For some reason, when Republicans demand that Democrats “read their history,” they like to leap back 100 years. But a funny thing happened on the way to these forums. Starting around 1960, White America collectively lost its shit over the rise of the Civil Rights Movementas White America still tends to do whenever Black America so much as raises its voice, or its fistsand the Republicans saw an opportunity.

Let’s touch down on June 25, 1963, when the Washington Post and Times Herald printed a story by famed journalists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, titled, “The White Man’s Party.” Here are some excerpts:

There was a self-conscious lack of support, either private or public, for Negro rights at the meeting of the Republican National Committee [in Denver] last week. And for good reason.

Far from desiring to out-do Democrats as crusaders for racial equality, substantial numbers of Party leaders from both North and South see rich political dividends flowing from the Negrophobia of many white Americans. These Republicans want to unmistakably establish the Party of Lincoln as the white man’s party.

According to Evans and Novak, a “new political strategy for the Party was obliquely suggested in private chats,” based on a few widely-held assumptions:

Assumption No. 1: The Negro is inextricably linked to the Democratic Party…

Assumption No. 2: Because of his support for the Negro movement, President Kennedy is in serious trouble in the South.

Assumption No. 3: The spread of Negro demonstrations to the North has stirred concerneven fearamong Northern whites, including many Democrats. The white construction worker sees lowering the color bar in his Jim Crow union as a threat to his job. The lower middle class suburbanite, who has invested much of his savings in his home, sees the Negro who wants to live next door to him as a financial threat.

What to do?

Based on these assumptions, the Party policy on Negro rights should be ambiguous and cautious in an effort to woo the white vote. Outright avowal of segregation is not under consideration.

It never is, somehow.

But Republicans can legitimately base opposition to Negro demonstrations and to tough new legislation on established Republican principles of law-and-order, states’ rights and limited government.

It’s dog whistles all the way down. Evans and Novak end with this:

Not only is segregation doomed, but it also is inevitable that Negroes will eventually break through the bonds of poverty. They then might be naturally attracted to the Republican Party along with millions of other middle-income Americansbut not if the Republicans had by then become labeled as the white man’s party.

Too late. Over half a century later, neither segregation nor the “bonds of poverty” has been broken, and the Republican Party is now the party of Donald Trump.

Here’s a picture I took in a parking lot in upstate New York:


Whom do you think this guy is voting for? “Party of Lincoln,” indeed. As Jeet Heer recently wrote in The New Republic, “Conservative elites can denounce Trump all they want as a ‘cancer’ or an impostor. In truth, he is their true heir, the beneficiary of the policies the party has pursued for more than half a century.”

It’s called the Southern Strategy. For God’s sake, Lord, read more history.


It hardly seems necessary to counter the assertion by Republicans that they are still “the party of Lincoln,” but what the heck.

“Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter,” by toown, at Deviant Art

I’m rereading some of Lincoln’s speeches and letters, and finding passages that, if uttered today, would make him Enemy #1 to today’s Republicans. These are from his July 4th Message to Congress, in 1861. The whole thing is a refutation of the secessionist argument, but these parts stand out:

This sophism derives much, perhaps the whole of its currency from the assumption that there is some omnipotent and sacred supremacy pertaining to a State—to each State of our Federal Union. Our States have neither more nor less power than that reserved to them in the Union by the Constitution, no one of them ever having been a State out of the Union…

Having never been States, either in substance or in name, outside of the Union, whence this magical omnipotence of “State rights,” asserting a claim of power to lawfully destroy the Union itself? Much is said about the “sovereignty” of the States, but the word even is not in the National Constitution, nor, as is believed, in any of the State constitutions. What is a “sovereignty” in the political sense of the term? Would it be far wrong to define it “a political community without a political superior”?

Tested by this, no one of our States, except Texas, ever was a sovereignty; and even Texas gave up the character on coming into the Union, by which act she acknowledged the Constitution of the United States and the laws and treaties of the United States made in pursuance of the Constitution to be for her the supreme law of the land.

Ted Cruz would have a field day with that one.

