Quotulatiousness

October 2, 2014

The Aral Sea, Uzbek cotton, forced labour, and the clothing industry

Filed under: Asia, Environment, Health — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:07

As reported the other day, what was once the world’s fourth largest lake, the Aral Sea, has almost completely dried up due to Soviet water diversion projects of the late 1950s and early 1960s:

In the early 1960s, the Soviet government decided the two rivers that fed the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya in the south and the Syr Darya in the east, would be diverted to irrigate the desert, in an attempt to grow rice, melons, cereals, and cotton.

This was part of the Soviet plan for cotton, or “white gold”, to become a major export. This temporarily succeeded, and in 1988, Uzbekistan was the world’s largest exporter of cotton.

The Soviet government made a deliberate choice to sacrifice the Aral Sea to create a vast new cotton-growing region in Uzbekistan. It was clearly quite successful, depending on how you choose to measure success.

The disappearance of the lake was no surprise to the Soviets; they expected it to happen long before. As early as 1964, Aleksandr Asarin at the Hydroproject Institute pointed out that the lake was doomed, explaining, “It was part of the five-year plans, approved by the council of ministers and the Politburo. Nobody on a lower level would dare to say a word contradicting those plans, even if it was the fate of the Aral Sea.”

The reaction to the predictions varied. Some Soviet experts apparently considered the Aral to be “nature’s error”, and a Soviet engineer said in 1968, “it is obvious to everyone that the evaporation of the Aral Sea is inevitable.”

The drying-out of the Aral was not just bad news for the fishermen of the region: it was a full-blown environmental disaster, as the former lake bottom was heavily polluted:

The receding sea has left huge plains covered with salt and toxic chemicals – the results of weapons testing, industrial projects, and pesticides and fertilizer runoff – which are picked up and carried away by the wind as toxic dust and spread to the surrounding area. The land around the Aral Sea is heavily polluted, and the people living in the area are suffering from a lack of fresh water and health problems, including high rates of certain forms of cancer and lung diseases. Respiratory illnesses, including tuberculosis (most of which is drug resistant) and cancer, digestive disorders, anaemia, and infectious diseases are common ailments in the region. Liver, kidney, and eye problems can also be attributed to the toxic dust storms. Health concerns associated with the region are a cause for an unusually high fatality rate amongst vulnerable parts of the population. The child mortality rate is 75 in every 1,000 newborns and maternity death is 12 in every 1,000 women. Crops in the region are destroyed by salt being deposited onto the land. Vast salt plains exposed by the shrinking Aral have produced dust storms, making regional winters colder and summers hotter.

The Aral Sea fishing industry, which in its heyday had employed some 40,000 and reportedly produced one-sixth of the Soviet Union’s entire fish catch, has been devastated, and former fishing towns along the original shores have become ship graveyards. The town of Moynaq in Uzbekistan had a thriving harbor and fishing industry that employed about 30,000 people; now it lies miles from the shore. Fishing boats lie scattered on the dry land that was once covered by water; many have been there for 20 years.

"Waterfront" of Aralsk, Kazakhstan, formerly on the banks of the Aral Sea. Photo taken Spring 2003 by Staecker. (Via Wikipedia)

“Waterfront” of Aralsk, Kazakhstan, formerly on the banks of the Aral Sea. Photo taken Spring 2003 by Staecker. (Via Wikipedia)

So, tragic as all this is, what does it have to do with the clothing industry? The Guardian‘s Tansy Hoskins points out that due to the murky supply chains, it’s almost impossible to find out where the cotton used by many international clothing firms actually originates, and the Uzbek cotton fields are worked by forced labour:

The harvest of Uzbek cotton is taking place right now — it started on the 5 September and is expected to last until the end of October. The harvest itself is also a horror story, on top of the environmental devastation, this is cotton picked using forced labour. Every year hundreds of thousands of people are systematically sent to work in the fields by the government.

Under pressure from campaigners, in 2012, Uzbek authorities banned the use of child labour in the cotton harvest, but it is a ban that is routinely flouted. In 2013 there were 11 deaths during the harvest (pdf), including a six year old child, Amirbek Rakhmatov, who accompanied his mother to the fields and suffocated after falling asleep on a cotton truck.

