Archive for June, 2016

Nomadic horsepower and agrarian expansion.

Some of the major political
developments of Asian societies for our period can simply be traced to their common ecological
frontier between the arid and semi-arid nomadic horse-breeding areas and the wetter grain-
and rice-producing centres. What really strikes the careful observer when focusing on
Central Eurasia is the contiguous belt of relatively dry deserts and steppes that extends from
northern Africa to northern China. Although desert and steppe are different ecological
zones, supporting different nomadic economies, this so-called Arid Zone roughly indicates the
natural habitat of nomadic-pastoralism in general, and nomadic horse-breeding in
particular, and, as such, also denotes the natural range of operation of nomadic armies.

It shows, for example, that Central
Eurasia and Iran are the most liable to repeated horse-based
nomadic incursions. What it does not show, however, is that the Middle Eastern
deserts cannot support as many horses as Central Eurasia or northern Iran, an ecological fact
that determined the natural, thirteenth-century boundary between Mamluk and Mongolian power.  For similar reasons, the Carpathians
marked the far western European frontier of
nomadic armies. From the ecological point of view the
sharpest frontier between the predominantly nomadic Arid Zone and surrounding
sedentary economies occurs in China where the Great Wall neatly demarcates the transition
from steppes to sown. On the Indian subcontinent, the two semi-arid extensions flow into
the open jungle and scrub of the far east and deep south and make the transition far more
gradual, but at the same time, far more intrusive. These eastern and southern extensions
of the Arid Zone never occasioned the building of a defensive system like the Chinese
one, but instead, facilitated the creation of India’s ‘longue-dure’ road axis of northern
(uttarapatha) and southern highways (dakshinapatha). As a result, through these inner
frontiers-cum-limites , the humid but very productive South and East in India are more closely
linked to (semi-)nomadic Central Eurasia than is the humid and equally productive South in

Finally taking a look at the other end
of the Arid Zone, the transition between
Europe and Central Eurasia was in ecological and historical terms the least rigid, the
more so since the deciduous forests of Eastern Europe did not yet support the rich economic
and demographic centres so characteristic of the Indian subcontinent. Thus in India the
encounter between agrarian prosperity and nomadic dynamism is comparable to China but it
is also much less restricted to some external border as it is almost omnipresent (with the
exception of the coastal regions of the Southwest and in Orissa).

The ecological circumstances of the
Arid Zone can explain much of the degree of havoc the nomads of Central Eurasia produced
in its surrounding sedentary societies: at its greatest in the arid Middle East, Iran and
Russia, at its least in the more distant parts of Europe and Southeast Asia.  Perhaps, the most interesting middle
position is taken up by India and China. Beyond a very dynamic nomadic
frontier, both cover the world’s two richest medieval sedentary economies. Even more than
in the case of the Middle East, the post-nomadic Mughal and Manchu conquerors of these
regions were probably the most sensitive to ongoing forces of assimilation – the
same for indianization as for sinification – and in response were perhaps the most keen in
maintaining as well as reinventing their nomadic outlook and organization. They knew
perfectly well that only such a post-nomadic stance would enable them to get both cultural
and material access to the Central Eurasian supply-lines of nomadic warriors and

Eurasian horse-economies

The warhorse was the one essential
element of warfare that both the Indian and Chinese states could not produce in sufficient
numbers for their own need. What they lacked most were extensive grazing facilities,
especially in India’s east, south and southwest and in China’s southeast; those areas that
had experienced a medieval agricultural breakthrough on the basis of more intensive paddy
cultivation. In addition, like most of the hot and humid parts of Monsoon Asia, these areas
possessed a hostile disease and reproduction environment for the horse. Insufficient
grazing was not compensated by sufficient quantities of alternative and equally nutritious
fodder crops such as oats in Europe or barley in the Middle East, both of which integrated
horse-breeding more tightly with the agrarian economy and stimulated the breeding of
relatively high quality warhorses such as the European destrier, a mixture of indigenous with
Spanish and Arabian stock.

From the Mamluk experience, Masson Smith, Jr concludes
that although nomads can produce more horses, sedentary people can produce better
ones. In the Indian and Chinese cases,
indigenous horses of adequate quality were bred in
the drier areas of northern and central India, and northern and western China – but the
quality of the Indian and Chinese breeds remained critically dependent on regular
crossbreeding with Central Eurasian horses.  In terms of quantities, Turkish and Mongolian warhorses
tended to dominate the market but in southern India there was, especially during the
Bahmani sultanate and Vijayanagara (1300–1500), also an important influx of more
expensive Arabian and Iranian horses from overseas sources.

In this period, Ming China also
imported horses by sea – mainly from Southeast Asia but also from Bengal and further
west – but the quantities were far from sufficient to make a real impact on the total demand
for good warhorses.  Moreover, longer-distance overseas transport meant higher death
tolls and prices for horses; this was a problem even for India, and more so for China.
Anyway, during both Mughal and Manchu times the over- seas importation of horses declined
significantly.  The most important difficulty facing
sedentary horse breeders in India and China was the competition with other agrarian
activities that supported large populations. In India, for example, the busy agrarian
seasons allowed little time for haymaking. In northern Song China, a region of low economic
productivity and high population density, peasants tended to chip away at the fringes of
the government’s grasslands.

In the mid-Ming period many of the pastures earmarked for
horses were converted into manors and other private estates involving a shift from
pasturage to stable-breeding, which was accompanied by an increased burden of expenses for fodder
– rice- or millet-straw, black- or yellow-beans and other low-quality substitute forage
– which caused the quality of horses to deteriorate.  In general, the state authorities
proved reluctant to stimulate private production as they, for obvious reasons of security,
preferred to keep a close eye on both the production and the imports of warhorses. For this reason,
the Song and Ming, for example, tended to prefer a policy of self-sufficiency by
attempting to produce as many indigenous horses as possible. This policy usually failed, mainly
because limited space and bad climate prevented the production of a sufficient quality and
quantity of warhorses. During the Ming period, despite territorial control that encompassed
the most northern parts of China, the policy of private stock-farming that at first provided
the foundation of the dynasty’s horse supply was transformed in about a century into a
monetary tax used to buy horses from the Mongols. Thus, following the conclusions of Paul J.
Smith, ultimately any dynasty that did not possess substantial tracts of steppe land was
forced to buy horses from the pastoralists who did.

In and along the semi-arid extensions
of northern and central India, private, nomadic and semi-nomadic horse breeders often
had more favourable breeding conditions; these included better grazing facilities and
more contact with the breeding centres of Central Eurasia, Iran and the Middle East.
These mostly Afghan or west-Indian breeders supplied the studs of the political courts,
sometimes as revenue or tribute paid in kind but mostly through trade at market prices.
Although the Indian governments shared the horse anxieties of their Chinese counterparts,
horse-breeding remained closely associated with nomadic and semi-nomadic free grazing and,
nonetheless, remained a more durable and far more integrated part of the Indian agrarian
economy than in the case of China.

