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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Climate Change Denial is a Policy in Support of Genocide

On the last day of my Environmental Literature class this semester, I learned that our president-elect had named Scott Pruitt as his director of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, an avowed climate change denier, is as well a man who has asserted that he is “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Pruitt, like ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, is beholden not to the American people who elected Trump but rather to the fossil fuel industry that has dumped millions upon millions of dollars into generating the bogus science behind climate change denial. 

Here's your president, "blue collar millionaire," declaring that the Trump way to live is the only way. Those people under the billboard are in Mumbai. And they are homeless.

I don’t really have the patience or the stamina to trace the narrative of how these guys have funded scholars producing bunk science that denies climate change, a tactic undertaken to support their bottom line. I don’t have the patience or stamina because the facts that prove my point have been readily available for some time. You can read about how the fossil fuel industry, led by Charles and David Koch, manufactured an inaccurate and dangerous narrative that maintains that the jury is still out on climate change. My education into nature of Koch Brothers’ the dark money began when my university accepted a $2 million gift from the Koch Foundation for the establishment of a so-called center for the study of Free Enterprise and my opposition to that money lead to this. 

Koch Bras, beatch.

With regard to climate change, the jury is not out: it’s real, and we are causing it.

I’m an English professor who has done National Science Foundation grant-based work with three scientists to develop a teaching module that uses both literature and science to talk about the reality of global warming. Literature and science give us different kinds of truths about the situation: science gives us the facts, and fiction gives us narratives of the potential toll of those facts.

In my Environmental Literature class, I had a mix of students from a variety of disciplines including nursing, business, economics, anthropology, and criminology, all of whom were required to read works of literature that examined humanity’s relationship to the natural world. My class was made up of mostly first-year, first-generation students, a mix of Republicans and Democrats, students of various socio-economic backgrounds, people with complex and varied life experiences. 

I began the semester with the white men, the conservationists and creators of the narratives of the American wilderness and its virtues: Emerson, Thoreau, and Bartram, a writer who recorded his travels throughout my native state, North Carolina, where my family has lived since the 1700s. The class moved then to my colleague Ron Rash’s 2008 novel Serena, a Depression-era historical novel about clear-cutting, timber barons, and the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Serena shows us the power of capital to foment environmental damage and the power of art – in this case, the writings of Horace Kephart and the photographs of Jim Thompson – to counter that destruction. But the story is not that simple, not just a narrative of conservationists defeating capitalists; for the national park to come into being, people living on the land that became the park had to be evicted from it. The loggers, who function as a chorus in Rash’s novel, work to understand their role in the devastation, the creation of the park, and the displacement of people:

“We had to feed our families.”
“Yes we did. What I’m wondering is how we’ll feed them once all the trees is cut and the jobs leave.”
“At least what critters are left have a place they can run to.”
“The park you mean?”
“Yes sir, trouble is they ain’t going to let us stay in there with them.”
“Running folks out so they can run the critters in. That’s a hell of a thing.”


One of Jim Thompson's photos of the land that became the park.

There were native peoples here first, of course, displaced first; they show up as shadows, working on the logging crew, voiceless, abject.

After losing all of his money during the Great Depression, my father’s father worked to clear-cut the mountains where I live and work. The narratives of environmental destruction and salvation are never simple, never just a matter of preservation in the face of needless consumption. My father told me that his father made one dollar per day in the early 1930s doing some of the most dangerous work imaginable.  He lived in a logging camp, away from my grandmother. He never put his money in a bank again.

In Rash’s novel, after the logging crew cuts down the last tree, as the men stare at the devastation, one says, “I think this is what the end of the world will be like,” and none of the other men “raised his voice to disagree.” My students noted over and over again that this is a novel about the end of the world, the apocalypse it must have been for the southern highlanders. And we discussed the notion of apocalypse, the almost but never arriving end, the most powerful metaphor of the environmental movement that is still, it seems, not powerful enough to stop the devastation that continues to happen all around us.

After Serena, we read Edwidge Danticat’s 1998 work The Farming of Bones, a novel about the historical Parsley Massacre in the Dominican Republic in 1937, a five-day period that constituted the genocide of 20,000 plus Haitians at the hands of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, the dictator who pedaled fear of the Haitian immigrant population to the residents of the DR.


Here's an image of Trujillo.  I'll spare you pictures of the massacre.