Campaigners have also managed to get 153 fashion brands to sign a pledge to never knowingly use Uzbek cotton. Anti-Slavery International have worked on this fashion campaign but acknowledge that despite successes there is still a long way to go.

“Not knowingly using Uzbek cotton and actually ensuring that you don’t use Uzbek cotton are two completely different things,” explains Jakub Sobik, press officer at Anti-Slavery International.

One major problem that Sobik points out is that much of the Uzbek cotton crop now ends up in Bangladesh and China — key suppliers for European brands. “Whilst it is very hard to trace the cotton back to where it comes from because the supply chain is so subcontracted and deregulated, brands have a responsibility to ensure that slave picked cotton is not polluting their own supply chain.”

July 15, 2014

Reason.tv – Maggie McNeill on Why We Should Decriminalize Prostitution

Filed under: Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:43

Published on 14 Jul 2014

“There is a very common form of rhetoric that’s used against us … that sex work isn’t work. That it’s a dodge. That it’s a scam. That it’s a form of exploitation,” says Maggie McNeill, a former sex worker turned activist who blogs at The Honest Courtesan.

“We still pretend that there’s a magical mumbo jumbo taboo energy about sex that makes it different from all other human activities.”

McNeill sat down with Reason TV‘s Thaddeus Russell for a wide-ranging interview where she responds to the feminist critique of sex work, explains why research on trafficking may not be reliable, and says why prostitution should be decriminalized.

“The problem is that there are already laws for these things,” states McNeill. “We have a name for sex being inflicted on a woman against her will. We call it rape. We have a name for taking someone and holding them prisoner somewhere. We call that abduction. … Why do we need [prostitution] to be laid on top of all these other things that already are crimes?”

June 17, 2014

Somaly Mam’s Icarus turn

Filed under: Asia, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:31

In Taki’s Magazine, Kathy Shaidle describes the rise and fall of Somaly Mam, who is the most recent fantasist to dupe Westerners about conditions in her home country:

One of the last thrills still permitted us normal folks (for now) is getting to watch one of these self-appointed activists and advocates endure an Icarian tumble. Take that recent Newsweek exposé of secular saint and “sex work” abolitionist Somaly Mam.

No, I’d never heard of her before, either. I didn’t realize how far removed I was from what the authorities have deemed reality until I read that, among other things, this woman had been feted by the White House and the State Department, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, made the “TIME 100” list, and declared one of Glamour’s “Women of the Year.” Plus she’d been named one of the “Women Who Shake the World” by, er, Newsweek.

Cambodian-born Somaly Mam began making claims she’d been sold into sexual slavery as a youngster. After a daring escape, she dedicated her life to rescuing other girls from the same fate, leading armed raids on brothels, then providing shelter, education, and vocational training to the former captives—with the help of Western donors, many of them celebrities.

Aaaaaaannnnnddddd … ? Oh, come on. Guess.

Simon Marks has been investigating Mam for The Cambodia Daily (“All the News Without Fear or Favor”) for years. When Newsweek ran his findings in that cover story last month, the rest of the world found out what actual Cambodians and NGO-types have been trying to tell us all this time:

Mam’s “origin story” is mostly bollocks on stilts.

Her “rescues” are more like kidnappings, and her statistics about Cambodia’s trafficking rates, exaggerated. She coached non-ex-prostitutes to tell hair-raising tales of rape, torture, and even eye-gouging when pale-faced documentarians came calling. “[I]nstead of a brothel or a massage parlour,” Mam’s “rescued slaves” ended up “working for poverty-level wages in unsafe and exploitative conditions in sweatshops.”

May 25, 2014

The case for reparations

Filed under: Economics, History, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:34

Another discussion that seems to have taken centre stage recently (at least in some US publications) is the argument that reparations are owed to the descendents of African American slaves:

Ta-Nehisi Coates has an excellent essay about the historical treatment of African Americans over the centuries, the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and all that. And more specifically he addresses the problem of what African Americans have had stolen from them over that period of time. All of which leads various economist types to try to put a value on the theft of that labour. Tyler Cowen thinks that non-slaves have lost as much (or, given their greater number, cumulatively) or more thus there is no amount of reparations possible. For slavery itself means that current society is poorer than it would have been without slavery. If we leave that argument aside there’s another way of calculating what reparations might or should be. And it has been done rather cleverly here. However, I think we still end up in roughly the same sort of place. Which is that even if reparations for slavery are logically or morally due, the actual amount is still going to end up being pretty much nothing.