It should be noted, though, that
compared to any other part of the world, India and China not only imported but also
required far more warhorses – about 25–50,000 a year – as both regions encountered a far
more immediate nomadic threat. In both cases, there is no doubt whatsoever that the most,
and the best, warhorses came from abroad. Even more than breeding, however, the
interregional trade in warhorses involved enormous security risks for the settled political
authorities. For example, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb warned his purchasing officers in Kabul
to take care that the horse-traders imported their horses without riders. He knew
perfectly well that India had a tradition of large and small Afghan horse-traders leading armed
caravans eastwards and southwards across India, carving out principalities of their own,
or as in the case of the Lodi Afghans, perhaps even creating a true

In India, horse-traders could easily
turn into warlords and warlords easily turn into sultans. This is
also shown by the fact that many of the Delhi sultans started their careers as so-called
wardens of the marches ( marzban), i.e. as governors of the north-western border districts, which
not only had easy access to the horse-markets of the northwest but also experienced a
marked improvement of the horse-stock thanks to the recurrent Mongol incursions of the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. For the same reason, the Indian capital of Delhi
itself, in this case not unlike the Chinese capital of Beijing, developed as a kind of
frontier town that remained strategically close to these marches. For the sultans in Delhi, as for the
later Mughal emperors, the outside borders of the empire were relatively porous. What
they really controlled was not a well-defined external border but, at best, the main urban
centres, the agrarian heartlands surrounding and the main routes connecting these centres.
All this accounts for the specific Indian pattern of the horse trade: only at times of
relatively tight imperial control, horses were bought at border towns by imperial officers but,
in general, there always remained a vigorous private market, or actually a string of markets
which, following India’s two semi-arid extensions, stretched from the far northwest deep
into the east and south of the subcontinent, where the seasonable supplies of mostly
Afghan and, in the south also, Portuguese horse-traders could meet the combined imperial,
regional and local demand.

With respect to the horse trade the
Indian case appears to be somewhat similar to the Russian one. For Muscovy the Nogai –
a purely nomadic confederacy extending east from the Volga to the Irtush River in
Siberia – were an important source of warhorses; Muscovy being the main source of income for the
Nogai. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Nogai horse trade appears to have
been strictly controlled by the Russian authorities and took place at a designated site
near Moscow or in several Russian towns along the Volga. At this time, the Nogai traders
brought as many as 30–40,000 horses to the capital annually.  Hence, compared to the Indian
situation, the Nogai trade appears to be more centrally supervised, based on a more
direct, tribute-like, exchange between nomadic breeders and the government. By
contrast, in India we see well-functioning market-forces dominated by specialized
transfrontiersmen acting as intermediaries between nomadic supply and sedentary demand. It should
be no surprise that these wealthy intermediaries turned out to be far more threatening
to the political establishment than the Nogais, giving rise to that enduring Indian rivalry
between Afghans and Mughals.

Returning to the Chinese situation, the
contrasts are indeed striking. As indicated already with regard to breeding,
Chinese governments always attempted to confine the trade in horses to the place where they were
most needed, the western and northern frontiers. This trade mainly involved Chinese tea for
Mongolian horses. But the Chinese transported the tea from the interior to the borders
instead of having the barbarians bring their horses to the interior
(mainly Szechwan and Shensi). In this way, the government not only
anticipated tremendous security risks but also
avoided the expenses of lodging and feeding the barbarians on their trip through the interior.
After purchase, the horses were sent directly to the frontier garrisons. Under the Song,
horses from as far as Tibet were transported along a belt of relay posts that ran parallel
to the border. At the northern frontier, imported mares were transported to the royal pastures
or, in Ming times, to the non-governmental studs near Beijing and, sometimes, as far
south as Nanking. For reasons of security, the Manchus, who almost entirely depended on
imports, declined to procure their warhorses from the Zunghars, their main Mongol rivals, and
instead preferred to purchase their horses from the smaller Mongolian tribes
immediately beyond the Great Wall. The biggest security problem of the trade was only solved at
the second half of the eighteenth century when, following the conquest of modern-day
Sinkiang and Mongolia, these tribes were incorporated into the empire.

What is really striking in the Chinese
case, however, is not only the degree of supervision and command mobilization
through endless government bureaux, agencies and offices but also the rigid
demarcation between nomadic supply and sedentary demand along a relatively well protected
border. Most of the breeding and trade of warhorses was concentrated at the very edge of
empire, girdling the perimeter of the realm. As a consequence, in China there was much less of
a chance that horse-traders would turn into mounted warlords, infiltrate the empire
and take power in Beijing from inside.

In sum, comparing the various
horse-economies, we first encountered the Central Eurasian, Iranian and Middle Eastern
situation where states were faced with a practice of internal, mostly nomadic
horse-breeding. Although it made the states of this so-called Saharasia extremely dynamic and
powerful, it also made them extremely unstable as it remained very difficult to keep the
military power of the horse-breeding tribes at bay.  This situation contrasts sharply with
that of western and central Europe, where horse-breeding is equally internal but also much more
integrated into the sedentary world that allows neither much agency nor political clout
to breeders and traders. Again different, we came across Russia, India and China, all of
which imported huge numbers of warhorses from Central Eurasia and, in the case of
India, to a lesser extent, from Iran and the Middle East. Despite this resemblance, the
differences stand out more clearly. China confined its horse-economy entirely to the frontier,
Russia closely supervised supplies into the interior, and India, finally, allowed a great
deal of leeway to commercial intermediaries.”

– Jos Gommans, “Warhorse and post-nomadic empire in Asia, c . 1000–1800.* Journal of Global History, London School of Economics and Political Science. (2007) 2, pp. 1–21. 

Top, left: Portrait of a Stallion. Opaque watercolor, silver, and gold on paper, mid-19th century. Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection, 38.17

Top, right: Reza Shah Jahngir, Noble on horseback. Miniature painting, mid-17th century.

Above: Wild Horses. After Chokha [Deogarh, North India]. Opaque pigments on paper, 1810-1820. Source

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“When the Turgeon Commission submitted
its report in 1925, the case for government-sponsored, scientific
research as a guarantor of both fairness and efficiency in the grain
trade received a boost, albeit a highly qualified one. On one hand,
the commission concluded that the practice of mixing was ultimately
not harmful to the overall operation of the trade. Grain dealers
defended their mixing activities at commission hearings by arguing
that such practices provided a valuable service to Canada by finding
a way to dispose of low-quality wheat through blending with that of
higher quality. There was some truth to this claim; however, it could
not possibly have assuaged farmers, particularly those whose No. 2
wheat continued fetching No. 1 prices for profiteering grain dealers.
The commission’s report did, however, urge the maintenance of ‘an
efficient and adequately equipped laboratory for grain research work
and for the purpose of assisting the Chief Inspector and the Grain
Standards Board in determining the grades and the milling value of

Emboldened by the commission’s
general endorsement of science, opposition  MPs – with [Saskatchewan Liberal John] Millar once
again leading the charge – kept pressure of the government over the
specific question of protein grading. And, more anecdotal evidence of
Canada’s wheat producers missing out on protein premiums seemed to
appear all the time. Millar cited premium prices ‘on the American
side’ of 15 or 16 cents per bushel.  In February 1928, he moved in
the House that the statutory grades of Canadian wheat be amended ‘in
such a manner as to provide for including protein as a grading
factor.’  The call for scientific measurement of an invisible
constituent – protein – as a guarantor of ‘transparence’ in
state-controlled grading legislation and as a mediator of private
interest and public administration betrays what Ted Porter has
elegantly referred to as ‘trust in numbers.’ For Porter, the
pursuit and uptake of quantification technologies has been a strategy
for overcoming distance (read, a technology of ‘distrust’) in
conditions of modernity. Mere use of the rule-bound language of
mathematics, and,  a fortiori, of quantification, confirms
established scientific knowledge through putative exclusion of
subjective judgement. This applies equally to socio-political
affairs: ‘In science, and in political and administrative affairs,
objectivity names a set of strategies for dealing with distrust.’

Just how well numbers and
quantification are able to circumvent self-interest is, of course,
another question. As Porter points out, the public rhetoric of
scientific expertise ‘studiously ignores’ the unattainability of
full ‘mechanical objectivity.’  In the case of wheat grading, the
choice between two systems of knowledge – one based on cultivated
experience and seasoned judgment, and one based on explicit,
measurable, and quantifiable criteria – was not simply about
precision and fairness. As contemporaries saw it (and as will be
discussed more below), protein made wheat the world’s most modern
grain, and Canada the producer of the world’s most modern wheat.
Thus, to impugn the grading system on the grounds of its inability to
measure protein was to go well beyond the charge of mistreatment of
producers; it was to raise the spectre of a wheat industry lacking
the requisite science to keep  pace with an increasingly modern
world. As Millar’s colleague Thomas Sales had once remarked, ‘Here
is Canada the largest exporter of wheat in the world, and all we are
doing in grain research is being done in a little bit of a one-horse
place somewhere down a back lane.’