In Danticat’s novel Trujillo speaks: “Tradition shows us a fatal fact . . . that under the protection of rivers, the enemies of peace, who are also the enemies of work and prosperity, found an ambush in which they might do their work, keeping the nation in fear and menacing stability.”  The Massacre River, the environmental space between the two countries on the island of Hispaniola, is the space of the genocide: the wall and the safe passage. The Haitian pronunciation of “p├ęsi, perejil, parsley” was the shibboleth that determined whether one was killed, cut down with machetes, or lived. The similarities between Trujillo’s pronouncements of the Haitians and Donald Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants were not lost on my students who wondered if such a thing could happen here.

One of my students is from the DR. Her grandfather was tortured by Trujillo’s regime; she told us how while interrogating him, Trujillo’s men pulled out her grandfather’s fingernails. “My grandmother has more stories, if you want them,” she said.

Such a thing could happen here, I said. 


And here's why it could happen here.

We ended with Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, a 2003 novel that feels all too real right now. Atwood’s dystopian work of speculative fiction engages with catastrophic human-made crises that are already happening: mass extinction, global warming, and human trafficking. Crake, the evil genius who, via a bioengineered virus, brings out the near end of humanity, tells his best friend Jimmy, “break the link in time between one generation and the next, and it's game over forever.” And that’s what he does: breaks the link, destroys a generation, and rewrites the rules for human civilization.

***

Let me get to my extremely problematic point: such a link is being broken now – not as the result of a physical virus, but as the result of viral misinformation, fake news, and propaganda. Scott Pruitt and other politicians denying human-caused global warming aren’t denying it because they actually don’t believe it; they are denying it because they know that the fossil fuel industry and our consumption of fossil fuels is causing the earth to warm, but they simply don’t care. Your life, my life, our students’ lives, the lives of every other human and every other nonhuman being on the planet don’t matter one iota to these guys so long as one already-rich man in the western world can be made richer by our continued dependence on an industry that is ruining our planet and killing us.

The denial is not based on bad data; it’s not based on actual belief, either. Donald Trump, Scott Pruitt, and the rest of Trump’s anti-fact, white supremacist cabinet are denying facts to convince the rest of us that global warming is not happening, that we are not implicated in its happening. They are doing so because they don’t care about your life or the lives of your children, your students, your friends and family. They don’t care about you. At all.

The DAPL protestors.  He doesn't care about you either, but you already know that.

So: to be clear, the denial that this incoming administration is perpetuating amounts to the sanctioning of genocide. It is a tactic taken by those who deny the holocaust, the deadliest genocide in history, an event that claimed somewhere upwards of 10 million people. This genocide is different; it is what Rob Nixon calls slow violence of a kind that is and will continue to happen over a long period of time; it’s harder to see and, therefore, easier to ignore. There are seven billion humans on the planet at present. What does the climate change denial genocide look like?  How can we even comprehend it? In Atwood’s novel, Crake tells Jimmy that “Homo sapiens sapiens was not hard-wired to individuate other people in numbers above two hundred, the size of the primal tribe.” 

Yeah.

He’s right, of course. This is why we have trouble processing the enormity of past genocides: 10 million people in Germany, 20 thousand in Haiti. These numbers are beyond our human ability to comprehend. But I can understand 200. This is roughly the number of students I teach in a year. This is the number of people in my tribe; these are my charges, the people for whom I am in many senses responsible.

Let me assert once again that reality is actually reality: human beings, via their production and use of fossil fuels, are causing the earth to warm at an alarming rate. This is a fact, whether we live in a post-fact world or not. Not believing it doesn’t make it less true, even as, for now at least, it’s been easy for those of us in the so-called developed world to ignore this reality; global warming is a slow moving monster, and we are the frog in the pot, coming to a slow boil without realizing it. For the last eight years, we have lived under an administration that has worked to protect us, to set in place some limits on the amount of carbon that we are producing. But such limits are not good for the bottom line of billionaires who only want more, so now that we’ve put one of those in office, strap in and wait for the pot to boil with all of us in it.

Next semester, I will teach this course again to a new tribe of students. And next semester we will read Octavia E. Butler’s 1998 novel The Parable of the Talents, a tale of an apocalypse – the Pox – that begins in 2015, a calamity brought about by “our own refusal to deal with the obvious problems” in “coinciding climactic, economic, and sociological crises.” In this novel, Butler’s narrator writes of a presidential contender with marauding bands of murderers. He’s a narcissist who tells his increasingly violent and disenfranchised followers to join him: “leave your past behind and become one of us!  Help us to make America great again.”


