Salonica, City of Ghosts; Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950. By Mark Mazower. Vintage, Paper 2004.

Salonica is the second largest city in modern Greece. A port city on the Aegean Sea, it was an important center for the woolen industry, known for its carpets and embroideries. It is primarily known today for its tourism. Sadly for its tourist business, the old city was destroyed by fire in 1917. It was rebuilt in many styles: Renaissance, neo-Venetian, Morris, and toward the end Art Deco and Bauhaus. Fire and plague; Salonica suffered from the plague on three different occasions in the eighteenth century –1713, 1724, and 1762.

An older name, Thessalonika, is associated with the Christian apostle, Paul of Tarsus. Hence the Biblical texts, First and Second Thessalonians. Classical and Biblical. Like other cities where Paul preached, it had a large population of Jews.

Mark Mazower is most interested in the Medieval and Renaissance City. He does, however, describe the more recent centuries when its commercial life was dominated by Jews, coming from disrupted Jewish communities in Spain (the Marranos) and Italy. Jews were artisans, workmen, hamals (porters), fishermen, and peddlers, among other trades. They managed the popular sports halls, which were a source of accommodation between Greeks and Jews. Like Jews in many other cities, Salonica Jews participated in the rag-trade. Mazower sums up this varied immigrant population as ruled by Moslems, dominated by Jews, and surrounded by Christians.

A remarkable population exchange occurred over several years, 1933 to 1939, some voluntary some forced, a disaster fueled by a panic. It began when 40,000 Greeks fled Bulgaria. The Turks then expelled the remaining ethnic minorities. Maybe 30,000 Greeks and Armenians fled Asia Minor, harassed by Kemalist (Ataturk’s) forces. Another 200,000, responding to a panic fled Greece and other regions in the Eastern Mediterranean, despite a carefully negotiated agreement. The Greek refugees landed in poorly provisioned refugee camps. Typhus and cholera killed many of the refugees. One observer tells of a column 20 miles long, carts pulled by water buffaloes. A ship carrying 7,000 on board remained docked at the Salonica quay, “the Porte” as it was called. There was nowhere to go except to these camps.

It was raining.

Many of these refugees had left their homes in a rush and failed to grab the necessary papers. And without those papers, they could not be part of the formal exchange of Greeks and Turks.  Vacant houses were looted. As were many of Salonica’s churches. Moslem populations were fairly well protected by the Kemalists; Jews would soon suffer a different fate.

For many centuries Salonica had been a major trading and manufacturing city in the Ottoman Empire. It was connected by railroad with Istanbul in 1890. Salonica began receiving populations of Turks, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Albanians, Armenians (Starving Armenians), and various other national and religious minorities in Macedonia. In addition to the various mosques and minarets that shared the early twentieth-century city, there were several grand churches. Being a port city, its quay was lined with handsome warehouses and other testimonies to its industriousness. The Ottoman Empire kept a good census; in 1831 the city had 150,000 souls. By 1913, 180,000.

In a first-year course in European History, you learned about “the sick man of Europe.” About the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. One of the features was the declining livelihood of the Jews. But Jewish livelihoods recovered and Jews, mostly Sephardic Jews, came to dominate the life of the rebuilt central city.

Jews resisted assimilation. They were slow to learn Greek. They continued to maintain their support for the Zionists and a Jewish “homeland” within the Ottoman lands.

The Ottoman Empire had fought beside the Allies in the Great War, but joined Germany in World War II. The Germans occupied Salonica in 1941. Hence the Jews of Salonica. They were one of the largest remaining Jewish populations in the eastern Mediterrranean. In 1943 Adolf Eichmann sent in his henchmen and in January 1943 the “final solution” began. Jews were deported to labor and extermination camps. The Jews of Salonica met much the same fate as the Polish Jews. And thus ended centuries of Jewish life in Salonica.

 

Between Monopoly and Free Trade; The English East India Company, 1600 to 1757 by Emily Erikson. Princeton, 2014 paper.

One of the early successes of capitalism, free trade, and the combination thereof was the opening up of South Asia and East Asia, “the Indies,” to Europe and particularly to the enterprise of private companies in Great Britain and Holland. Emily Erikson looks particularly at the East India Company and its trade with Asia.

Unlike most historians, Emily Erikson believes that the success of this trade depended heavily on what is called the private trade. The East India Company allowed its employees (factors) to carry on a trade of their own while they also served the Company. This private trade created opportunities that the East India Company could then exploit. These private companies usually enjoyed the same exemption from taxes and other levies as the East Indian Company.