While Millar did not abandon his plea
for justice on behalf of farmers, it was his exhortation that the
government provide scientific facilities for the purpose of keeping
abreast of international advancements in cereal science –
especially those in use by milling and baking companies – that was
particularly effective. In this respect he built on anxiety-inducing
comparisons between Canada’s unscientific system of wheat grading
and evolving practices elsewhere. And, more importantly, he helped
open a chapter in Canadian statecraft in which new priorities and
novel strategies were brought to the administration of Canada’s
wheat industry. In January 1928, the Liberal government referred the
entire matter of protein grading to three distinct bodies: the
National Research Council, the Board of Grain Commissioners, and most
critically, to Parliament’s Select Standing Committee on
Agriculture and Colonization.


When predicated on inequitable
treatment of certain producers, the Millar-led charge for a
scientific grading scheme aroused moderate concern at best. His
evocative language (as well as that of his colleagues) for a Canadian
grading system bereft of scientific accuracy, however, incited
something closer to hysteria. The concomitant processes of settlement
and wheat-acreage extension, both straddling critical environmental
‘lines,’ could no longer be denied; both had exposed the economic
and socio-political implications of rationalizing grades according to
the grain’s external characteristics, as opposed to its important
chemical constituent – protein.  The real problem, as hearings of
the standing committee, which opened in February 1928, seemed to
reveal, was a critical loss of uniformity. The importance of
maintaining uniformity brooked no contradiction whatsoever, and
suggested the value of protein grading well beyond producer class
interests. Even those otherwise opposed to protein grading
specifically could not argue against the significance of achieving
uniformity in export shipments. When L.H. Newman, the Dominion
cerealist and opponent of protein grading, was asked, ‘Do you think
it highly desirable that our grading system should be made as uniform
as is humanly possible?’ Newman replied, ‘I certainly do.’

Anecdotal evidence of faltering
uniformity made its way from British grain dealers to Canadian
officials. In the winter of 1928, concurrent with standing committee
hearings, respected agricultural writer Cora Hind of the Winnipeg
Free Press
led a Canadian agricultural delegation on a tour of
British farms and related facilities. In her weekly dispatches to the
Winnipeg Free Press, Hind reported expressions of
dissatisfaction audible in the ‘old country’s’ grain circles.
British complaints also arrived in carefully worded letters. F.W.G.
Urquhart, secretary of the Liverpool Corn Exchange, wrote to the
Board of Grain Commissioners with some very serious imputations of
Canadian wheat: ‘There is no doubt whatever that, during the last
two years – 1926–27 and 1927–28 … there has been a very
serious deterioration in the quality and condition of Canadian wheat
shipments.’ Then, speaking specifically to the issue of uniformity,
Urquhart reminded, ‘regularity of standard from year to year is
essential.’ In a letter of the same date to Mackenzie King,
Urquhart used stronger language still, pointing out that while
complaints of Canadian wheat were once ‘few and far between,’
they had been increasing, and that the trade’s confidence in the
Canadian Certificate Final was ‘badly shaken.’

The uniformity imperative poses a
question: Why protein? Why were officials intent on codifying protein
– as opposed to, say, vitamin B, or starch – as the specific
constituent guaranteeing such uniformity? Protein grading had nothing
to do with nutrition.  What protein selection was about is a rather
complex matter. As noted, wheat from Prairie Canada, at least from
certain regions within the West, was renowned as a high-protein
product. Few of the world’s wheats – not Australian; not
Argentinean; not, for the most part, Danubian; and only small amounts
of American – could compare with the high protein values of the
Canadian product.  Marketing Canada’s wheat to better effect was
considered in the national interest as a whole, and it therefore
seemed utterly absurd to many that the very factor making Canada’s
wheat so well known, and so valuable, was not even codified in the
grading system – and this in an increasingly competitive
international market. ‘If I were any one of you Canadians,’ an
American ‘marketing specialist’ urged, ‘I should certainly try
and open that door [of protein grading].’

Selling more wheat was certainly a
prime impetus, and any means by which sales could be increased were
at least considered. But protein grading promised more than a
marketing coup in the vulgar sense of merchandising. In fact,
uniformity of shipments was understood as the supply-side logic of
two powerful narratives in modern-era wheat consumption. First, as a
steady stream of wheat experts before the standing committee implied,
sometimes unwittingly, the necessary end-product of wheat was bread,
and that bread has an optimal form of being. Wheat protein, known as
gluten, produced a loaf of bread that was voluminous, fluffy, and
‘well piled.’  As yeast converts sugar into carbon dioxide gas,
thus causing bread dough to rise, how far that dough rises depends on
the protein’s combined properties of elasticity and strength.
Speaking at one point of the value of protein in wheat, Dr Birchard
failed to notice his own taken-for-granted sense of what constitutes
bread. Birchard noted ‘the most characteristic property of wheat
flour is due to the presence of gluten, since without this substance
it would not be possible to make a loaf of bread at all.’

A member of the committee ventured a
question, seeking qualification of the comment: ‘To make a bread
that will rise?’ he asked. It was hardly a noticeable exchange, but
for all its brevity and apparent banality it revealed a second
narrative of wheat consumption with very broad purchase in both
popular and scientific circles. Wheat, owing in large part to its
ability to produce loaves of bread, was assumed to have been the
staple carbohydrate source of advanced Western cultures. Sir William
Crookes, president of the British Association, certainly thought so.
Approximately three decades earlier, in a much-discussed and
frequently quoted paean to wheat consumption, Crookes asserted: ‘We
are born wheat-eaters … other races vastly superior to us in
numbers, but differing widely in material and intellectual progress,
are eaters of maize, rice, millet, and other grains.’

Crookes’s observations had a pretence
of anthropological rigour, but also reflected currents in social
evolutionary theory, particularly when he stressed how the
accumulated knowledge of ‘civilized mankind’ pointed invariably
to wheat as a nutritionally superior cereal. Wheat-consuming
societies, Crookes’s logic ran, reflected a greater acquired
capacity for recognizing nutritional value in certain foods and
would, therefore, conquer in the struggle for social survival.
Quoting and expanding Crookes’s words years later, the Wheat
Advisory Committee in London, England, explored two sides of the
apparent connection between wheat and cultural progress. On the
elective  side the committee observed, ‘Wheat is unquestionably the
pre-eminent bread grain of civilized races,’ and then queried, ‘to
what is this universal appeal of wheat due?’ The answer to this
not-so-rhetorical question came

in two parts. The first dealt with
colour, and ‘explained’ that ‘with the march of progress from
primitive to modern conditions there is increasing demand for a bread
that is white.’ The second part of the answer dealt with the
structure of bread, a theme even more germane to Canadian hopes:
‘Wheaten bread is more palatable to most people than breads made
from other grains. This circumstance is due primarily to the unique
character of the wheat flour protein, known as gluten, which on the
addition of water exhibits the property of becoming viscid … The
proteins of barley, rice and oatmeal fail to become viscid with water
and are therefore unsuitable for bread-making.’ However, the link
between advanced cultures and bread from high-protein wheat was more
than gustatory and aesthetic, more than merely elective. To observe
any given society as wheat-consuming was to describe a whole set of
up-to-date technical, political, scientific, cultural, economic, and
philosophical practices that would invariably prevail in that
society. It was, moreover, a matter of racial significance to speak
of ‘that consistent wheat-grower, the Anglo-Saxon.’   In short,
wheat-eaters were regarded as inheritors of the Mesopotamian
Neolithic, descended in a seamless progression from ‘pre-history’
through Christian, and then, Greco-Roman ‘advances’ toward
Enlightenment rationality, liberal democracy, and industrial-capital