Science shows us the facts; literature shows us the future when we disregard them. As educators and as global citizens, we should pay attention to both, particularly now.





Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Stop Making Carrie Fisher's Heart Attack about your Sexist Agenda -- and stop Coopting Veganism to do It

I just read Neal Barnard's blog where he takes Carrie Fisher to task for having a heart attack and then schools all women (white women?) about how we should all be taking better care of ourselves by eating a more plant-based diet.



“I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.” Yeah, she said that.  Also: FU, because she would say FU.

First of all, I love me some plant-based diet; I've been on one since 1988 or so. Hey!  I wrote a book about veganism in American culture and am married to a super successful vegan chef.

Second of all, we have no actual intel on what happened to Fisher.  Third, this is the most sexist shit I can imagine.  Did he do this when George Michael died of confirmed heart failure?  Or when Ricky Harris died of a heart attack? No?  Right.  Because Neal Barnard sees Carrie Fisher's death as an "in" to target women who should be vegan to avoid heart attack.  Nothing is more patronizing or infuriating for yours truly than this noise.

When I checked out of the hospital after nearly a week stay post massive heart attack caused by SCAD, a genetic variable that no one thought to research until -- gasp! -- the last 20 years, I was one of the lucky ones who survived what is normally called a widow maker  Most cases of SCAD, prior to Sharonne Hayes's EXTREMELY important study of it, had been discovered post-mortem, because most of us died before being diagnosed. 

Here's my heart attack.  Those really weird things at the bottom of the page?  That ECG pattern is called "tombstoning."  Because you don't come back from those.



Yup: this is me, 10 minutes from "nite, nite."


Can I get a "hell, yeah?"

Where is the research on women's heart attacks?  When I left the hospital, I got a brochure -- illustrated! -- about how to play golf post-heart attack and how to get the wife to clean the house.  

Hey, beeatach: I need for you to vacuum the living room.  Cool?

If Neal Barnard would like to talk to me about my experience with SCAD, as a VEGAN woman with NO risk factors who nearly died, then he should email me (lwright@email.wcu.edu).  I would love for him and every other cardiologist in the country to examine and understand the ways in which women die from their fucked up hearts.  And many of us die regardless of the care we take.

But shaming a dead woman and trying to get the rest of your readership to go vegan because of an undiagnosed medial issue?  For that, my friend, you should be ashamed.

And, here's my letter to you.  Peace, from a person who survived a heart attack that very likely would have killed you.

Hi Neal,
I'm a vegan woman who nearly died from SCAD in 2013. I find the medical profession's treatment of women's heart isses to be unbelievably sexist -- and I think that your article is contributing to that sexism, even as it's simultaneously unbelievably inconsiderate of Fisher's death. We have no idea what caused her to die; many of my fellow SCAD survivors feel that it might well be SCAD, and if you have SCAD, it's not your fault. Not that she should be made to be a fault regardless.

I have been vegetarian since 1988 and vegan since 2000. I am a long distance runner with no history 
of tobacco use or subtance abuse, and I nearly died on October 25, 2015 due to a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (which was diagnosed finally after I sought a 3rd opinion from Dr. Sharonne Hayes at the Mayo Clinic a year later).

I'm in a FB group for SCAD survivors -- along with 1000+ other people, mostly really, really heath-conscious women who have had at least one and sometimes multiple heart attacks, many of them massive (mine was a widow maker) despite our best efforts. If you'd like to read my about my heart or my veganism, you can do so here: http://veganbodyproject.blogspot.com/.../hillarys-health.... And here's a link to my most recent book: http://www.ugapress.org/.../books/the_vegan_studies_project

If you'd like to get more information about SCAD, about the ways that it's almost entirely unique to otherwise healthy (even vegan) women, please feel free to contact me. Your readers are welcome as well: lwright@email.wcu.edu
Thanks,
Dr. Laura Wright, Ph.D.
Professor of English

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Pat McCrory is holding North Carolina Hostage


If you want to email the entire NC legislature, you can do that here.  Here's why you should email the legislature.

Here's NC's governor, Pat McCrory, falling off of a chair

Dear NC Legislature,

As you already know, while it is apparently constitutionally legal, what our governor is doing is unethical, disgusting, and reprehensible. If you enable this power grab by passing legislation that disempowers Roy Cooper, you will be doing so against the explicit directive of the majority of citizens in this state.

My family has been in North Carolina since the 1700s. I grew up here; I work for the University of North Carolina system, and I have been so proud of the historically progressive nature of my home state. 