Erikson has analyzed eight different port types in East Asia and then compiled a list of some 260 port cities and their types. Her list includes not only the most celebrated ports of call, but also various smaller ports and their trade. This trading activity with the smaller ports lasted for various lengths of time, called spells.

The goods traded were relatively stable: pepper and other spices, coffee, tea, raw silk, textiles, and eventually cotton and cotton yarn to feed the textile industry in Great Britain. Erikson mentions the “calico craze”, woven cotton cloth, also printed in India.

The types of seaport that she calls “market” and “colonial” eventually dominated this international trade. But the ports-of-call types continued to participate in the trade, both with coastal communities in South Asia and the Dutch East Indies, but also Europe.

The bulk of the trade was, however, the internal trade amongst port cities. And there were lots of smaller port cities – we might call “start-ups”- that participated in this growing port-to-port trade.

The East India Company did not own its ships; they were leased for long periods of time. Often a company’s ships would stay in one port for months looking for potential trade goods. They were free to go where trade information led them. Hence the company’s ships took as long as two years to make it to the Indian Ocean, around to the various ports of call, and then back to Britain.

As this side of the business continued to expand, another set of British investors constructed “factories” or warehouses, ship-repair, and other port facilities. Some of the ports attracted permanent settlements: private traders who established their businesses in these port towns, but also a community of Indians who became the middlemen between ports and inland markets. Other enterprising Indians provided housing for the new merchants and traders.

Trade needed to be two-way. Britain – Europe – exported a long list of consumer goods to these Asian customers. The British government and the Company worried that “balancing” of trade between South Asia and Britain would involve the drain of gold and silver,’ which was needed to back the British currency. It was a violation of a major tenant of mercantile theory which measured a country’s wealth in part by the reserves of precious metals held by the banking system.

The South Asia and East Asia Trade was financed by British savers. Britain had enjoyed a remarkable period of economic growth and hence some of the capital that financed the trade with South Asia was from those profits. India Bonds were considered a safe investment, they paid good interest, were relatively liquid, and popular with old money. Many a deal was struck in the coffee houses of London.

There has been much discussion about whether the activity of the private traders was detrimental or a boon to the economy of the East India Company. Emily Erikson definitely believes it to have been a boon.

One thing led to another. Eventually the East India Company attracted sufficient numbers of civilians to require some better way of governing the Company and its business.  The British governance of the East India Company became the Government of India, a trained bureaucracy which also became revenue collectors and established themselves in the countryside. Portuguese made roughly the same adaptation with trade to governance. Hence the colony of Goa. The Dutch East Indies made many a Dutchman wealthy. These smaller coastal ports became the opportunity for European trade to restructure the South Asian economy.

Did this European trade in Asian goods retard the economic development of the sub-continent? That is not the argument Emily Erikson makes in her Between Monopoly and Free Trade. Though many economic historians do.

Behemoth; A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World by Joshua Freeman. W.W. Norton, 2018.

Behemoth is a reference to the huge factories that once dominated the industrial landscapes of Europe and America. In the early days of the Behemoth, they were often four to five-storied brick constructions, later cement and steel. These large factory buildings and building complexes gathered around them a population of factory workers. Joshua Freeman considers this phenomenon to be “the making of the modern world.”

Freeman explores the technology of factory production in these early years, the elaborate system of leather belts that delivered the power from its source to the industrial floor. And what was called “scientific management,” i.e. getting the factors of production – raw materials, machines, and labor – to the right work station at the right time.   

This era of the Behemoth and the concentration of manufacturing lasted through World War II. In the more recent decades factories have become smaller, individual manufacturing districts more compact, and those districts dispersed around the country.

We trailed behind Britain in this early nineteenth-century factory production because of the shortage of one essential. We had no underutilized work-force. Eventually that was overcome by the employment of “farm girls,” young women off the farm, who sought work in the mills to fund their dowries. The British behemoths had more potential female and male employees available for work than did the US.

 Made to be a draw for potential factory workers, employers often built dormitories. Providing housing allowed for better supervision over the work force. But this supervision ultimately amalgamated the work force and hence their bargaining power. Labor adopted the factory strike as a means of enhancing their bargaining position. The IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) was an early instance of the growing organization of workers’ power over their work life. British capitalists, on the other hand, could draw workers from the poor house and other pools of underemployment in Britain’s rural areas not available to the early American industrialists

There were no political rights that came with factory employment. No free speech; no free assembly. It must be remembered, however, that women were barred from most of those political rights, and many men were as well, through a restricted franchise.