Some of the clearest statements on
these themes emerged after 1929 as wheat-exporting nations, faced
with soaring world production and plunging rates of effective demand,
assessed future prospects for integrating non-wheat-eating regions
into wheat-based economies.  Prospects for this were grim in the
short term, but a long-term transition to wheat consumption could be
expected so long as certain conditions were met. Whereas wheat had,
‘since the dawn of history,’ ‘been the staple foodstuff of the
most advanced civilizations,’ it would take ‘abandonment of
primitive customs and urbanization of populations,’ as well as
‘raised standards of living following improvement in economic
conditions to encourage wheat consumption in erstwhile traditional
societies’ (this applied almost uniformly to ‘rice eaters’).
These narratives energized standing committee debates. Significantly,
the logic worked in both directions. If wheat consumption could be
expected through a general increase in a society’s standards of
living, it followed that any society already consuming wheat already
enjoyed advanced production, that is, wheat handling was mechanized
and industrialized.  The earliest testimony to ‘confirm’ this
mechanization trope came from the American baking industry via
William Schnaidt, ‘marketing specialist’ from North Dakota.
Schnaidt identified high speed, powered machinery as singularly
responsible for high protein demands, noting that American bakers
‘have installed machinery that operates at considerable speed, and
they tell me it is necessary to have a strong gluten, or strong flour
to stand up under this high-speed working machinery.’  

None of this mattered very much if
uniformity could not be achieved. Mechanization of both milling and
baking practices necessitated, it was argued, uniform ‘wheat
parcels.’ With mechanization came a continuous dough-making
process, meaning that ‘dough lots’ were no longer handled as
individual packages. The continuous process essentially removed any
chance for the baker to make lot-specific choices about the flour to
employ: the ‘baker has not the ability, or the opportunity that the
housewife has with her dough.’ ‘The baker cannot experiment much
because he works with large batches and one batch spoiled means quite
a loss to him.’ By contrast, ‘if the housewife spoils a batch of
bread, why there is not much loss. We look pleasant and eat it
anyway.’ In other words, not only was the ability to grade by
protein levels considered desirable as a means of satisfying certain
bread tastes, it was perceived as an  inevitable  development in
provisioning raw materials for a mechanized mode of bread production.
Here, Canadian officials applied F.W. Taylor’s vision of
‘scientific management’ in reverse.  Whereas Taylor argued for
the separation of work tasks into distinct component motions, here
was a struggle to ‘plug’ already separated tasks into a process
newly perceived as whole, consonant, and seamless. Of course, there
was nothing novel about the idea that Canadian wheat became British
bread. What made this discussion new was its articulation of an
emergent chemical analogy, which altered the debate’s terms
considerably: If grain inspectors, however ‘expert,’ subjecting
wheat to visual examination could not detect subtle differences in
the grain’s chemical (protein) properties, machines certainly could
do so. There was no fooling a dough-mixing machine. With a grading
system positioned (literally, in fact, but also figuratively) between
a changing Prairie West and a new paradigm of mechanical production,
Canadian officials began to sense that system’s inability to make
these separate component parts of a larger productive whole ‘legible’
to the other.

An interim
(though it became permanent) strategy in pursuit of this objective
was to map the Prairies’ protein zones. As of 1927, Dr Birchard
(reinstated as chief chemist of the GRL ) was instructed to sample
export wheat cargoes, ascertain their mean protein content, and plot
his findings on maps of the Prairies. Birchard set about confirming
his findings, which were published as brightly coloured hatchings on
blank maps, by applying the era’s leading ‘scientific’
safeguard in wheat assessment, the bread-wheat baking test. In
combination, these techniques (protein maps and baking tests)
facilitated a clearer state ‘vision’ of the production spaces
being rationalized, and both, subsequently, produced empirical
evidence that Canada’s grading criteria were not calibrated to
mechanized bread production, at least as it was understood from
standing committee evidence.

His results were most telling…
Birchard’s results demonstrated in dramatic form that different
parcels of wheat bearing the same grade designation could produce
bread of markedly different volume (a linear expression of quality in
Canadians’ minds). Furthermore, presumably inferior ‘grades’
could outperform their superiors insofar as baking was concerned –
again, measured in terms of the loaves’ volume. The necessity of a
newly rationalized vision for the West, and even, perhaps, of a fully
integrated protein-grading system, thus received the empirical
support it needed. While the finer points of grading by protein
content remained somewhat moot, Birchard’s findings brooked little
discernible dissent over the ultimate importance and value of
quantifying Canadian wheat’s quality; they left little doubt about
the need for such a strategy in the modern wheat economy.”

– John F. Varty, “On Protein,
Prairie Wheat, and Good Bread: Rationalizing Technologies and the
Canadian State, 1912-1935.” The Canadian Historical Review, Volume
85, Number 4, December 2002. Pp. 735-744

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“Law professors and lawyers instinctively shy away from considering the problem of law’s violence.  Every law is violent.  We try not to think about this, but we should.  On the first day of law school, I tell my Contracts students never to argue for invoking the power of law except in a cause for which they are willing to kill. They are suitably astonished, and often annoyed. But I point out that even a breach of contract requires a judicial remedy; and if the breacher will not pay damages, the sheriff will sequester his house and goods; and if he resists the forced sale of his property, the sheriff might have to shoot him.

This is by no means an argument against having laws.

It is an argument for a degree of humility as we choose which of the many things we may not like to make illegal. Behind every exercise of law stands the sheriff – or the SWAT team – or if necessary the National Guard. Is this an exaggeration? Ask the family of Eric Garner, who died as a result of a decision to crack down on the sale of untaxed cigarettes. That’s the crime for which he was being arrested. Yes, yes, the police were the proximate cause of his death, but the crackdown was a political decree.

The statute or regulation we like best carries the same risk that some violator will die at the hands of a law enforcement officer who will go too far. And whether that officer acts out of overzealousness, recklessness, or simply the need to make a fast choice to do the job right, the violence inherent in law will be on display. This seems to me the fundamental problem that none of us who do law for a living want to face.  

But all of us should.”

– Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter quoted by Conor Friedershof, “Enforcing the Law Is Inherently Violent.The Atlantic, June 27, 2016.  

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“Carthage was the capital of Africa, a major political and fiscal centre, and
channel of much of Africa’s wealth overseas in the Roman period. In the
period 350–450 its prosperity peaked, as also did its population, which
might have reached 100,000 people. Its walls, built in the 420s, blocked
some former main access roads, and left some extramural areas to decay. In
the Vandal period, too, there are also some signs of a neglect of public
buildings, such as those in the forum area and the so-called ‘circular monument’; roads often saw encroachment in this period. But the Vandals also
built or rebuilt palaces and baths on a lavish scale (one was near the odeon;
we also have detailed praise-poems about some of them).  Some private
housing continued to be rich, such as the House of the Greek Charioteers;
and commercial activity remained active, with a continuity of import and
export (though this was lessening by 500 and the
circular harbour, one of Carthage’s several harbours, was not fully kept
up). After Belisarios’ conquest there was a massive rebuilding programme,
focusing on public buildings, streets, porticoes, churches, the harbours, and
the walls, as befitted a major centre in Justinian’s empire; this rebuilding
sometimes recognized and systematized former street encroachment. Carthage arguably had a prosperous period up to 600 at least, and maybe even
650, although construction techniques simplified towards the end of this
period, nd some monuments were converted to private houses. The last
known monumental (re-) building dates to c.660, in the southern extramural
church of Bir el Knissia;  thereafter Carthage underwent a monumental
meltdown. Older housing was replaced—and streets even blocked—by numerous poor-quality buildings, the circular harbour and the circus were
abandoned (there was seventh-century occupation, probably housing, in
the latter, however) and burials intruded on several former occupied
areas. Carthage was in the end abandoned, probably in the early eighth
century, and replaced by neighbouring Tunis. But the late seventh-century
levels of the city, despite their material poverty and their lack of control, do
not show terminal population decline; one must conclude that a still-existing
population was deliberately moved by the Arabs at some point after their
conquest of the city in 698.”