[...]

Thus today’s value of what was stolen from the slaves is that $1.75 trillion. Which is, when you look at it, a formidable sum of money. Except, actually, it isn’t. The net wealth of the entire country is around $80 trillion or so. So it’s a trivial percentage of the national wealth. Or we could look at it another way. There’s 42 million or so African Americans (defined as having some possibly slave and black antebellum ancestry) so the capital sum would be some $40,000 for each of them. Which, while a nice enough sum to receive isn’t the sort of life changing sum some might think might be due in reparations.

And we can also break it down another way. Think of that as the capital sum and then apply that 4% return to it. That would be an extra $1,600 in income per year to each and every descendant of slaves. Or, in total, something like $70 billion a year. Which, in the context of a $15 trillion economy is pretty much next to nothing. About, in fact, the size of the food stamp or SNAP program.

Even if slavery reparations are righteously due they would amount to around and about the current cost of food stamps. Which is, as I say, around and about nothing given the size of the entire economy. And, I would also wager, not an amount that anyone at all thinks is going to fix the problems that beset parts of American society today.

May 18, 2014

When #hashtags don’t deter modern-day barbarians

Filed under: Africa, Asia, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:53

Victor Davis Hanson on the limitations of #hashtag activism to combat real-world evil:

Nigeria’s homegrown, al-Qaeda linked militant group, Boko Haram, brags openly that it recently kidnapped about 300 young Nigerian girls. It boasts that it will sell them into sexual slavery.

Those terrorists have a long and unapologetic history of murdering kids who dare to enroll in school, and Christians in general. For years, Western aid groups have pleaded with the State Department to at least put Boko Haram on the official list of terrorist groups. But former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s team was reluctant to come down so harshly, in apparent worry that some might interpret such condemnation as potentially offensive to Islamic sensitivities.

Instead, Western elites now flood Facebook and Twitter with angry postings about Boko Haram — either in vain hopes that public outrage might deter the terrorists, or simply to feel better by loudly condemning the perpetrators.

[...]

But if we are postmodern and sensitive, what do we say or do about premodern racists with nuclear weapons, like the North Koreans?

A recent article from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency suggested that President Obama “does not even have the basic appearances of a human being … It would be perfect for Obama to live with a group of monkeys in the world’s largest African natural zoo and lick the bread crumbs thrown by spectators.”

How does the West deal with a mentality like that, originating from a country armed with nuclear weapons? Pyongyang owns no television show that we can boycott, no sports team that we can root against.

What do we do in the face of 19th-century evil that is unapologetic, has lethal weapons at its disposal, and uses savage rhetoric to goad us? Tweet it to death?

What about the sultan of Brunei, who just enacted sharia law that orders stoning for women found “guilty” of adultery or for homosexuals engaged in sex acts? That is a different sort of war on women than that invoked by Sandra Fluke, who lamented that she did not have free birth control from the government.

May 4, 2014

This is why the 220 girls in Nigeria are not big news in the West

Filed under: Africa, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:03

In the Guardian, Nick Cohen says that the girls have not been “abducted” — they’ve been enslaved:

Terrorists from a religious cult so reactionary you don’t have to stretch the language too far to describe it as fascistic attack a school. The assault on a civilian target, filled with non-combatant children, has a grotesque logic behind it. They call themselves “Boko Haram”, which translates as “western education is forbidden”. The sect regards learning as oppression. They will stop all teaching that conflicts with a holy book from the 7th century and accounts of doubtful provenance on the life and sayings of their prophet written hundreds of years after he died.

A desire for sexual supremacy accompanies their loathing of knowledge. They take 220 schoolgirls as slaves and force them to convert to their version of Islam. They either rape them or sell them on for £10 or so to new masters. The girls are the victims of slavery, child abuse and forced marriage. Their captors are by extension slavers and rapists.