Children were found to be good industrial workers in a situation where body strength was not essential. They had for decades been working looms and other manufacturing processes in their homes (cottages, hence “cottage industry”). Clearing out industrial machinery from the living space and into factories was an improvement in both the work and living environments.

In these earliest years of the industrial revolution the major constraint on industrial production was the shortage of the materials available on the factory floor. Overcoming that shortage involved considerable coordination.  The raw materials used in the manufacturing process were assembled first by water transport – rivers, lakes, and reservoirs – and then by railroads.

The first few chapters of Joshua Freeman’s book describe this gradual transformation of the factory’s source of power, first by falling water, then steam using wood and hence forests as fuel. Eventually coal, converted into electricity. 

Having described factories in the US in the nineteenth century, Freeman then travels to Russia and includes an account of Soviet industrialization in the 1930s. This was a response to the rapid growth of German militarization and its industrial economy. But even more, the availability of an underutilized rural labor force. The Russians did some borrowing from European and American banks to finance its industrial development, but the major portion of funds were extracted from peasant agriculture. They also did a lot of planning in the inter-war period, borrowing from American and European expertise to explore a more rational path to an industrial economy.

Since WWII, industrial “gigantism” in Russia slowed, and the Soviets have even allowed some entrepreneurs to flourish. Ironically the other victor in WWII, the US, became an enthusiastic promoter of planned industrial development. At least if it were somewhere else. Those Americans who advocated planning were often from the American entrepreneurial class and had in mind a mixed economy – of their design. Their inspiration came from Russia and Eastern Europe. Their model: the behemoths of the twentieth century.

Behemoth; A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World by Joshua Freeman. W.W. Norton, 2018.

Behemoth is a reference to the huge factories that once dominated the industrial landscapes of Europe and America. In the early days of the Behemoth, they were often four to five-storied brick constructions, later cement and steel. These large factory buildings and building complexes gathered around them a population of factory workers. Joshua Freeman considers this phenomenon to be “the making of the modern world.”

Freeman explores the technology of factory production in these early years, the elaborate system of leather belts that delivered the power from its source to the industrial floor. And what was called “scientific management,” i.e. getting the factors of production – raw materials, machines, and labor – to the right work station at the right time.   

This era of the Behemoth and the concentration of manufacturing lasted through World War II. In the more recent decades factories have become smaller, individual manufacturing districts more compact, and those districts dispersed around the country.

We trailed behind Britain in this early nineteenth-century factory production because of the shortage of one essential. We had no underutilized work-force. Eventually that was overcome by the employment of “farm girls,” young women off the farm, who sought work in the mills to fund their dowries. The British behemoths had more potential female and male employees available for work than did the US.

 Made to be a draw for potential factory workers, employers often built dormitories. Providing housing allowed for better supervision over the work force. But this supervision ultimately amalgamated the work force and hence their bargaining power. Labor adopted the factory strike as a means of enhancing their bargaining position. The IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) was an early instance of the growing organization of workers’ power over their work life. British capitalists, on the other hand, could draw workers from the poor house and other pools of underemployment in Britain’s rural areas not available to the early American industrialists

There were no political rights that came with factory employment. No free speech; no free assembly. It must be remembered, however, that women were barred from most of those political rights, and many men were as well, through a restricted franchise.

Children were found to be good industrial workers in a situation where body strength was not essential. They had for decades been working looms and other manufacturing processes in their homes (cottages, hence “cottage industry”). Clearing out industrial machinery from the living space and into factories was an improvement in both the work and living environments.

In these earliest years of the industrial revolution the major constraint on industrial production was the shortage of the materials available on the factory floor. Overcoming that shortage involved considerable coordination.  The raw materials used in the manufacturing process were assembled first by water transport – rivers, lakes, and reservoirs – and then by railroads.

The first few chapters of Joshua Freeman’s book describe this gradual transformation of the factory’s source of power, first by falling water, then steam using wood and hence forests as fuel. Eventually coal, converted into electricity. 

Having described factories in the US in the nineteenth century, Freeman then travels to Russia and includes an account of Soviet industrialization in the 1930s. This was a response to the rapid growth of German militarization and its industrial economy. But even more, the availability of an underutilized rural labor force. The Russians did some borrowing from European and American banks to finance its industrial development, but the major portion of funds were extracted from peasant agriculture. They also did a lot of planning in the inter-war period, borrowing from American and European expertise to explore a more rational path to an industrial economy.

