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Debunking as Positive Science

The physicist Alan Sokal laid a trap for postmodernists and anti-science scholars on the academic left when he submitted his article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” to Social Text, a left-leaning cultural studies journal. The trap sprang when the journal unwittingly published the article in its 1996 spring/summer issue. The article was intended to parody the type of scholarship that has become common in some sectors of the academy, which substitutes word-play and sophistry for reason and evidence. Sokal purposefully included in his article a variety of false statements, illogical arguments, incomprehensible sentences, and absurd, unsupported assertions, including the claim that there was in effect no real world and all of science was merely a social construction. He submitted the article to test whether the editors of Social Text had any serious intellectual standards. They failed the test, and the scandal that ensued has become legend

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The NAFTA Corridors: Offshoring U.S. Transportation Jobs to Mexico

Capital’s relentless search for cheap labor constantly alters the flow of surface transportation in North America with widespread consequences. The end-of-century deindustrialization of the United States and importation of cheap commodities from the Far East through the West Coast reversed historical east-west transportation patterns and established Los Angeles and Long Beach as the largest ports in the nation. To minimize transportation costs, which for many products are higher than the cost of production, intermodal transportation of containerized imports was developed. Manufactured goods are packed into mobile shipping containers at factories in the Far East and travel by ship, train, and truck to distribution centers and, ultimately, consumer outlets across the United States. Currently, intermodal transportation of cheap imported commodities is the lifeline of the American economy. In 2004, the Port of Los Angeles processed 7.3 million container units and Long Beach handled 5.8 million. These two ports alone accounted for 68 percent of the West Coast total and are, by far, the largest employers in California. U.S. workers, who have seen so many lucrative manufacturing jobs moved overseas, assumed that import transportation and distribution jobs could not be offshored and were, therefore, relatively secure

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Struggle Is a School: The Rise of a Shack Dwellers’ Movement in Durban, South Africa

On November 9, 1993, the African National Congress (ANC) issued a press statement condemning the housing crisis in South Africa as “a matter which falls squarely at the door of the National Party regime and its surrogates.” It went on to describe conditions in the informal settlements as “indecent” and announced that

Nelson Mandela will be hosting a People’s Forum on Saturday morning in Inanda to hear the views of residents in informal settlements….The ANC calls on all people living in informal settlements to make their voices heard! “Your problems are my problems. Your solution is my solution.” says President Mandela

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The Bread of Conquest

Richard A. Walker, The Conquest of Bread: 150 Years of Agribusiness in California (New York: The New Press, 2004), 382 pages, hardcover $27.95.

The agony and the ecstasy are intertwined in California’s countryside. Artichokes, freestone peaches, and Gravenstein apples are but a few of the vast number of crops grown in the Golden State, which were it a country, would be the sixth leading agricultural exporter in the world. For the workers whose hands create wealth out of nature, the agony has been ever-present, from the bloody repression of the 1913 Wobbly-led Wheatland hop pickers strike to the recent attempt by Southern California grocery workers to hold onto their health care and pensions.

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Planting Seeds

Eve S. Weinbaum, To Move a Mountain: Fighting the Global Economy in Appalachia (New York: The New Press, 2004), 320 pages, hardcover $25.95.

It’s easy to feel discouraged about the state of the left today, especially in the United States. While there are a number of exciting victories to be found, it feels like defeat is much more common. But as Eve Weinbaum argues in To Move a Mountain: Fighting the Global Economy in Appalachia, there is a difference between “successful failure” and “failed failure.” Failure is an integral part of any social movement, so we need to find ways to make some of that failure part of a longer-term organizing project

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January 2006 (Volume 57, Number 8)

The United States is currently engaged in what the media—with no trace of irony—is calling “the national debate on torture.” With the White House adamantly rejecting Senator John McCain’s amendment to ban U.S. use of torture, the morality of torture has suddenly become something that can be openly and respectably “argued.” Not only are certain torture techniques advocated on the grounds of their utility (see for example the November 30, 2005, column “Tortured Logic” by Jonah Goldberg, online editor for the National Review), but the executive branch is presenting arguments in court against releasing the latest photos of torture by U.S. operatives—on the grounds that public viewing of these photos would undermine the war effort. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been visiting European heads of state in early December 2005. Her diplomatic mission: to defend the present U.S. practice of stealing away “terror suspects” and taking them to undisclosed secret prisons in Europe and elsewhere for intensive interrogation and torture. For those seeking a grasp of the full moral and political dimensions of the current U.S. torture regime we strongly recommend the new Monthly Review Press book The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media by Lila Rajiva. Not only does Rajiva expose the reality of U.S. torture of prisoners, she also uncovers the media’s complicity in legitimating such practices

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The New Geopolitics of Empire

Today’s imperial ideology proclaims that the United States is the new city on the hill, the capital of an empire dominating the globe. Yet the U.S. global empire, we are nonetheless told, is not an empire of capital; it has nothing to do with economic imperialism as classically defined by Marxists and others. The question then arises: How is this new imperial age conceived by those promoting it?