– Chris Wickham, Framing The Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800 (London: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 641

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“C.C.F. stands for socialism.” North Battleford, Saskatchewan – North Battleford Liberal Association, [1938?].  From Peel’s Prairie Provinces. An early example of Nazis = socialists as an electoral strategy far from Germany.

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June 25, 2016: a new episode of The Anatomy Lesson at 11pm EST on CFRC 101.9 FM ( @cfrcradio ). NM at the controls. Music by Nennen, Jessica Sligter, Petra Glynt, Low Sea, The Deeep and more. Tune in at 101.9 FM, stream at http://audio.cfrc.ca:8000/listen.pls or download the finished show at cfrc.ca.

Tamara Filyavich – “return fire” Split release with Nick Kuepfer
Jessica Sligter – “Original improvisation of The Dream-dealer”
The Deeep – “Ballad of the Abyssal Plain, Pt. 1” Life Light (2010)
Nennen – “Villaray” Two Mountains
Low Sea – “Never Yours” The Light (2010)
Petra Glynt – “Sour Paradise” Of This Land (2013)
The Olm – “Ghost of Jupiter” The Olm/Ocra (2013)

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“There is a rambling of loquacity that in its interminability has the same relation to the result as the incalculable lists of Egyptian kings have to the historical outcome. Old age fulfills the dreams of youth. One sees this in Swift: in his youth he built an insane asylum; in his old age he himself entered it.

It is cause for alarm to note with what hypochondriac profundity Englishmen of an earlier generation have spotted the ambiguity basic to laughter. Thus Dr. Hartley has observed: “dass wenn sich das Lachen zuerst bei Kindem zeiget, so ist es ein entstehendes Weinen, welches durch Schmerz erregt wird, oder ein plotzlich gehemtes und in sehr kurzen Zwischenraiimen wiederholtes Gefiihl des Schmerzens” [that when laughter first makes its appearance in the child, it is a nascent cry that is excited by pain or a suddenly arrested feeling of pain repeated at very short intervals]. What if everything in the world were a misunderstanding; what if laughter really were weeping!

There are particular occasions when one may be most painfully moved to see a person standing utterly alone in the world. The other day  saw a poor girl walking utterly alone to church to be confirmed. Comelius Nepos tells of a general who was kept confined with a considerable cavalry regiment in a fortress; to keep the horses from being harmed because of too much inactivity, he had them whipped daily-in like manner,  live in this age as one besieged, but lest  be harmed by sitting still so much,  cry myself tired.  say of my sorrow what the Englishman says of his house: My sorrow is my castle.  Many people look upon having sorrow as one of life’s conveniences.”

– Soren Kierkegaard, Either / Or, Part 1Translated by: Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton University Press, 1987. Original: 1843.

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“Tevita Latu was only one of hundreds of Tongans detained after the riot. In 2007 the lawyer and human rights activist Betty Blake published a report about the treatment of these detainees. Working with a ‘community para-legal taskforce’ that included some of Tonga’s top academics, Blake documented the misery of detainees forced into tiny and filthy cells, handcuffed for days on end, and beaten with fists and boots and sticks. Australian and New Zealand cops sent to help Tongan ‘restore security’ after the riot had stood by while their colleagues worked. A fifth of all the detainees had been children.

Blake’s report was studded with photographs of torture victims. With their eyes blacked out for security reasons, a series of young men showed off their stained T shirts, bloated eyes and lips, and pitted scalps. The report was soon uploaded to the internet, and Nuku’alofa’s police were enraged when they discovered Tevita Latu’s battered body amongst its illustrations.

Soon Ebonie Fifita-Maka had turned away from me, toward a couple of men wearing matching floral shirts and expensive shoes, and holding what looked like a sandwich board. The men in the floral shirts had been watching Ebonie’s chat to the police with bemused smiles, and now they had something to tell her. Ebonie leaned over the sandwich board to hug both men at once, then turned and stepped after them toward the outdoor deck of On the Spot’s gallery, where a microphone stand had appeared. Partygoers gathered around the improvised stage, a drum roll sounded, and Ebonie held the board above her head. It was a giant cheque from the Bank of the South Pacific, entitling On the Spot to fifteen thousand pa’anga (about ten thousand New Zealand dollars). As Ebonie explained, once the crowd had stopped cheering, Tonga’s leading bank had been impressed by On the Spot’s painters, dancers, musicians, and actors, and admired the group’s commitment to free expression.

As I stood listening to Ebonie’s speech I was joined by a grinning Maikolo Horowitz, an American sociologist and novelist who has taught and researched in Tonga for nearly two decades. “It’s bizarre, isn’t it?” Maikolo said. “One minute the cops want to shut them down, and the next minute bankers are giving them money. Tonga can’t decide what to do with its young artists.”

In the decade since Nuku’alofa burned and Tevita Latu was beaten Tonga has changed. A new constitution has restricted the powers of the monarchy and the nobility, and let commoners elect two-thirds of parliament. In the aftermath of the riot pro-democracy leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva was arrested and charged with sedition, but today he is Prime Minister. And yet Tongan democracy is fragile. In a recent article for Pohiva’s newspaper Ko e Kelea the young journalist ‘Ofa Vetikani complained that Tonga’s elite is still opposed to democracy. Recalcitrant nobles plot a return to power over cocktails, while biased journalists slander the Prime Minister on television and religious conservatives denounce democracy as ungodly.

Maikolo Horowitz had given Vetikani’s polemic to his students. “Every word of it is true,” he told me. “This is a Weimar kingdom. We have democracy, but shadows are forming. What you saw tonight from the police should not be surprising.”

I stepped into On the Spot’s gallery space, which occupies two rooms in the old cottage the group has restored and made its den. In between a set of new ngatu paintings by Tanya Edwards a series of photo collages documented On the Spot’s first ten years. There were shots of members dancing, singing, teaching, painting, performing plays, partying, and hanging out at the beach.

In a famous essay published in the early 1970s, Wystan Curnow argued that because New Zealand was a small society its intellectuals were forced to multitask rather than specialise.(1) Writers often reviewed and edited, and produced poetry as well as prose; painters often had to teach and curate. When Curnow was writing his essay New Zealand had a population of two and a half million; today the Kingdom of Tonga still has only a hundred thousand inhabitants. In such a tiny society intellectuals and artists become dizzyingly versatile. Tonga’s most revered intellectual, the late Futa Helu, was a philosopher, an expert on ancient Greece, a literary critic, an opera singer, an authority on Tongan dance, and a political commentator, amongst other things. Epeli Hau’ofa won an international audience for his short stories and novel, but he was also a poet, an important anthropologist, an expert on Fijian carving, and an academic administrator. On the Spot’s eclecticism is part of a tradition.

Half a dozen women were standing in the middle of a gallery room, with their backs to the ngatu and the photo collages. They were giggling and talking about trousers. I had my exercise book and my pen, because I’d intended making notes about Tanya Edwards’ new paintings; instead, I began to transcribe the conversation I was overhearing.

– I let my daughter wear trousers. I’m not worried.
– I said ‘tuku ‘ia!’ You’re not wearing those! Dr Palu will curse you!
– He is insane. But lots of people like to listen to him. In the diaspora, too…

One of the women turned to me, saw me scribbling, and asked, in what I hoped was a jocular tone, whether I was spying for Dr Ma’afu Palu, the theologian who has lately become Tonga’s most notorious DJ. Palu spends his days at the Free Wesleyan Church’s Siatoutai Theological College, in the countryside outside Nuku’alofa, and some of his evenings behind a microphone at a popular FM station, where he inveighs against secularism, feminism, Prime Minister Pohiva, women who wear trousers, and other threats to the Tongan nation.