The States have their status in the Union, and they have no other legal status. If they break from this, they can only do so against law and by revolution. The Union, and not themselves separately, procured their independence and their liberty. By conquest or purchase, the Union gave each of them whatever of independence or liberty it has. The Union is older than any of the States, and, in fact, it created them as States.

More to come, probably…


Yesterday, the Washington Post published an editorial called, “GOP leaders, you must do everything in your power to stop Trump.”

Not gonna work, as anyone who saw the 1956 sci-fi classic, Forbidden Planet, could tell you. Here’s why:

I’m writing this on an iPad 2, black, with Verizon 3G and a red leather Smart Cover. It’s only got 32 GB. Even though the price was still less than many laptops, forgoing the most powerful model allowed me to add a wireless keyboard and handy charging dock. Certainly, I coveted the 64 GB monster, so that I could store my entire collection of Sergei Eisenstein movies, but I’m trying not to think of myself as a mass consumer.

I read up on iPads for months before actually making a purchase, and one of the things I learned, besides the fact that iPads were great for educators, was that 3 workers at the Chengdu plant in China died recently when explosive dust that is created by the polishing process collected in the air vents and…well…exploded.

According to InformationWeek, the plant is the property of Foxconn/Hon Hai Technology Group, which had set a new record in its construction (76 days). On its web site, Foxconn boasts that they “provide the lowest ‘total cost’ solution to increase the affordability of electronics products for all mankind,” a rather grandiose goal, to be sure, made a bit more achievable now that the All Mankind List is 3 people shorter than it used to be. Foxconn doesn’t want it to get much shorter, though: they recently starting requiring employees to sign a pledge promising they won’t commit suicide at work.

Anyway, when I first read about the explosion, I became concerned. The iPads, I knew, were scarce, driving demand to a fever pitch, and the last thing I wanted to do was order one, and have to wait 2 or 3 weeks, when there’s an Apple Store at the Eastview Mall, just a few miles down the highway. But, I needn’t have worried. As Brian White, an analyst at Ticonderoga Securities, quickly reported,

Our current view is that this tragedy is likely to have some impact on iPad 2 production; however, we believe Hon Hai has the flexibility to shift manufacturing back to the Shenzhen facility if necessary…As such, we currently don’t expect a material impact to Apple’s iPad 2 shipments, but we will continue to monitor the situation.

Problem solved. Or is it? According to a report that came out shortly before the explosion, by a Hong Kong-based group called SACOMStudents and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour–the Chengdu plant was dangerous, workers were not trained properly, they suffered from a variety of health problems that were ignored, and, “even though they have worn gloves, their hands (were) still covered by dust and so (was) their face and clothes.”


To anyone even remotely aware of American labor history, all of this seems terribly familiar, an almost nostalgic look back at a time before unions and federal safeguards made manufacturers pack up their locks, stocks, and barrels, and flee to hungry nations that had never heard of minimum wage and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. It’s like the Gilded Age all over again, for them, and they know that as long as the Eastviews are full, the newspapers empty, and the oceans wide, people like me won’t ask questions.

In these terms, a trip to the mall is a little bit like the King Cotton diplomacy that the Confederacy tried on Great Britain back in the day: help us break the Federal blockades, convince your textile workers to stop complaining about slave labor, and we promise not to cut off the supply of cotton that keeps your mills running. As South Carolina’s James Hammond said, in 1858, “What would happen if no cotton was furnished for three years? England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with it.”

The Confederacy, not known for rhetorical subtlety, overplayed its hand. But what if no iPads were furnished for three months? The question is moot, of course; very few people are screaming about factory conditions in China, and neither Apple nor Foxconn has to browbeat anyone into silence by withholding electronics. They know that there are many people out there like me—saps who claim to care about workers’ rights, but, occasionally, are ready to slip into a little hypocrisy, covered up with red leather.

It really is a beautiful machine, after all, polished to a fine, lustrous black. As I type, parts of my face become reflected in the frame, and, if I turn my gaze just a tiny bit to the right, the light bouncing off the thing is positively blinding.