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What Will We Do?: The Destruction of Occupational Identities in the ‘Knowledge-Based Economy’

Faced with the difficulty of “placing” a stranger, the most common opening gambit is to ask, “What do you do?” Except perhaps in a few small hunter-gatherer tribes, a person’s occupation is one of the most important delineators of social identity. In many European cultures this is reflected in family names. People called Schmidt, Smith, Herrero, or Lefebvre, for instance, had ancestors who were iron workers. Wainwrights and Wagners are descended from wagon makers, and so on with the Mullers (Millers), Boulangers (Bakers), Guerreros (soldiers), and all the myriad Potters, Butchers, Carters, Coopers, Carpenters, Fishers, Shepherds, and Cooks whose names can be found in any North American phone book

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What Was the Matter with Ohio?: Unions and Evangelicals in the Rust Belt

It was a fittingly ironic end to an election full of grotesque twists: When George W. Bush was narrowly reelected president of the United States, it was the electoral votes of the state he had harmed most that gave him the final nudge across the finish line. Ohio went for the second election in a row to the Republican clown prince. But if the first Bush victory was tragedy, the one in 2004 was surely farce: has world history ever turned before on the artful elevation of gay bashing to an electoral tactic?

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Heroes and Villains in the Cold War Battle for the United Electrical Workers

John Hoerr, Harry, Tom, and Father Rice: Accusation and Betrayal in America’s Cold War (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005), 344 pages, cloth $29.95.

The image still haunts me: a man in his thirties, eyes glassy, blood streaming from a head wound. A foot soldier in the domestic Cold War, this union stalwart had been beaten by anticommunist thugs who imagined that changing unions in the Westinghouse Electric plant in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania would be a blow against Stalin. Mistaking assault on a volunteer organizer for damage to a Soviet leader is just the kind of tragically stupid error one might expect in a period generally befuddled by fear. Fifty-five years later, confusion as to the meaning of these events continues to hang over the era like an early-morning fog

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Lost and Found: The Italian-American Radical Experience

Philip V. Cannistraro and Gerald Meyer, eds., The Lost World of Italian-American Radicalism: Politics, Labor, and Culture (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2003), 346 pages, cloth $79.95, paper $29.95.

When, almost ten years ago, I came from Italy to study in New York I was shocked by the discrepancy between Italian-American and Italian politics. To my amazement, I discovered that the left, which has always played, and still plays, an important role in Italian politics, occupies a marginal, if not nonexistent, place in Italian-American political culture. Even worse, I learned that Italian Americans are perceived as a basically conservative group, whose only ties to Italy appear to be the Mafia and food. How did Italian Americans end up identifying themselves, and being identified, with such conservative values and reactionary political forces? Why did their political consciousness diverge so markedly from their Italian counterparts?

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December 2005 (Volume 57, Number 7)

At the end of October John Bellamy Foster and Martin Hart-Landsberg (coauthor with Paul Burkett of China and Socialismand author of Korea: Division, Reunification and U.S. Foreign Policy—both published by Monthly Review Press) traveled to Mexico City to participate as representatives of Monthly Review in the Fifth Colloquium of Latin American Political Economists. John spoke on “Imperial Capital: The U.S. Empire and Accumulation.” Martin presented a paper (cowritten with Paul Burkett) on “China and the Dynamics of Transnational Capital Accumulation.” Among the conference participants who met with John and Martin in a special meeting for Monthly Review were Guillermo Gigliani of Economistas de Izquierda (EDI) in Argentina (see “Argentina: Program for a Popular Economic Recovery” in the September 2004 issue of MR), Alejandro Valle of Mexico, the chief organizer of the Fifth Colloquium, and Leda Maria Paulani, President of the Sociedade Brasileira de Economia Política (SEP). Our hope is that this important meeting will lead to the establishment of a strong connection between MR and Latin American political economists confronting neoliberalism. The final outcome of the Fifth Colloquium was itself a landmark event: the founding of the long-planned Sociedad Latinoamerica de Economía Política y Pensamiento Crítico (Latin American Society of Political Economy and Critical Thought). The new organization will not be simply (or mainly) an academic and professional organization but will be actively dedicated to opposing neoliberalism and to supporting political and social movements for radical change in Latin America. We salute our Latin American political-economic comrades in this important struggle

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Crossing Race and Nationality: The Racial Formation of Asian Americans, 1852-1965

The U.S. immigration reform of 1965 produced a tremendous influx of immigrants and refugees from Asia and Latin America that has dramatically altered U.S. race relations. Latinos now outnumber African Americans. It is clearer than ever that race relations in the United States are not limited to the central black/white axis. In fact this has always been true: Indian wars were central to the history of this country since its origins and race relations in the West have always centered on the interactions between whites and natives, Mexicans, and Asians. The “new thinking” about race relations as multipolar is overdue

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Disassembled Wonder

Denise Bergman is author of Seeing Annie Sullivan (Cedar Hill Books, 2005), poems based on the early life of Helen Keller’s teacher, and the editor of an anthology of urban poetry, City River Voices (West End Press, 1992)

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