Since WWII, industrial “gigantism” in Russia slowed, and the Soviets have even allowed some entrepreneurs to flourish. Ironically the other victor in WWII, the US, became an enthusiastic promoter of planned industrial development. At least if it were somewhere else. Those Americans who advocated planning were often from the American entrepreneurial class and had in mind a mixed economy – of their design. Their inspiration came from Russia and Eastern Europe. Their model: the behemoths of the twentieth century.

An American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz. Beacon, 2018.

Paul Ortiz has succeeded in weaving together the roles that African American and the Latinos have played in American history. And he has done so at a critical moment when many of us are appalled by how Latino immigrants are being treated. Ortiz has shown how an amalgamation of Latin and African-American traditions have worked to the benefit of both groups. And how the considerable achievements in politics and culture of the black community since World War II have helped to welcome Latinos.

            Contrary to most accounts, Mexicans arriving at our south-western borders are not landless. The U.S. war with Mexico (1846 to 1848) had created a precarious land settlement that gave this impression. Ortiz likens it to the gradual stripping the rights of former American slaves over the land they cropped after their Emancipation. (Slavery was abolished in Mexico by proclamation in 1810, and officially in 1829, earlier than in the American South.)

            Native Americans were treated differently. The Seminoles in Florida, for example, were herded onto reservations. Children were often separated from their parents and sent off to boarding schools. The Cherokees were relocated farther west, and they were forced to walk there. Hence the Trail of Tears.

Ortiz has little is say about the pogroms and massacres of Chinese laborers in California in the 1870s. Or the hanging of cigar makers who had crossed picket lines in the Tampa Bay area. The 1870s saw a general improvement in the treatment of the agricultural work force as New World economies became more integrated into the growing North Atlantic trade. The former slaves were producing valuable crops: cotton, tobacco, and sugar cane. Professor Ortiz has sutured these various groups together in many different ways.

He has also integrated them with labor unrest amongst industrial workers in the North. The major influx of Europeans – Irish, Germans, Italians – into the industrial cities had occurred a decade or two earlier. They should be added to the mix of refugees.

Their effect on the job market and organized labor continues. Ortiz claims that the General Strike declared on May Day 2006 was the biggest single strike in American history. And it included migrant laborers from countries “south of the border.” Professor Ortiz’s rewrite of history argues that labor unrest should be part of this collective front.

 The Progressive politics of the last century should not be misrepresented. Corporations and employers had consolidated their power over the working classes. By 1910 that combination had created the greatest industrial power in the world. However, not everyone received what they considered to be their fair share.  And the differences within the work force weakened further attempts to enact reforms.

Ortiz describes what he calls “emancipatory internationalism.”  The abolition of slavery in the U.S. led to the end of slavery in the West Indies and elsewhere. He advocates a return to an alliance with organized labor that made emancipatory internationalism possible. Slavery had been financed by North American banks and that fostered military interventions. We have largely ended our “gunboat diplomacy” and turned to negotiating leagues and trade agreements that created a working relationship between North Americans and Latinos.

But, alas, we still have amendments to make. For example, minority groups continue to be subject to mass incarceration. Ortiz argues this means of controlling insurgencies and defending an economic system based on persistent inequalities is divisive.  African Americans and Latinos must continue their joint efforts to rewrite our history. And perhaps most importantly, to go after those inequalities.  

The One Percent Solution; How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time by Gordon Lafer. Cornell University Press, 2017.

Gordon Lafer’s title is confusing. He doesn’t really think that the remodeling of our public education is a “solution.” Rather his is a description of how “corporations”- but I would say the wealthy – those who are in the top 1% income bracket – are leading us into a very big mistake. They are encouraging us to abandon the public schools in favor of charter and proprietary schools. That ‘experiment’ of opening education to private enterprise is being tried on a city-wide scale in New Orleans.

A Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, has greatly facilitated the flow of millions of dollars into both political parties. But in recent years a disproportionate share has gone to the Republican Party and its candidates. And their opulence has allowed them greater influence over the political process. Lafer has taken notice of that in the subtitle to his book How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time.

One good example is the flow of resources into private schooling. New Orleans joined what has become a major trend in K-through-12 schools, supporting privatization either by issuing vouchers, rewarded to parents with the idea that they can then seek the best education for their kids, or by reshaping K-through-12 instruction so that private schools can compete with the older public school system.