As you can see, English does not lack plain words to describe the foulness of the crimes in Nigeria, and no doubt they would be used in the highly improbable event of western soldiers seizing and selling women.

Yet read parts of the press and you enter a world of euphemism. They have not been enslaved but “abducted” or “kidnapped”, as if they will be released unharmed when the parties have negotiated a mutually acceptable ransom. Writers are typing with one eye over their shoulder: watching their backs to make sure that no one can accuse them of “demonising the other”.

Turn from today’s papers to the theoretical pages of leftwing journals and you find that the grounds for understanding Boko Haram more and condemning it less were prepared last year.

Without fully endorsing Boko Haram, of course, socialists explained that it finds “resonance in the hearts of many poor and dispossessed” people, who are revolted by “the corruption and flamboyant lifestyle of the elites”. Islamism is recast as a rational reaction to local corruption and the global oppression of “neoliberalism”, one of those conveniently vague labels that can mean just about anything.

March 4, 2014

Britain’s prostitution law reforms are driven by moral panic

Filed under: Britain, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:35

An editorial from last weekend’s Independent:

What the All Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution broadly proposes is Nordic-style reform, which is what the European Parliament also backed last week. This would shift the burden of prosecution from mostly women sellers to mostly male buyers and pimps. MPs are right to say that one of the root problems with Britain’s laws on the sex trade is that they send conflicting messages about who is in the wrong. If trafficked women, especially, are to be helped, they must be assured that the law is on their side. It is why the MPs want the mass of current legislation consolidated into a single Act, which makes it clear that only those who purchase sex will feel the rigours of the law.

Change along these lines will bitterly disappoint libertarians who want to see the sex trade fully legalised on Dutch or German lines. There is also an argument that it is illogical – another mixed message – to penalise the purchase of sex but not the sale. But, a counter-argument, which the authorities in Sweden, Norway and Iceland deploy with some justification, is that “redistributing guilt” over the sale of sex undoubtedly benefits women who have felt trapped into prostitution and makes life much harder for pimps and traffickers.

The underlying idea is that because many people (especially politicians) dislike the idea that women sell their bodies, it should be made illegal. The troubling reality that a lot of prostitutes are voluntarily in the business requires the would-be banners to come up with a justification that somehow invalidates the individual decisions of those women. The ongoing moral panic over human trafficking is the current choice of vehicle for that. Tim Worstall:

The only possible claim that can be made in favour of the banning of prostitution, or even of the declaration that it is something wrong that we would like to minimise, is that it represents some form of slavery in which people are forced to do things they do not agree to doing voluntarily.

And that is indeed the claim that is being made, see that reference to “trafficking” in the Independent. However, the one thing that we do in fact know about the “slavery” in prostitution is that it doesn’t, in this country at least, actually exist. For we had a plan whereby every single police force in the country went out looking for people who were indeed sex slaves. People who were being forced, against their will, into prostitution (ie, repeatedly raped, a vile crime). And when they had a look through all of the brothels, working flats, saunas and street walkers they could find not one single police force was able to come up with sufficient evidence to charge anyone at all with the crime of holding someone in such sex slavery. Operation Pentameter it was called and it’s the biggest refutation of the hysterical case about trafficking that could possibly have been devised.

The vision some have of people being forced onto the game is simply untrue. What we do in fact have is consenting adults deciding to offer such services as they wish to offer for the cash being proferred to them. And this isn’t something that requires customers to be made into criminals: nor is it something that requires suppliers to be made into criminals either. It’s just not something that requires anyone at all to be made into a criminal. It’s consenting adults deciding what to do with their own bodies.

Update: The Canadian government is conducting a survey on what to do in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that struck down key parts of Canada’s prostitution laws last year. You can participate in the survey here. The public consultation period lasts until March 17.

On December 20, 2013, in the case of Bedford v. Attorney General of Canada 1, the Supreme Court of Canada found three Criminal Code prostitution offences to be unconstitutional and of no force or effect. This decision gives Parliament one year to respond before the judgment takes effect. Input received through this consultation will inform the Government’s response to the Bedford decision.

You will find some specific questions on this issue at the end of this document. To put them in context, here is a brief overview of the current criminal laws addressing prostitution, the Bedford decision, and existing international approaches to prostitution.

