This past spring I bought two tickets to the last show of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, scheduled for May 21, 2017, in Uniondale, New York. The iconic three-ring circus, mother of all American circuses, was closing its doors after 146 years. At the time, my friend the circus historian Richard Flint was busy researching a book commissioned by Ringling Bros. to commemorate the history of the famed circus for its 150th anniversary in 2021. Ringling didn’t make it that far.
“People call it the Greatest Show on Earth,” Richard told me, “but it literally was the greatest show on Earth.” A large, profitable circus, Ringling was able to deliver grandeur no other show could match. Not just horses, acrobats, and clowns. Not only numerous elephants, but lavish costumes, state-of-the-art lighting, three rings, five weeks of rehearsals, Broadway choreographers to help train a bevy of showgirls and clowns, original music composed annually for each season. As Richard’s friend said to him, “Ringling’s demise is something like the Catholic Church shutting down.” Continue reading “The Bell Tolls for Ringling”→
Plans afoot in Washington threaten water protection. Recently the Trump administration rescinded the Stream Protection Rule, which protected water quality at mountaintop removal mining sites. Now the President has directed the EPA to review the Clean Water Rule for conflicts with his economic growth agenda, and has begun a two-part plan to rescind the Rule and change the definition of “Waters of the U.S.” in the Clean Water Act.
WHAT’S THE CLEAN WATER RULE? The Rule is the product of four years of EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers peer-reviewed hydrological studies, interagency reviews, economic analyses and input from a variety of public and private organizations. It updates the federal Clean Water Act by clarifying the definition of “Waters of the U.S.” which determines what water resources qualify for protection under the Act. This was done to address regulatory confusion resulting from several court cases.
One in three Americans gets their drinking water from a source that wouldn’t qualify for protection under proposed changes in the definition of “Waters of the U.S.”
WHAT’S AT STAKE? The Clean Water Rule clarified the definition while effectively protecting the quality and supply of our water. However, the current administration prefers a much narrower definition that would protect fewer wetlands and streams; up to 60% of our water Continue reading “Washington Plan Threatens Our Water”→
There was finally some good news this week about the plight of the honeybees. After more than a decade of alarming declines in bee populations across the United States, a new study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers new hope for honeybees. While the central culprit behind the mysterious deaths of bees (classified as Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD) is yet to be determined, the study found that the number of U.S. honeybees has increased since 2016, and the number of deaths due to CCD decreased by over 25 percent in the same time period.
In a bedroom she shared with her three siblings in Elmhurst, Queens, 9-year-old Sahar Muradi snuggled up to her mom. Sensing her daughter’s pensive mood, her mother asked, “Is there something on your mind?” Then her mom reached for the magical red book. Sahar remembers, “I can picture it—the book was leather-bound, frayed from overuse. It was small and fit perfectly into my little hands.” This was Hafez’s Divan, the collected works of a revered fourteenth-century poet from Iran, where great poets are considered seers. Hafez’s sobriquet or nickname is lesān-al-ḡayb, or The Tongue of the Unseen. Continue reading “Consulting Hafez on the Trump Administration”→
“There are nine different words for the color blue in the Spanish Maya dictionary,” writes Earl Shorris, “but just three Spanish translations, leaving six [blue] butterflies that can be seen only by the Maya, proving that when a language dies six butterflies disappear from the consciousness of the earth.”
Over 6,500 languages—with at least that many words for butterflies—are spoken in our fragile world. By the end of the century more than half will disappear. Our languages are melting like the icecaps. Continue reading “Treasure Language”→
A dear friend and alum of Cornell’s Southeast Asia Program, Jeff Hadler, succumbed to adrenal carcinoma in January. Jeff studied Indonesian history at Cornell in the 1990s, where he worked with Takashi Shiraishi, David Wyatt, Ben Anderson, and Paul Gellert. After graduating from Cornell, Jeff was immediately hired by the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies. They not only tenured him, but also appointed him in 2014 as chair of the department.
In conversations with Jeff after doctors informed him of the unfathomable diagnosis, he talked about his two most vital concerns. He spoke with sweet conviction about his love for his family—his wife, Kumi; his daughters, Maia and Noe; and his parents and sister—and how fortunate he was to be able to tell them now, in the moment, how crucial they all were to him. He also talked about his scholarly legacy, especially within Indonesia. Jeff’s first book, the Benda Award-winning Muslims and Matriarchs: Cultural Resilience in Indonesia through Jihad and Colonialism(Cornell University Press, 2008), was translated into Indonesian and published in 2010. He felt the book, especially after it was translated, had made and would continue to make a difference to Indonesians. It was crucial to him that his scholarship had a positive impact in the country that he had first visited in high school, and that later had become the dedicated focus of his academic career. Continue reading “Jeffrey Alan Hadler, 27 March 1968 – 11 January 2017”→
“We all have to face this thing sometime,” my wife’s father, Lucas Dargan, told me around the time he turned ninety-nine.
Six months later, he found himself facing precisely that “thing.” A retired forester who planted over a million trees in his lifetime, he had split wood every morning until two years before.
Tonight, he lay in a hospital bed at the McCleod hospital in Florence, South Carolina, unable to properly swallow or get out of bed unassisted. Family members took turns staying overnight with him, and this night was my turn. At one point, I thought he was sleeping. I was working on my computer, when I heard lines from a poem coming from the other side of the room:
As I wrote about the histories of working-class smoking, tobacco control, and nicotine addiction in my book, Clearing the Air: The Rise and Fall of Smoking in the Workplace, I was often reminded of my own difficult past as a heavily addicted cigarette smoker. In fact, the project stemmed from two important sources: first, my discovery of unique documents that detailed the history of working-class smoking practices at Hammermill Paper Company in Erie, Pennsylvania, during 1915; and the insights gained from my own hellish experiences with nicotine addiction. For eleven years, throughout what was my twenties, I was a regular smoker who came to know very well the power of addiction and how tobacco use facilitated challenges to managers’ authority at work.
I began smoking as a new student in college in order to socialize with other individuals who happened to be smokers: in other words, I started using tobacco to fit in with a new peer group. My addiction to nicotine unfolded very quickly, occurring over a period of no more than a month in the fall semester of 1992. Sadly, I took to smoking very, very easily. By December 1992, toward the end of my first semester in college, I needed nearly a pack of cigarettes every day in order to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Continue reading “The Labor of Addiction: A Personal History of Smoking in the Workplace”→
Sage House: When you first talked to us about the economic perspective of your book, you mentioned your children, who are young adults making their way in the world, as an inspiration. Can you talk more about that?
William Kennedy: Going back to my adult offspring, our son was trying to mount a career as a musician [in the late 2000s]. Concurrently, our daughter had finished her law degree and was working in the not-for-profit sector [when the Great Recession of 2008–2009 hit]. It was an education for both of them to try to get themselves on their feet. So the experience of our adult children, and certainly the wider experience of economic crisis, got me thinking about these economic questions.
Just wage and inequality, distributive justice, commutative justice: these are all key tenets of moral philosophy in the late middle ages and early modern period.
SH: So you kind of experienced the recession most vividly through your children’s hardship, and these issues came to the fore of your mind at that time. Was this book inspired directly by that?