Conservatives have constructed a strategy and rhetoric that turns out to be quite successful. They are critical of the practice of deducting the cost of union dues and various benefits from teachers’ pay.  Or if that is too obvious, some states have required that the employer ask for and be given permission to deduct union dues and the cost of those benefits, but employees should only be allowed to do so if they have received permission from the wage earner, be it teachers and other employees. This would restrict the ability of unions to bargain effectively. “Wage theft” is the polemic used, and barring that practice is “paycheck protection.”

(Lafer points out that there are no such laws requiring corporations to notify their stock holders when they are taking political stands or making political contributions.)

There are efforts within the public schools to create opportunities for corporate America. The money flowing into education from the private sector reduces the influence that public school teachers have over the education they provide. As part of the graduation requirements, many school districts require at least some of public school education to be delivered by digital instruction. That is particularly true of any evaluation, and hence an opportunity for standardized tests and eventually a standardized curriculum. In many school districts, teachers are evaluated, in part at least, by the scores, which makes the tests more important to the curriculum.

There are any number of ironies in Lafer’s evaluation of American education. It has always been considered important that whatever interventions there are by state Departments of Education, they should not discourage the professionalism of the teacher. An apprenticeship should be involved. There is no mention of “student teaching,” which would have been preceded by at least some pedagogical training at an accredited college.

Leaving the school room, if you consider the American work force in total, you will find a market structure that isn’t rewarding improvements in productivity. Lafer notes that from 1973 to 2013 American labor productivity increased by 74.4%. But compensation only increased by 9.2%. Lafer begrudges the corporations (and the richest 1%) their disproportionate gains. He is perplexed, and so will be the reader, by how persuasive the rhetoric is that defends this state of affairs. Why isn’t there some mechanism that would prevent this from happening? Particularly since most everyone would agree that this huge economic inequality leads to political inequality.  Nor have the American corporations, so richly rewarded, created much in the way of new jobs.

Nor has worker productivity benefited wages. The minimum wage is intended to at least boost some wage rates at the bottom rungs of the wage ladder. But the minimum wage looked to be a definite threat to the returns of the employer class. So that was fixed in many states and localities by state and federal legislation that prevents them from creating their own minimum wage – often considerably higher than the federal. Increases in the minimum wage should at least have kept up with the inflation rate.

An employer might want to bestow the category “independent contractor” on you, allowing some greater independence as his employee. But that might deprive her or him of mandatory requirements such as unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, sick leave, overtime, even meal breaks.

Say “no thanks!”

Cattle Kingdom; The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton. Harcourt, 2017.

Cattle Kingdom; The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton. Harcourt, 2017.

Some years ago the eminent historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, located the closing of the American land frontier in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Christopher Knowlton has made a similar declaration to explain the history of the ‘cattle frontier’. Cattlemen were exploiting the grass lands of the Great Plains to fatten their cattle. The US investing community saw opportunities and bought up huge parcels of ranchland being used for grazing. The construction of trans-continental railroads and cow towns along their right-of-way facilitated the growth of the ‘kingdom.’ Eventually the cattle kingdom reached its environmental limits.

Knowlton includes a colorful description of these cow towns and their institutions, their saloons, ramshackle hotels, and retailers that supplied the cowboys with their needs. The most famous cow towns were Dodge City and Abilene in Kansas and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

It was impractical to ship livestock in cattle cars for long distances, so the cattle were converted into beef steak and then transported. That in turn required refrigerated railroad cars. Chicago, where those cross-continental rail lines terminated, became the center of a meat-packing industry.

Not just US investors got involved. English and Scottish nobility were intrigued by the cattle business, entertained by the lore of the cattle drive and the cowboy it fashioned. The cattle kingdom offered employment and adventure for their younger sons. (Winston Churchill’s father had tried his hand at herding cattle on the Great Plains.)

These European nobles joined young males from prominent US families hoping to prove their manly virility. Theodore Roosevelt had some fun playing cowboy “out west”. In 1884, he interrupted his political career, bought a ranch in the Dakotas, and took on a cattleman persona. He learned the hard way about the perils of the business; a severe freeze in the winter of 1886-87 devastated his herd.

Most ‘cowboys’ were hard-up for employment and the cattle business, though seasonal, was an opportunity. The required skill-set was minimal. The would-be cowboys tended to specialize: shooters or skinners, cooks in charge of the chuck wagons, wranglers who looked after the saddle horses.

