Archive | January, 2013

Today’s Kindle Sample #8

31 Jan

I file the bathtub birthers to Moira at 11:12; she gives it a once-over and schedules it to go live at 1 PM, which is the blog equivalent of prime time. We get the most readers at lunchtime, when girls in offices all over the East Coast eat their sad desk salads and force down bites of desiccated chicken breasts while scrolling through our latest posts. We get another traffic bump around four, when our West Coast counterparts eat their greens with low-fat dressing.

Even though I no longer work at an office, I run out to get my own version of sad desk salad. There’s nothing in the fridge except a half-empty container of milk and some congealed Thai food from three nights before. I throw on the same black muumuu that I have worn this summer so far – I don’t bother to put on a bra – and scurry across the street. It’s a clear July morning. The sun is so bright I need to hold up a hand to shade my eyes.

Sad Desk Salad by Jessica Grose (via TNR)


31 Jan

This Thomas Drake interview with Democracy Now! must have slipped past me last year. The impact is still as painful.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk about another whistleblower targeted by the Obama administration who has been former National Security Agency analyst. He’s Thomas Drake. He worked for the NSA for nearly seven years before blowing the whistle. Thomas Drake appeared on Democracy Now! last March.

THOMAS DRAKE: The critical thing that I discovered was not just the massive fraud, waste and abuse, but also the fact that NSA had chosen to ignore a 23-year legal regime, which had been established in 1978, called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, with a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and which, at NSA, during the time that I was not only at NSA but also in the military flying on RC-135s overseas during the latter part of the Cold War, it was a contract, the one thing you did not do. It was the prime directive of NSA. It was the—the—First Amendment at NSA, which is, you do not spy on Americans—

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you find?

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Debt: Another American Tradition

31 Jan

Shay's Rebellion, 1787Seth Ackerman has a truly socialist plan to solve the banking crisis in 2007-8, involving something other than just dumping screw-ups for hardworking people to pick up and handing out bonuses to shareholders.

Steve Fraser also reminds, that debt is far too familiar to its human victims across the ages. Here’s another American tradition, one that doesn’t get enough airing when conservatives get gushy about the Founding Fathers:

Imprisonment for debt was a commonplace in colonial America and the early republic, and wasn’t abolished in most states until the 1830s or 1840s, in some cases not until after the Civil War.  Today, we think of it as a peculiar and heartless way of punishing the poor — and it was.  But it was more than that.

Some of the richest, most esteemed members of society also ended up there, men like Robert Morris, who helped finance the American Revolution and ran the Treasury under the Articles of Confederation; John Pintard, a stock-broker, state legislator, and founder of the New York Historical Society; William Duer, graduate of Eton, powerful merchant and speculator, assistant secretary in the Treasury Department of the new federal government, and master of a Hudson River manse; a Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge; army generals; and other notables.

Whether rich or poor, you were there for a long stretch, even for life, unless you could figure out some way of discharging your debts.  That, however, is where the similarity between wealthy and impoverished debtors ended.

Whether in the famous Marshalsea in London where Charles Dickens had Little Dorritt’s father incarcerated (and where Dickens’s father had actually languished when the author was 12), or in the New Gaol in New York City, where men like Duer and Morris did their time, debtors prisons were segregated by class.  If your debts were large enough and your social connections weighty enough (the two tended to go together) you lived comfortably.  You were supplied with good food and well-appointed living quarters, as well as books and other pleasures, including on occasion manicurists and prostitutes.

Robert Morris entertained George Washington for dinner in his “cell.” Once released, he resumed his career as the new nation’s richest man.  Before John Pintard moved to New Gaol, he redecorated his cell, had it repainted and upholstered, and shipped in two mahogany writing desks.

Meanwhile, the mass of petty debtors housed in the same institution survived, if at all, amid squalor, filth, and disease.  They were often shackled, and lacked heat, clean water, adequate food, or often food of any kind.  (You usually had to have the money to buy your own food, clothing, and fuel.)  Debtors in these prisons frequently found themselves quite literally dying of debt.  And you could end up in such circumstances for trivial sums.  Of the 1,162 jailed debtors in New York City in 1787, 716 owed less than twenty shillings or one pound.  A third of Philadelphia’s inmates in 1817 were there for owing less than $5, and debtors in the city’s prisons outnumbered violent criminals by 5:1.  In Boston, 15% of them were women.  Shaming was more the point of punishment than anything else.

Yes, but did Morris ever have to endure a Black Friday at Wal-Mart’s?


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