When Pohiva announced last year that his government would join the rest of the world in ratifying the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Palu brought hundreds of people, including Catholic nuns and a former Prime Minister, onto the streets of Nuku’alofa. The crowd chanted slogans like ‘CEDAW 666’ and raised a banner with the legend: A House with Two Masters A House of Doom. In interviews with the media Palu claimed that if Tonga ratified CEDAW the country would return to its pagan past, and Christians would be persecuted. After some of his more cowardly MPs threatened to cross the floor of Tonga’s parliament, Pohiva decided not to sign the UN’s convention.

Palu ends his radio programmes by cursing the people he holds responsible for Tonga’s slide towards democracy and pluralism. ‘Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki is the director of Tonga’s Women’s and Children’s Crisis Centre, a supporter of CEDAW, and a regular target of Palu. “He curses me,” she explained, “and once he cursed my children, and said that he hoped I would live to see his curses fulfilled. We were laughing about his fascination with women’s trousers, but Ma’afu Palu is really no joke. He is guilty of hate speech.”

– Scott Hamilton, “Art In A Weimar Kingdom,Eye Contact.  June 4, 2016

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“Simcoe Jail Warden Outbluffs Prisoners Who Wielded Razor,” Toronto Star. June 23, 1936. Pages 1 & 3.

“George and Joseph Parks, Brothers, Also Had ‘Dummy’ Revolver.


Escape Plot of Two Windsor Prisoners, Awaiting Move to Kingston, Also Foiled.

Simcoe, June 23 – Trapped in the kitchen of the county jail here Saturday by George and Joseph Parks, brothers, awaiting appeal from a five-year penitentiary sentence, who were armed with a ‘dummy’ revolver and an open razor, Governor George Mercer, alone and unarmed, bluffed his way past the two men, held them in the kitchen, and made his way to the street, where he summoned the police. 

Answering the governor’s call for help, Chief of Police West and Nightman Doyle, of Simcoe, with Provincial Constables Cavalry and Taggert rushed to the jail.  Entering the building where eleven other prisoners were confined the governor and the police found the Park brothers back in their cells, feigning sleep.  The cell was searched but the ‘wooden gun’ was not found.  One of the brothers said he had hidden it in the fire box of the stove in the laundry while the open razor blade – the only one in the jail, used for shaving the inmates and left in Joseph Park’s cell – was found lying on the window sill.  The men there were placed in solitary confinement.  George is 38 years of age, Joseph 32.

“George and Joseph Parks held me up in the kitchen,” stated Governor Mercer. “When I entered, George, who has a sore eye, was having some medicine put in it by Joseph.  I said ‘Your eye much better to-day?’ Just as I said that, he swung around on me and pulled a revolver. ‘Stick ‘em up; this is a getaway,’ he said.

‘I looked at him in amazement.  He had a black gun in his hand.  First I thought it was a joke, but then he started to shout and I knew something was wrong.  Joseph was working his way behind me to get somewhere and then stood with his legs spread across the door of the kitchen leading out into the corridor.  He had an open razor in his hand.

Expected Razor Attack
‘I guess they thought they were going to stop me right there.  They came toward me.  I had the big cell keys in my hand.  They are about five inches long, solid steel.  I started waving my keys and yelled at them to get out of the way.  As I backed to the door, George yelled at his brother ‘Give it to him.’

‘I expected that any minute Joseph would let go with the razor, and I still kept working my way into the corridor.  For some reason they did not follow me.  I came out of the corridor leading from the kitchen into the main corridor and, knowing I was alone in the jail, rushed to the main door and got out into the street, where I called for help.  There are no doors on the corridor, and they could have rushed me.’

“The police came and we went back into the jail and found the brothers in their cells,’ the governor continued. ‘We got George up and searched the cell and he told us the gun was in the stove in the kitchen.  The police described it as ‘a good imitation.’  We also got the razor.  For some reason it was forgotten when Joe Parks was shaved, and it was left in his cell.’

‘Did the men give any reason for their attempt on you?’ asked The Star.  ‘None at all – they never spoke a word after we got them again.’

‘As I went down the main corridor, George said ‘It’s all off,’ the governor related.  ‘I could have got help from other prisoners, I believe, if necessary.’

The dummy weapon was carved from wood and painted black.  The brothers took the paint from some which had been used for painting the jail boiler.  Police and jail officials believe the men appealed their conviction because it would give them at least 30 days more in the Simcoe jail and possibly a better chance to escape.”

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“Aladdin is so very refreshing because this piece has the audacity of the child, of the genius, in the wildest wishes. Indeed, how many are there in our day who truly dare to wish, dare to desire, dare to address nature neither with a polite child’s bitte, bitte [please, please] nor with the raging frenzy of one damned? How many are there who-inspired by what is talked about so much in our age, that man is created in God’s image-have the authentic voice of command? Or do we not all stand like Noureddin, bowing and scraping, worrying about asking too much or too little? Or is not every magnificent demanding eventually diminished to morbid reflecting over the I, from insisting to informing, which we are indeed brought up and trained to do.”

– Soren Kierkegaard, Either / Or, Part 1. Translated by: Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton University Press, 1987. Original: 1843.

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“Capitalism’s history might be tracked in a genealogy of the corporate apology. That of Baum’s eponymous head was typical of this sub-epoch of viciousness, mawkishness and entitlement. An initial denial of anything untoward; a rapid U-turn and apology for ‘inappropriate’ behaviour, ostentatiously meeting a homelessness activist; ultimately, parading in the mourning clothes of victimhood. Three weeks after the exposé – of a firm already under investigation – the company closed. ‘There is blood on your hands’, Baum wrote to Joe Nocera, in whose New York Times column the scandal broke. ‘I will never, ever forgive you’.

Baum’s quivering lip should provoke only piss and vinegar. It’s true, too, that the ritual slaying of a designated scapegoat, however just, can serve as exoneration by and for the system that threw up, nurtured, rewarded their behaviour. Our rulers and their media clercs are shocked, shocked by such Baum moments, these cruelties-too-far. As if there hasn’t always been, in capitalism’s marrow, a drive not only to repression but to cruelty, to down- punching sadism. They denounce it, partake of it, propagate it.

Consensual peccadilloes are not at issue here: this is about social sadism – deliberate, invested, public or at least semi-public cruelty. The potentiality for sadism is one of countless capacities emergent from our reflexive, symbolising selves. Trying to derive any social phenomenon from any supposed ‘fact’ of ‘human nature’ is useless, except to diagnose the politics of the deriver. Of course it’s vulgar Hobbesianism, the supposed ineluctability of human cruelty, that cuts with the grain of ruling ideology. The right often, if incoherently, acts as if this (untrue) truth-claim of our fundamental nastiness justifies an ethics of power. The position that Might Makes Right is elided from an Is, which it isn’t, to an Ought, which it oughtn’t be, even were the Is an is. If strength and ‘success’ are coterminous with good, what can their lack be but bad – deserving of punishment?

Meanwhile, liberal culture wrings its hands over the thinness of the veneer over our savagery, from the nasty visionary artistry of Lord of the Flies, to lachrymose middlebrow tragedy-porn, emoting and decontextualising wars. These jeremiads beg for a strong hand, for authority, to save us from ourselves. A state, laws. As if those don’t – and increasingly – target the poor.

Class rule necessitates violence and its contested, overlapping, jostling ideologies. It justifies, or more, Orgreave in 1984, the armed wing of the state laying down manners on insurgent workers. It insists that waterboarding is not torture and anyway it defends our freedoms. It explains the necessity of the spikes carefully fitted at the bases of new buildings to ensure the homeless can’t sleep there. Rising unevenly from a fundamental necessity to capital – oppression – are brutalities necessary to sustain class rule at home; to sustain imperialism abroad; everyday sadisms so metabolised their cruelties often hide in plain sight.