The Western prairie had not always been as “empty” as it appeared in the last decades of the nineteenth century. It was empty only because of the slaughter of the vast bison (buffalo) herds for their hides, long exploited by Native Americans. Recreational hunters joined in the decimation. A motivation not acknowledged at the time was to rid the plains of the bison and its population of migratory Indian tribes, creating that empty space that the cattle industry could exploit.

While Knowlton acknowledges the gun violence of these cattle towns, he contends that they were no more violent than the eastern seaboard cities. The problem was law enforcement. In the absence of a working justice system, there were numerous “necktie occasions.” Cattle rustlers and horse thieves were the most common offenders that were strung up, usually without a legal procedure.

Although the cowboys did not normally go around armed, there were armed confrontations generated by feuds between homesteaders and small ranch owners vs. the owners of the large spreads and the gangs they employed to keep order, including Pinkerton Detectives.

Perhaps the most violent episode in the years of the cattle business on the Great Plains was the Johnson County War in Wyoming. Knowlton describes in some detail the feud between one group of wealthy ranch owners associated with the Wyoming Stockowners Association headquartered in Cheyenne and another group, mostly smaller ranchers, challenging their dominance. The former accused the latter of cattle and horse theft. There were several impromptu hangings and shootouts by hired gunmen out of Texas. Eventually a unit of cavalry from Fort McKinney near present-day Buffalo, Wyoming was sent in to quell the violence. The story of the War was later retold in a novel published in 1902 by Owen Wister entitled The Virginian.

Knowlton acknowledges that the Johnson County War may have had environmental elements as well. The overgrazing of the Great Plains in these years had pitted ranchers against ranchers. He also suggests that the disappearing cattle may have been the result of the revival of the gray wolf.

Cattle Kingdom; The Hidden History of the Cowboy West explains a good deal of the standard plot of the ‘Western’ book genre that my dad’s generation enjoyed.  That cavalry sent out to quell disturbances pictured in many a Western film thrilled my generation of youthful movie goers in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

 

Empire of Cotton A Global History by Sven Beckert. Vintage, paper 2015.

Empire of Cotton; A Global History by Sven Beckert. Vintage, paper 2015.

Sven Beckert’s history of the cotton trade contends that the production of cotton yarn and cloth was one of man’s greatest accomplishments. For almost a millennium, cotton production was the world’s most important manufacturing industry. And for most of that time, raw cotton was the most valuable agricultural commodity as well. Critics of Empire of Cotton believe, however, that Beckert has understated the negative side of cotton production: the expropriation of land from indigenous peoples, exhaustion of the soil, and the enslavement of an agricultural workforce. On the other hand, he gives due credit to the manufacturing regions and country-sides that pioneered the cotton economy.

There are four different species of cotton. Gossypium hirsutum or “upland cotton” is Mesoamerican in origin; it represents 95% of the cotton crop grown in the US. It is the best species both in terms of the length and uniformity of its fiber. Cotton will grow where there are two hundred frost-free days.

Manchester was the initial location of England’s spinning and weaving mills, and England dominated the cotton trade for the fifty years between 1775 and 1825. The enclosure movement in England and Scotland had created a class of landless labor that could then be recruited by the cotton mills. And without any overwhelming loss of agricultural productivity.

Cotton production has always been associated with technological ingenuity. The most frequently mentioned example is the development of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in the 1790s. His machine drastically reduced the workforce needed to prepare the cotton for the spinning process. And many small adjustments and improvements in the machinery kept improving productivity at little extra cost. “British tinkering,” Beckert calls it.

Britain then became the major source for machinery. Falling water was the first form of energy that ran the machinery in these humongous mills. Later steam power.

Britain did not grow the cotton that it used in its mills. The New World dominated raw cotton production, the American South, Mexico, and Peru in particular. The growth of British sea power and its empire can be explained by this need to connect cotton growing with manufacturing.

Cotton production came to a screeching halt during the American Civil War, 1861 to 1863 and the resulting ‘cotton famine’ produced a scramble for cotton and an effort to find both a new labor force and suitable lands for growing cotton. Eventually Southern planters worked out an arrangement called sharecropping and a set of social-racial arrangements that became Jim Crow. Land was made available for this cotton production by the removal of Native Americans from regions west of the Mississippi. Confiscation!

There is a strong relationship between the success of the cotton economy and the expansion of European colonies into Asia and Africa. It was, Beckert argues, the continuing demand for raw cotton that shaped Britain’s colonial expansion. The British Empire in India is the best example of this connection. The manufacture of cotton yarn had long been a cottage industry and successful as an export sector.  Most generally the work of women in their cottages.