1. http://scc-csc.lexum.com/decisia-scc-csc/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/13389/index.do?r=AAAAAQAHYmVkZm9yZAAAAAAB

H/T to Maggie McNeil for the link.

December 9, 2013

The “epidemic of slavery” in Britain is an urban legend

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:53

In sp!ked, Frank Furedi talks about the much-talked-about but almost certainly mythical “epidemic of slavery” in Britain:

A London detective inspector, Kevin Hyland, informed the world that ‘we have never seen anything of this magnitude before’. The UK home secretary, Theresa May, echoed his sentiments and said she would make tackling modern-day slavery her top priority. She said there was ‘one positive’ to the case of the south London slave house: the public had finally become aware of the issue of slavery, which, according to May, continues to have a ‘shocking presence in modern Britain’. By this time, claims that thousands of people in Britain were being held in conditions of ‘slavery’ were circulating in the media.

Detective inspector Hyland may not have seen ‘anything of this magnitude’ before — but the fact is that what he saw, or imagined he saw, was a fantasy of slavery rather than the grim reality of forced servitude. Indeed, the story of the south London slaves rapidly unravelled. Early reports hinted at a heroic rescue mission involving detailed planning and up to 40 police operatives. But within a few days it became evident that the three ‘slaves’ were not slaves as we have traditionally understood that term. Certainly they were not physically held against their will. Contrary to early media reports, which suggested the three women had been imprisoned in a house for 30 years, later accounts revealed that they went outdoors to run errands and had access to telephones and a television.

As the initial story of forced imprisonment became difficult to sustain, the narrative of scaremongering shifted — now focusing on the psychological and emotional horrors the women allegedly suffered. Suddenly, the image of the iron collar and chains used by slave-owners gave way to talk of ‘invisible handcuffs’. From this point on, the promoters of this urban legend about modern-day slavery argued that what is really significant about this hitherto unrecognised crime is not what can be seen by the naked eye but rather the often ‘invisible’ problem of mental enslavement. These are slaves who are not physically chained into a life of servitude, but rather are wrapped up in ‘emotional chains’ by their psychologically manipulative captors. ‘Brainwashed’ became the term most commonly used by campaigners spreading myths about an epidemic of ‘slavery’.

November 27, 2013

Some awkward questions about the Brixton “slaves”

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:29

Brendan O’Neill goes through the “half-truths and wild claims” of the recent modern slavery story in Britain:

It was presented to us as another Fritzl-like horror, involving three ‘enslaved women’, at least one of whom had ‘spent her whole life in captivity’ and had ‘never seen the outside world’. Or it was Britain’s own version of the recent Cleveland, Ohio case, in which Ariel Castro kidnapped three women from the streets and shackled them to immoveable objects in his house where he abused them for 10 years. In fact, it was worse than Cleveland, suggested the Mirror, because where those American women only suffered for a decade, these British-based women went through a ‘30-year nightmare of captivity, servitude and unimaginable brutality’. It was, in a nutshell, the worst-ever case of hidden human enslavement, the papers told us. ‘No known victims have spent so long in captivity being brainwashed, beaten, manipulated and terrorised’, one said.

We now know that these claims about the so-called ‘Brixton slaves’ are, to use the only term that will suffice, bullshit. Everything that has subsequently come to light, everything that has unfolded in the six days since these ‘slaves’ were ‘rescued’ from some kind of one-time Maoist commune, has called into question the initial claims made by the police, the highly dramatised narrative imposed on these events by the media, and the hyperbolic descriptions of the case by politicians desperate to appear as modern-day William Wilberforces combatting the evils of ‘slavery’. Indeed, the key question that must now be asked is not ‘How did three women end up in a grim commune?’ (let’s leave that to the police), but rather: ‘Why did the entire British media and the political class, along with campaigners and the Twitterati, so willingly and gullibly buy a horror story that was not true?’

[...]