The drives to such phenomena are hazy-edged, non-identical but inextricable, imbricated, mutually constituting. They’re constant but not static. The parameters and place of violence, repression and sadism change with history. And with them, from the rush of jouissance they tap, inevitably flows their excess – a scandalous, invested sadism, enjoying its own cruelty. A surplus sadism. Baum’s Halloween party.”

– China Miéville, “On Social Sadism,Salvage. December 2015.

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“Charles T. Schenck is remembered today less for what he did than for the image he helped inspire:  that of a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.  That image was first offered by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes as an illustration of what Schenck did during the First World War, and it has since become a fixture of our discussions about the delicate balance between freedom and security, liberty and order, particularly though not exclusively in times of war.

It’s a pity that we remember the metaphor rather than the man, however, for the gap between what Schenck did and what Holmes said he did is considerable—and instructive.

Schenck was the general secretary of the Socialist Party in Philadelphia during the First World War.  Unlike their sister parties in Western Europe, America’s Socialists firmly opposed the war, even after the United States entered it in April 1917.  That summer, Schenck and his Philadelphia comrades launched a campaign against the draft.  They composed a two-sided leaflet that attacked the draft as unconstitutional and called for people to join the Socialist Party and persuade their representatives in Congress to repeal it.  If the leaflet’s language was strong—“a conscript is little better than a convict…deprived of his liberty and of his right to think and act as a free man”—it was also conventional, couched in a vernacular many would have found familiar.  One side proclaimed “Long Live the Constitution of the United States.” The other urged people to “Assert Your Rights!”

Schenck and his comrades made 15,000 leaflets and mailed most of them to men in Philadelphia who had passed their draft board physicals.  It’s unclear how many actually received the leaflet—hundreds were intercepted by the government—and no one produced evidence of anyone falling under its influence.  Even so, Schenck and four others were arrested and charged with “causing and attempting to cause insubordination…in the military and naval forces of the United States, and to obstruct the recruiting and enlistment services of the United States.”  Two of the defendants—Schenck and another party leader—were found guilty.  Schenck’s case was argued before the Supreme Court in January 1919, and the Court’s unanimous decision to uphold the conviction, written by Holmes, was delivered in March.

Holmes’s opinion was a mere six paragraphs.  But in one sentence he managed to formulate a test for freedom of speech that would endure on the Court in some form until 1968—“[The] question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent”—and in another to draw an illustration of the test that remains burned in the public consciousness to this day: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

With his disdain for socialists and rabble-rousers, Holmes would not have been pleased to see his name posthumously linked to Schenck’s.  But with his equally powerful sense of realism, he undoubtedly would have conceded the truth of Harry Kalven’s observation, in 1988, that “Schenck—and perhaps even Holmes himself—are best remembered for the example of the man ‘falsely shouting fire’ in a crowded theater.”  It was that kind of metaphor: vivid, pungent, and profoundly misleading.

Drawing on nearly forty years of his own scholarship and jurisprudence, Holmes viewed Schenck’s leaflet not as an instance of political speech but as a criminal attempt to inflict harm. In the same way that a person’s shout of fire in a theater would cause a stampede and threaten the audience with death so would Schenck’s leaflet cause insubordination in the military, hamper the war effort, and threaten the United States and its people with destruction.

Holmes knew that words were not always words:  sometimes they ignited fires—and not just the metaphorical kind.  In 1901, as chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, Holmes had upheld the conviction of a man who tried to persuade his servant to set fire to his own home in order to collect on the insurance. Just as that man’s words threatened the safety and well being of his neighbors so did Schenck’s threaten the safety and well being of his, or so Holmes believed.

Whenever the government suppresses opinions or beliefs like Schenck’s, it claims to be acting on behalf of values—national security, law and order, public safety—that are neutral and universal:  neutral because they don’t favor one person or group over another, universal because they are shared by everyone and defined by everyone in the same way.  Whatever a person may believe, whatever her party or profession, race or religion, may be, she will need to be safe and secure in order to live the life she wishes to live.  If she is to be safe and secure, society must be safe and secure:  free of crime and violent threats at home or abroad.  The government must be safe and secure as well, if for no other reason than to provide her and society with the safety and security they need. She and society are like that audience in Holmes’s theater:  whether some are black and others white, some rich and others poor, everyone needs to be and to feel safe and secure in order to enjoy the show.  And anyone who jeopardizes that security, or the ability of the government to provide it, is like the man who falsely shouts fire in the theater. He is a criminal, the enemy of everyone.  Not because he has a controversial view or takes unorthodox actions, but because he makes society—and each person’s pursuits in society—impossible.

But Americans always have been divided—and always have argued—about war and peace, what is or is not in the national interest.  What is security, people have asked?  How do we provide it?  Pay for it?  Who gets how much of it?  The personal differences that are irrelevant in Holmes’s theater—race, class, gender, ethnicity, residence, and so on—have had a great influence in the theater of war and peace. During the First World War, Wall Street thought security lay with supporting the British, German-Americans with supporting the Kaiser, Socialists with supporting the international working class.  And while the presence or absence of fire in Holmes’s theater is a question of objective and settled fact, in politics it is a question of judgment and interpretation.  During the war, Americans could never decide whether or not there was a fire, and if there was, where it was—on the Somme, the Atlantic, in the factories, the family, the draft—and who had set it:  the Kaiser, Wilson, J.P. Morgan, Teddy Roosevelt, the Socialists, the unions, the anarchists.  Without agreement on these questions, it wasn’t clear if Schenck was the shouter, the fire, or the fireman.”

– Ellen Schrecker & Corey Robin, “Falsely Shouting Fire in a Theater: How a Forgotten Labor Struggle Became a National Obsession and Emblem of Our Constitutional Faith,Corey Robin blog. February 16, 2013.

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June 18, 2016: a new episode of The Anatomy Lesson at 11pm EST on CFRC 101.9 FM (cfrcradio). Always there, always watching. We open with Jenny Hval. New songs by Vatican Shadow, abovetopsecretmusic (ft. Lido Pimienta), dälek, Odonis Odonis, EXE, Lace & Collar; a collaboration between Così e Così and ylangylanginnergaze; and older music by Ramleh, Maria Zerfall, No Comment, Warning and Sucking Chest Wound. Tune in at 101.9 FM, stream at http://audio.cfrc.ca:8000/listen.pls or download the finished show at cfrc.ca.

Jenny Hval – “That Battle Is Over” Apocalypse, Girl (2015)
Lace & Collar – “Pursuit 1” Pursuit
YlangYlang & Cosi e Cosi – “Hypothesis” The Science of Separation
No Comment – “Turmoil 1.1” Genetics 1 (1990)
Dälek – “Control” Asphalt For Eden
Above Top Secret – “Bang (ft. Lido Pimienta)” Above Top Secret

Warning – “They Are On Their Way Again” Electric Eyes (1983)
EXE – “Digital Diamond Shred” Deaddrop
Vatican Shadow – “More of the Same” Media In the Service of Terror
Sucking Chest Wound – “A State of Terror” The War on Drugs (1994)
Odonis Odonis – “Needs” Post Plague
Ramleh – “Purge” We Created It, Let’s Destroy It, Vol. 2 (1995)
Maria Zerfall – “Abgrund” Kopfkrieg, 1985-1995 (2000)

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“A minor footnote to the controversy over Niall Ferguson’s homophobic remarks about John Maynard Keynes. Ferguson claimed that the key to Keynes’s economic philosophy is a selfishness and short-termism rooted in the fact that Keynes was gay and had no children. No kids=no future=big deficits.