In the 1890s an Indian mill sector established itself, concentrated in Ahmedabad and Bombay (Mumbi) in western India. The spread of the milling sector eventually led to competition with India’s home-spun cottons both exports and local consumption. Nothing was done; the Government of India believed in the dictates of the market place. But more to the point, it would be inopportune to levy duties on British cotton cloth.

The Government of India was less willing, however, to stand aside and watch Japanese cotton cloth undermine local production. The Brits also felt it necessary to cultivate the Bombay Millowner’s Association. In the 1930s they decided to impose a duty on cotton imports from Japan to protect the Indian machine industry. It was done under the pretext of cotton production being an infant industry.

One of the most interesting aspects about the Indian market is the way in which it utilized traditional institutions within caste and kinship networks for capital mobilization. Entrepreneurs were drawn from Eurasian diaspora communities: Armenians, Parsees, Georgians, Jews, and in India: banias, chettis, Muslim merchants, and British East India Company employees.

Perhaps the most unsavory aspect of the cotton economy in the nineteenth century was the importance of child labor in the workforce.  The largest number of workers in Britain were in the age range of ten to eighteen. Very young girls and boys and unmarried women lived in dormitories associated with a mill. This first industrial force was mobile. Absenteeism was high. Shifts were as long as eleven hours.

Cotton cloth overwhelmed other fabrics, woolens, linens, and silk. We are now experiencing the replacement of cottons by polyesters.

Urban Forests; A Natural History of Trees and People

Urban Forests; A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape by Jill Jonnes. Viking 2016.

Americans are moving into urban areas in increasing numbers, leaving our wooded environments behind, forest dwellers turned urbanites. And so have many of our tree species.  Jill Jonnes salutes the many “tree huggers” whose concern is helping to preserve these urban forests.

Because of the parallel growth of trade and a world economy, we have been importing wood from abroad mostly for furniture making and wooden crates. No one paid much attention, however, to the various insects and other plagues that accompanied those imports.

The American chestnut (Castanea dentate) is a native of the Appalachian forests. It was devastated by the chestnut blight, a fungal disease, which probably arrived from China. Over three million chestnut trees were destroyed in the first half of the twentieth century. They were once the keystone species of the Appalachia. We roasted the nuts on an open fire. The chestnut was an important food source for white-tailed deer, black bear, and wild turkey.  Its disappearance also was costly to bird populations. Though never an important species in the urban forests, its demise left a huge gap in the upper canopy of our woods.

The American ash (Faxinus americana) was also once an important component tree in the eastern hardwood forests, from Nova Scotia to Minnesota and south to north Florida and across the South to eastern Texas. Favored for furniture and flooring, the ash was widely planted as an urban street tree.

Elms were perhaps the most important tree species in the urban forest prior to their demise in the 1960s. Their loss was deeply felt by many of us who grew up under the shade of a stately elm. They died of Dutch elm disease imported from Holland. Elm burl logs, intended for use as veneer for furniture, contained the Elm bark beetle which hitched a ride. It carried with it fungus spores that quickly found the enormous elms that were so commonly used as street trees. The fungus clogged up the elm’s water-carrying vessels. The beetles moved quickly to the top of the tree where the wind could scatter the beetle to nearby trees.

It should be noticed in all of these cases, the tree species were introduced as a monolythic species. When the disease hit one individual tree, the avenue trees would soon be lost.

There are some happy stories. Cherry trees were imported from Japan, to decorate the Washington Mall. They were the project of Eliza Scidmore, a journalist, world traveler, and tree enthusiast. After a two-year campaign from 1904 to 1906 she got President Theodore Roosevelt to agree to the project. Off and on, plant enthusiasts have gotten assistance from American Presidents. George H.W. Bush urged us all to leave our home, neighborhood, and town better than we had found and suggested our attention to urban trees. Several first ladies also found urban forests to be one of their causes.

Exotics are not, however, a good idea. The Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) a tree that grew in Brooklyn — and elsewhere — was a highly praised species from China when it arrived via Europe. It was commonly used as a street tree in the nineteenth century because it grows fast and has a considerable spring blooming season. But it is no longer praised for that quality and is, in fact, considered invasive.