So almost everything we were told about the Brixton case has turned out either to be untrue or to have been wildly exaggerated or dramatised. These were not slaves. They were not held captive. They were not denied contact with the outside world. Rather, what we seem to be dealing with is, quite simply, a very, very eccentric household, in which various people came together, did and believed very strange things, developed an obsession with Mao and conspiracy theories about the British ‘fascist state’, and then ended up regretting it all — well, three of women seem to have regretted it. And so they left. Voluntarily. Without a struggle. It sounds like it was all very unpleasant; it seems clear emotional manipulation was involved and possibly physical force too (but let’s allow the courts to decide that). But slavery? Fritzl-style abuse? Hell, horror, unimaginable brutality? There is nothing remotely resembling evidence to show that anything like that occurred.

So why did the media, politicians, feminists and campaigners lap up this half-cooked, shrill, mostly baseless fantasy about slaves stuck in suburban jails in London? Because it spoke to their already existing prejudices; because it seemed to confirm the darker thoughts that lurk in their heads, about wicked men, vulnerable women, and the unspeakable things that happen in ‘ordinary houses on ordinary streets’; because it allowed them to feel, temporarily, like history-making moral crusaders against evil, and to hell with anything so pesky as a fact. Aneeta Prem, head of the Freedom Charity that assisted the women and drove much of the dramatic talk about ‘domestic servitude’ and ‘rescue’, yesterday said there was too much media frenzy around the case and ‘the more information there is that comes into the public domain, the more it will hamper [the women’s] recovery’. So there’s a problem with having too much information about this case? Why? Might it be because the information so dramatically contradicts the fantasy put about by Prem and others about a group of slaves having been held captive in London for three decades?

November 26, 2013

Never-let-a-crisis-go-to-waste department – the modern slavery bill

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:11

Tim Worstall explains why the rush to legislate based on the public outrage over the most recent case of slavery is a bad idea that will have worse results:

I know that I shouldn’t giggle over such things but the revelation that the three “slaves” recently found were in fact the remnants of a Maoist commune well known to social services (indeed, housed by the local council) does provide a certain amusement as we see various leftish types suddenly running away from the story. However, now onto something a great deal more important. Theresa May and various campaigners are going to use this to try and pass an extremely bad law about modern slavery. And it’s worth our all complaining very loudly about this now, as the bill is being drawn up, not later when it is too late.

The problem is that there are two distinct meanings being conflated together for the convenience of the legislators, police, and media: I) sex slavery (which most people recognize as a terrible crime that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law) and II) illegal immigration (which is not the same thing at all). By lumping the much larger number of type II cases in with the tiny number of type I, you get a big headline-friendly number to shock and energize the population who think you’re really talking only about type I cases.

As Operation Pentameter found out, after every police force in the country tried to search out and find sex slaves they found not one single case in the entire country that they were able to prosecute for the crime.

That is, the police went looking for slavery, type I definition of trafficking, while this foundation is using the type II definition of illegal immigration (or, to get to that 50% number, simply of immigration, legal or not).

Oh, and Eaves is involved. They were the people behind the Poppy Project. Which, laughably, claimed that evidence of foreign born women working in brothels in London was evidence of trafficking. Guess all those foreigners working in The City are slaves then, eh?

Just to make this entirely clear here. These campaigners (and that includes May here) are going to use our revulsion of the type I trafficking to pass extraordinarly severe laws against the type II stuff. Up to and including life imprisonment and confiscation of all financial assets. Yet it is only type I that is in fact slavery. Type II is more normally defined as the employment of an illegal immigrant.

Anyone really want life imprisonment for employment of an illegal immigrant? Someone who, entirely of their own volition, tried to make their lives better by breaking the law to come to this country is now going to be defined as a slave?

November 7, 2013

Astounding historical ignorance … or is he just trolling?

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:32

You’d have to go a long way to match the degree of ignorance that the Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen admits to in this article:

I sometimes think I have spent years unlearning what I learned earlier in my life. For instance, it was not George A. Custer who was attacked at the Little Bighorn. It was Custer — in a bad career move — who attacked the Indians. Much more important, slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks. Slavery was a lifetime’s condemnation to an often violent hell in which people were deprived of life, liberty and, too often, their own children. Happiness could not be pursued after that.