What has happened under McCrory’s time in office is representative not of the care of North Carolina’s citizens but of abject greed (enabled by Art Pope and the Koch brothers), intolerance, and blatant discrimination. This administration fired Tom Ross. It passed racist legislation to keep African Americans from voting. It placed limitations on women’s access to health care. It passed HB2, a bill that is not only discriminatory but has made our state a laughing stock and pariah — and has caused businesses to look for homes elsewhere. 

And now that we have shown this body that we do not support these injustices, the governor attempts to override the will of the voters in order to continue his unconscionable treatment of the people who live in North Carolina. The voters handed this legislature a mandate. I ask that you respect it and stop allowing this racist, sexist, intolerant administration from doing further damage to us.  

Sincerely,
Laura Wright

Thursday, December 8, 2016

So I wrote a letter to the electoral college....

I realize that writing a letter to the electoral college asking people to consider acting as unfaithful electors is unlikely to make any impact, and I also realize that such action may be very misguided. But as I thrash about endlessly trying to take action against what I perceive will be a calamitous four to eight years,  I caved and wrote to the electors because not-my-president elect's choice of climate change denier Scott Pruitt to head the EPA put me over the edge, into another full-blown state of panic (these have been coming in waves since November 9), and I felt, once again, that I needed to do any and everything possible to deter what seems more and more inevitable: the end of days. 

Anyway, there's a handy web cite called #AskTheElectors, which provides a tool for contacting everyone in the electoral college, so I used it and sent what I thought was a very thoughtful, polite, and informed entreaty for the electors to please consider being unfaithful.  I'll post it below, and it's also posted on the #AskTheElectors page.  

I didn't really expect anyone to respond, but a few electors have -- either via a form letter or directly to me -- and those responses are fairly appalling.  I'll post the responses below, and I'll update them if and when I receive more.

My letter:

Dear Electors;
Thank you for your participation in our democratic process and for the care and thoughtfulness that I feel certain must be a part of your decision making process.  I am a college professor at a university in rural North Carolina; a state where my family has lived since the 1700s. Over the course of Governor Pat McCrory's time in office; I have watched as funding for our public schools and universities has been cut; environmental protections have been gutted; fair access to the right to vote and access to women's health care have been limited. McCrory finally conceded to Roy Cooper just this week; and I am hugely relieved; even as I know that Cooper will have a difficult (if not impossible) time enacting significant change; given the republican supermajority in our legislature.  Nonetheless; I now have some hope for the future.

The future after the 2016 presidential election; on the other hand; terrifies me. Given the things that he said and did prior to the election; I was already worried about what a Trump presidency would mean for the rights of the citizens of this country and for the health of the planet.  I worried about the overt and explicit racism that has now; as expected; lead to an increase in hate crimes and harassment.  I worried about the misogyny that I watched be made acceptable by a candidate who has a vile record of using the most reprehensible rhetoric about women -- not to mention assaulting them with impunity -- and as a woman; I watched the campaign play out in ways that challenged my own sense of self; my self worth; my value as a human being.  And I watched as a qualified woman lost the election to an incompetent man; a person with no experience in politics.

Now I am watching as our president elect appoints cabinet members with no experience; people who I fear will do irreparable harm to the most vulnerable members of our society.  The president elect has chosen white nationalist Steve Bannon as his chief strategist.  He has chosen school voucher advocate Betsy DeVos as his secretary of education.  But the choice of Scott Pruitt; an avowed climate change denialist to head the Environmental Protection Agency; is the choice that terrifies me the most -- and it is the reason for which i am writing to you today. 

This choice is clearly about the influence of the fossil fuel industry; it has nothing to do with protections of any kind; except for the protection of that industry.  This is about dismantling; not leading; the EPA.  It's about denying our responsibility to care for our natural resources not only for the citizens of this country but also for the rest of the world.  The pick of Pruitt signals the unmaking of our country and our planet.  Four or; heaven forbid; eight years of what happens next will take us to places from which it will be impossible to return.  It will lead to damage impossible to repair.


I write to ask that you please vote for Hillary Clinton on December 19.  I realize that you're unlikely to do this; but I also feel that I have a moral and ethical obligation to ask you; to try to convince you of the gravity of your choice; and the reality of what it means to do otherwise.  Thank you for your service to our country; and thanks as well for taking the time to read my letter.

Thank you for your time and consideration, I appreciate and respect the role you serve in our electoral process.