What is supposed to have prompted Ferguson to these meditations was a question comparing Keynes to Edmund Burke. According to the main report, “Ferguson responded to a question about Keynes’ famous philosophy of self-interest versus the economic philosophy of Edmund Burke, who believed there was a social contract among the living, as well as the dead.” As Ferguson explained in the apology he subsequently issued, “The point I had made in my presentation was that in the long run our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are alive, and will have to deal with the consequences of our economic actions.”

You’d think, for Ferguson’s claim to work, Edmund Burke would have sired a boatload of kids, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. In actual fact, he had one child, which, if my math is right, is only one more than Keynes had.  Not exactly the stuff of which allegedly grand differences of economic philosophy (self-interest versus the social good) are made. And that one child—Edmund’s son Richard—never married and died in 1794, three years before Burke died. In other words, Burke left no one behind.

Maybe that’s why Burke’s economic philosophy put such stress on the vile self-interested short-termism Ferguson is supposed to have detected in the childless gay Keynes. As he wrote after his son died:

There must be some impulse besides public spirit, to put private interest into motion along with it. Monied men ought to be allowed to set a value on their money; if they did not, there would be no monied men. This desire of accumulation is a principle without which the means of their service to the State could not exist. The love of lucre, though sometimes carried to a ridiculous, sometimes to a vicious excess, is the grand cause of prosperity to all States. In this natural, this reasonable, this powerful, this prolific principle, it is for the satirist to expose the ridiculous; it is for the moralist to censure the vicious; it is for the sympathetick heart to reprobate the hard and cruel; it is for the Judge to animadvert on the fraud, the extortion, and the oppression: but it is for the Statesman to employ it as he finds it; with all it’s concomitant excellencies, with all it’s imperfections on it’s head. It is his part, in this case, as it is in all other cases, where he is to make use of the general energies of nature, to take them as he finds them.

– Corey Robin, “Edmund Burke to Niall Ferguson: You know nothing of my work. You mean my whole theory is wrong. How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.” Crooked Timber, May 4, 2013.

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“This year will no doubt see plenty of fitting and necessary commemorations of Black Power’s importance in American history. Still, 50th anniversaries seem as good a time as any to clear up enduring confusions. “Black Power” is not some dusty or even hallowed slogan trapped in the past. It resides in the here-and-now as a set of living political and civic commitments. It includes a healthy suspicion of white-run institutions and an enduring desire for black ownership and other forms of self-determination. It also includes a hope that an unapologetic love of black people can, indeed, become a site of interracial political consensus. Chicago’s Black Youth Project 100, Baltimore’s Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, and scores of #BlackLivesMatter activists and their affiliates around the country represent but a handful of the groups that sharply echo the most militant political practices of the last half-century.

Not unlike Meredith’s marchers, courageous men and women over the last 50 years have also kept alive a certain intellectual fearlessness, advancing what one could fittingly call a Black Power method. A Black Power method remains both anti-racist and, often, anti-liberal in its interpretive and archival practice. Interpretively, it refuses to caricature black radicalism as doomed for failure. It also remains attentive to racism’s class and gendered dimensions, even if, like historical Black Power, it is not uniformly, or even necessarily, “progressive” on either. Projections of black unity, as Elsa Barkley Brown recently reminded, often require silencing. Thus, it still takes real intellectual work to prioritize the stories of working-class people, queer people, and women who might otherwise be erased from the historical record, either by white supremacist history-making or black bourgeois responses to it.

In even more fundamental, archival terms, a Black Power method moves to destabilize or interrogate dominant white perspectives in mainstream media outlets, government records, and in the very definition of what constitutes a credible source. For any history book addressing black subject matter, its first challenge is usually dealing with white power in the archive. Who gets to become an archivist, how archives get organized, and even what counts as an archive have a profound racial impact on what endures as valued historical research. Expansive, digital archives can still be locked behind paywalls or library turnstiles at elite universities. Brick and mortar archives stand in racially segregated parts of town. In the most concrete ways possible, racial politics determine how we locate the past.

Thankfully, a Black Power method has historically been productive, one could even argue cumulative, by pointing successive generations of scholars toward an ever-expanding archive. During the 1970s and 1980s, the first generation of writers and publishers to chronicle the fervor of Black Power politics were the activists themselves. Keepers of Black Power’s flame included Angela Davis, Huey Newton, Paul Coates, George Jackson, and many others, some of whose names we’ll never know. They carried out the critical early work of archival reclamation and anti-racist theorization. They worked under the most modest conditions, and, not infrequently, from behind bars. Through the political winter of the Reagan era, these thinkers countered the vilification and erasure of black radical history, thereby laying the foundation for the arrival of Black Power as a “legitimate” topic of academic study in the 1990s, and its eventual mainstreaming in the early 2000s.

We enjoy, today, a rich collection of Black Power books. But, as with any other aspect of black culture gone mainstream, preserving Black Power’s insurgent scholarly politics demands a measure of inventiveness and deliberate, often courageous, effort.

One signal example of such courage is Dan Berger’s impressive account of black prison activism, Captive Nation: Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era. Berger compels readers to place black prisoners at the center of the history of social movements and the intellectual history of America in the late-20th century. “The history of black radicalism,” Berger maintains, “can be thought of as a long opposition to confinement.” Echoing the Black Panther Party’s early invocations of the Declaration of Independence, Berger takes as his analytic starting point the notion that black people do indeed possess inalienable rights. But rather than argue for the gradual expansion of black citizenship by way of liberal reform, he focuses on the imposition of “rightlessness,” or “a state sponsored deprivation of group rights and political action.” For the formerly enslaved and the currently incarcerated, the history of America is the history of rights taken, not granted. Thus, organizing within prisons, Berger argues, represented “less a claim to expand rights than it was a critique of rights-based frameworks.”

As prisoners themselves did (and do), Berger uses the thinking, writing, and public protest of American inmates to challenge the absoluteness of the cage. If 20th-century liberalism in the United States conveyed its benefits largely on the basis of white belonging and property ownership, then prisons served as containers for liberalism’s discarded, the place where rights and people, quite literally, went to die. In Berger’s able hands, however, we see how prisoners have long refused to yield to the cage’s designs. “Prisoners and their allies reasoned that if the prison’s power lay in its invisibility”—its ability to disappear people—“then exposure constituted a means of resistance.” By simply making their thoughts and actions public, prisoners could, in effect, turn confinement against itself.

Berger makes a similar move, using the prison, as an archive, to undermine white supremacy’s silencing power. Prison officials collected and generateed paper as part of their particular brand of administrative violence and surveillance. But Berger uses these records to foreground how black people experienced and evidenced state oppression. He takes prisoner manuscripts, smuggled anti-prison pamphlets, inmate interviews, and even confiscated love letters between Angela Davis and George Jackson to reveal a rich genealogy of black abolitionist thought.

Berger also challenges the presumed intellectual origins of the anti-prison movement by detailing how even the most revered European theorist of prisons, Michel Foucault, remained indebted to black thought-work. Foucault’s 1975 tome, Discipline and Punish, which famously theorized the relationship between state violence, intimacy, and the self, first emerged as part of a prison reform group, of which Foucault was a member. The group studied George Jackson’s Soledad Brother and corresponded with the American prison movement. The famed French philosopher, Berger points out, makes no acknowledgement of Jackson’s influence. Berger has no interest in branding Foucault a white supremacist. He recognizes fully, however, that Foucault’s European pedigree and his at times impenetrable prose have long helped white academe police and indeed racialize the boundary between who counts as a credible “theorist” of prisons and who doesn’t. “While Foucault emphasized the 18th-century European prisoner as the normative carceral subject,” Berger writes, “his arguments about the constrictions of regulatory power could be found in Black Panther writings generally and Soledad Brother particularly.” Even if we chose to ignore an oversight in Foucault’s footnotes, Berger’s broader point remains unequivocal and clear: black thought mattered.”

– N. D. B. Connolly, “A Black Power Method,Public Books. June 2016.

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