Steve McQueen’s stunning movie 12 Years a Slave is one of those unlearning experiences. I had to wonder why I could not recall another time when I was so shockingly confronted by the sheer barbarity of American slavery. Instead, beginning with school, I got a gauzy version. I learned that slavery was wrong, yes, that it was evil, no doubt, but really, that many blacks were sort of content. Slave owners were mostly nice people — fellow Americans, after all — and the sadistic Simon Legree was the concoction of that demented propagandist, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a lie and she never — and this I remember clearly being told — had ventured south to see slavery for herself. I felt some relief at that because it meant that Tom had not been flogged to death.

No modern American — working in the media — could possibly be so ignorant, so he must be trolling. H/T to Julian Sanchez for the link.

August 31, 2013

Slavery is still common around the world

Filed under: Africa, Asia, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:12

Most Americans think slavery was abolished in 1865 with the Union victory in the American Civil War, but there may be more slaves in the world today than there were before the war:

Slavery contributes to the churning out of at least 122 different types of goods according to the US Department of Labor in the world. That could range from food such as shrimp in Asia or diamonds from Africa. Slavery has increased to such an extent in our modern times due to population increases. Industrialization and increased economic activity have also resulted in social changes, catapulting people into urban areas, with no social safety net to protect them in countries like China for example. Lastly, we could point the finger at corrupt administrators that allow it to continue complacently.

There are more slaves today working in the world than ever before. More means cheaper. If we were to compare the cost of a slave back in the mid-19th century in the USA, then it would have cost roughly $40,000 to buy a slave in today’s money. Today, however, you need only pay out under a $100 for one. Not bad for a reduction in price.

Bonded labor is commonplace, where the slave has contracted a loan and has to work to pay it back to the lender. Child forced labor affects over 5 million kids in the world today. Forced Labor is recognized by the US Department of State as being: “involuntary servitude, forced labor may result when unscrupulous employers exploit workers made more vulnerable by high rates of unemployment, poverty, crime, discrimination, corruption, political conflict, or even cultural acceptance of the practice.

August 20, 2013

The odd pre-history of the Statue of Liberty

Filed under: Europe, History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:52

B.K. Marcus on what schoolchildren don’t learn about the famous New York city landmark:

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi wanted wealth and world renown for building a celebrated colossus, and he was willing to shop the idea around — even to the era’s most illiberal customers.

His first pitch for a giant, torch-bearing statue was to the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, which was, at the time, the single greatest commercial conduit for the international slave trade.

The statue that now stands in New York Harbor is officially called “Liberty Enlightening the World” (La Liberté éclairant le monde). The statue in Egypt was to be called “Egypt Enlightening the World” or, more awkwardly, “Progress Carrying the Light to Asia.”

Failing to close the deal in Egypt, Bartholdi repackaged it for America.

When this bit of backstory reached the American public, Bartholdi denied that one project had anything to do with the other, but the similarity in designs is unmistakable.

Egypt was a vassal state of an authoritarian empire and the gateway for the colossal African slave trade into Asia — whereas the fundraising for the Statue of Liberty proposed a monument not merely to liberty but to the recent abolition of American slavery. (Picture the broken chains at the Statue of Liberty’s feet.)

The original statue was to be an Egyptian woman — a fellah, or native peasant — draped in a burqa, one outstretched arm holding a torch to guide the ships on the great waterway over which she would stand.

Bartholdi had wanted to place his piece at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal in Port Said because the canal represented French greatness in general and engineering greatness more specifically. His statue was to be a synthesis of French art and French engineering, as well as a political symbol of the progress that France offered the East.

The canal was indeed a great engineering accomplishment and a giant step forward for world trade and greater wealth and comfort for everyone — including the toiling masses. But it was built on the back of slave labor, a 10-year corvée that forced Egyptian peasants to do the digging. Thousands died.

August 14, 2013

QotD: Our Postmodern Angst

Filed under: History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Much has been written about Rachel Jeantel, routinely described as the prosecution’s “star witness” in the George Zimmerman trial, almost as if she were some sort of new-generation civil-rights icon. Jeantel has been variously praised by liberals for her street smarts, and lamented by conservatives as emblematic of the tragic detours of the Great Society. Both agree that in some sense she is a victim of the social forces that for decades now have been forging an underclass.