Sincerely,
Laura Wright


And the responses (verbatim):

1. From L. Scott Mann
Texas Elector, Congressional District 19

Good Citizen,

I am sorry that, because I have received more than 60,000 emails, I can no longer personally respond to you. I gave up after about 1200. Given that the content is fairly universal, I am comfortable offering this universal response.

Thank you for your communication and for your passion for the Republic. I prefer writers to rioters.

Several things merit mentioning. First, you have every right to lobby an elector. I welcome the contact from a fellow American.

Second, this is not a pure democracy, it is a republic. The corollary to that fact is that even if the majority did rule, and it does not, there was no absolute majority winner in this election.

Third, the Electoral College does not exist in order to give you a "do over" because you don't like the results; it exists to preserve the nature of the the republic.

Finally, your feelings notwithstanding, it is not my duty to care one whit what the plurality or majority of Americans want. My job is to represent the decision of the winning party in the Texas Presidential election.

It's not that your feelings don't matter at all, they just don't matter here. The law and U.S. Constitution do.

For those who believe I should change my vote to HRC because of your intense feelings about Donald Trump, surely you must know that for every person who feels you have elected the worst person to ever hold the office, there is another who would have felt exactly the same that had we elected HRC: that she is unfit for office and her husband has committed multiple sexual assaults.

Nevertheless, I think it safe to say, my good citizen, you would not have agreed with electoral nullification of a Clinton victory. Nor would I.

This is why we have elections.

If you disagree with the electoral college concept, and some do, you have the opportunity amend the constitution. But elector nullification is not the answer.

I will vote my conscience. You need have no fear. I have never intended to do anything more or less.

Please allow me to illustrate my point from America's favorite pastime, baseball. In the 1960 World Series the Pirates beat the Yankees 4 games to three. But, the Yankees scored a total of 55 runs while the Pirates could only muster 27 total runs.

Unfair? No, those are the rules of baseball. We choose the winner of the World Series by number of games won, regardless of the disparity of the total runs. If the rules were different, teams would strategize differently and the result would likely be different. That the Yankees outscored the Pirates in 1960, or that the Cubs tied the Indians in runs scored this year, is nothing more than an interesting statistic.

In a Presidential campaign, if the rules were different, candidates would strategize differently and the result would likely be different. Donald Trump won according to the rules. Everything else, including the popular vote, is merely an interesting statistic.

Indirect election of the chief executive is the rule under parliamentary forms of government. No one in Canada or the United Kingdom votes for Prime Minister. The election is indirect.

In closing, I am delighted that many are reading the Federalist Papers. I've been reading them for twenty years. They are a fascinating insight into the minds of the framers of the Constitution, aren't they? The Anti-Federalist papers are equally educational. I recommend them for your reading also.

Yes, I agree with Hamilton in Federalist 68. No, I do not believe that the election of Donald Trump rises to that level.

If you have read this far you deserve my thanks, and to know that I do browse for responses. I read them and sometimes respond personally as time allows.

May God bless America and may God bless the great state of Texas.
Best regards,

L. Scott Mann
Texas Elector, Congressional District 19

OK, fine.  He also includes a bunch of links that might be "of interest," including this one about how most letter writers are women who are scared because Hillary scared them.


2. Alex Kim
Elector, Texas Congressional District 24

Thank you for writing.

I am receiving about 4,000 emails a day so I have set this to an auto-response.

You should know that I have no interest in Hillary Clinton becoming our next President.  I reject the Democratic Party principles and I reject Hillary Clinton.

I will not do anything that will open a path for HRC to become our next President.

There is no such thing as a national popular vote.  The only vote that matters to me as a Texas Elector is the Texas vote.

We are not a democracy, we are a republic, for good cause.

We all have differing opinions and I respect your part in the political process, but frankly, the political opinions of non-Texas voters means nothing to me.  I do not vote or get involved in your state, I am not sure why you are trying to interfere in mine.

I encourage you to be more active in the political process where your vote matters.

Best Regards,

Alex Kim
Elector, Texas Congressional District 24

3. John Haggard, Michigan (and by far my favorite for so many reasons)

Laura see you are a Professor and I assume you are sending these email on School time and being paid for this when your job is to teach the students what is in the English book and not what you think.   Problem with education today is the instructors like you teach the kids what you think and not what is in the books.   Again you are on the College time card.   Thanks John

Yeah, just me over here, being a dangerous professor....  Cheers.