The favored sugar maples of Vermont are no longer as spectacular with their fall colors as they once were. That is because the manufacture of maple sugar no longer depends upon clear cutting all other tree species to fuel the process. As those elms, chestnuts, and other trees grow up among the sugar maples, they gradually dilute those wonderful fall colors.

Jonnes argues that if we were to calculate the dollar benefits of trees and particularly urban trees, we might be more willing to trade trees for the endless layers of asphalt and black top that are filling our cities with heat-absorbing, impermeable surfaces. That asphalt with which we lather a good portion of our unbuilt spaces, has the company of our utilities on poles. Utility poles provide neither the shade nor return nutrients to the soil!

Jill Jonnes speaks eloquently of the many ordinary citizens who tend the urban forest. She is equally complementary of the work of professionals from the early plant explorers, to arborists to urban foresters, to botanists, to nurserymen. They continue to remind us that urban forests are an essential element in a city’s infrastructure.

 

 

Black Flags; The Rise of ISIS

Black Flags; The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick. Anchor, 2016 paper.

This is the complicated story of the rise of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, to a leadership position within ISIS, a radical Islamic organization which he claims to have founded. Zarqawi is known for his cruelty and ultimately that brought him down.

Joby Warrick is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. He works for The Washington Post.

The black flags referred to in the title of the book are associated with the Caliphate, the tradition that a “steward” would arise to unite the fractured world of Islam. The Caliphs would more-or-less anoint themselves as a supreme religious and political leader. The institution of the Caliph dates back to the seventh century, most recently it was claimed by the Ottoman Empire. Calling for the reestablishment of a Caliphate provides opportunity for acquiring reputation. Warrick argues that the civil wars in Syria and Jordan and our responses have actually created a set of opportunists.

Zarqawi was a Jordanian, imprisoned in 1992 and released in 1999 from a Jordanian prison under a royal amnesty. He became a “terrorist star” after he planned the bombing of three western-owned hotels in Amman, Jordan in 2005.  But there were many Jordanians who were appalled at the loss of life and particularly the fact that one of the hotels had a wedding party going on. Witnesses had to face stacked bodies of young girls in their pretty white dresses.

Jordan’s intelligence community was not sufficiently informed to stop the bombing of the three hotels, though they did arrest Zarqawi and other terrorists. But then what is to be done with these terrorists. Mix these men together and you have what Warrick calls a “jihad university.”

Warrick argues that the Central Intelligence Agency, Colin Powell’s Defense Department, and Jordan’s intelligence service gave Zarqawi a career. Their response to his minor role in the terrorist movement made him his reputation.

Zarqawi’s terrorism intended to intensify existing divisions within the Arab world. The targets of his insurgent bombs were selected so as to divide Shiites and Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites, Moslems and secularists. The bombing of the Imam Ali Mosque (Najaf) in 2003 or the Al-Askari Mosque( Samarra) in 2006, for example, involved picking sites that would maximize internal conflict at that point and then later as scores were settle.

In 2004 an American, Nicholas Berg, had gone to Iraq to look for opportunities in an American secured country. He was taken hostage by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi took this opportunity to gain a needed notoriety for brutality in order to make an impression on other terrorists. As the video cameras rolled Zarqawi cut Berg’s throat, then cut off his head, and lifted his head for all to see. He could depend upon the Internet to provide him with international attention. It also got him the “promotion” within the terrorist community that he sought. Zarqawi was eventually assassinated by an American-Jordanian air strike on one of his hiding places.

The author argues that George W. Bush’s Gulf War was not thought out well. Who would govern Iraq after the invasion in 2003? The decision to dissolve the Iraqi army’s officer class and ban anyone with membership in Saddam Hussein’s Baathist Party from positions of authority in the new government failed to take into account the fact that anyone with any management experience in Iraq would have to have joined the Party. For example all applicants for University positions had been forced to join. Hence there was no pool of government officials from which to draw once Hussein was out of the way, leaving leadership positions open to many new “entrepreneurs.” Like Zarqawi.

Not enough has been said about the continuing presence of outsiders in the Middle East and elsewhere who are often using terrorists as proxies for acquiring stakes in this oil-rich Islamic world. Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian monarch, has been able to survive despite his chemical warfare and other outrages because he manages to balance himself between Russia, Iran, and Syria vs. the US, Europe, and Jordan.

Thus Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is one of many ambitious terrorists and al-Qaeda and ISIS are two of several organizations in which he had acquired leadership positions. We took care of him, but how completely should we involve ourselves in these deadly squabbles. John McCain and others have urged strongly for us to keep our distance.