Perhaps — but from her testimony and her post-trial interviews for hire, we learned that Ms. Jeantel was confident and savvy about using electronic media while at the same time apparently illiterate, given that she could not read “cursive.” Yet whose fault is it that she preferred to post obscenities rather than scroll over to a book? Jeantel’s worldview appears anti-liberal to the core. She admitted that her original testimony under oath was not fully accurate: Trayvon Martin, we now learn, wanted to “whoop ass” and so threw the first blow against Zimmerman. Yet Jeantel did not say that at the trial; she was quite willing to see the defendant convicted on false testimony.

Jeantel was unapologetic about her use of “retarded” as a putdown, her preposterous homophobic accusations that George Zimmerman could have been some sort of crazed gay rapist, and her casual use of slurs like “bitch,” “nigga,” and “crazy ass cracker.” True, Jeantel is impoverished and no doubt “underserved” by a host of government agencies entrusted with providing support to the less well off. Yet by both past American and present global standards, she is not victimized in the sense of suffering hunger, unaddressed health problems, or lack of access to technology.

In today’s topsy-turvy world, we are to emphasize the untruth that Ms. Jeantel is poor in the Dickensian sense, while ignoring the truth that her matter-of-fact worldview is by contemporary liberal benchmarks homophobic, racist, and misogynistic — and entirely contrary to the race-blind meritocracy that a much poorer, much more heroic generation of civil-rights leaders once sacrificed for.

From 1619 to 1865, African-Americans in a large region of North America were enslaved. For the century following the Civil War, they were deprived in the South of civil rights that were supposed to be accorded citizens of the United States, and elsewhere were often subjected to insidious racism. In the last half-century, a vast private effort has sought to change the American psyche while a vast public one has used government resources to attempt to redress racist legacies. These are elemental issues of good and evil that are at the heart of the human experience and must continue to be addressed — but not in the manner of our era of psychodramatic trivialization.

Victor Davis Hanson, “Our Postmodern Angst”, National Review, 2013-08-13

June 20, 2013

The world map of modern slavery

Filed under: China, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:05

In The Atlantic, Olga Khazan talks about the countries that appear on this US State Department map of human trafficking:

World Map of Slavery, 2013

China, Russia, and Uzbekistan have been named among the worst offenders when it comes to human trafficking, according to a State Department report released Wednesday, joining Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, and Zimbabwe on the bottom “tier” of the U.S. human trafficking rank.

Their lower designation means the U.S. may sanction those countries with measures like cancelling non-humanitarian and military assistance, ending exchange visits for government officials, and voting against any IMF or World Bank loans.

China, Russia, and Uzbekistan had previously been on the “Tier 2 Watch List,” a middling designation for countries that show little progress in making strides in preventing forced labor. Because they had been on the “Watch List” for four years, the State Department was obligated to either promote or downgrade them.

In China, the one-child policy and a cultural preference for male children perpetuates the trafficking of brides and prostitutes.

“During the year, Chinese sex trafficking victims were reported on all of the inhabited continents,” the report found. “Traffickers recruited girls and young women, often from rural areas of China, using a combination of fraudulent job offers, imposition of large travel fees, and threats of physical or financial harm, to obtain and maintain their service in prostitution.”

However, the State Department also singled out the country’s epidemic of forced labor, in which both internal and external migrants are conscripted to work in coal mines or factories without pay, as well as its continued use of re-education hard labor camps for political dissidents.

However, it’s also worth keeping in mind that there are two common definitions of human trafficking in use, one of which is an outrage to common decency while the other is an attempt to conflate sex work with slavery:

1) The transport of unwilling people (usually women, but of course can at times be either men or children) into forced prostitution. This is of course illegal everywhere: it’s repeated rape just as a very start. It is also vile and we should indeed be doing everything possible to stamp it out.

2) The illegal movement of willing people across borders to enter the sex trade. Strange as it may seem there really are people who desire to be prostitutes. People would, other things being equal, similarly like to be in a country where they get a lot of money for their trade rather than very little. Given these two we wouldn’t be surprised if people from poorer countries, who wish to be in the sex trade, will move from those poorer countries to richer countries. And such is the system of immigration laws that many of them will be unable to do this legally: just as with so many who wish to enter other trades and professions in the rich world. You can make your own mind up about the morality of this but it is obviously entirely different from definition 1).

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