Triangle Shirtwaist

March 24, 2011


Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the New York City Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire.  In that blaze, more than 140 female workers in the ‘needle trades’ lost their lives, many forced to jump from burning windows to their deaths on the hard pavement below.  The workers were mostly young women, many were just teenage girls, of Jewish immigrant families.  The stories and newspaper images of the women’s horrible deaths deeply shocked the entire city, and brought about serious changes in fire safety regulation, as well as spurring important activism by garment workers’ unions.  

The building was sturdy and withstood the blaze, while everything inside was incinerated.  There were no fire escapes, and many internal doors were locked shut to prevent the workers from taking breaks away from their stations.  Such was sweatshop life in those days. 

This was my grandmother’s generation.  My father’s mother was one of five sisters.  The eldest supported the younger ones by working in such places.  One story I recently heard was that one of my favorite (great) aunts refused to go into the trades when her time came – she stayed in school and then high tailed it for California.  Her older sister resented her action for the next sixty  years.  Such choices they faced!

Today the building sits smack dab in the middle of the student scene around Washington Square Park and NYU.

Assimilation of the white race

August 2, 2009


To all the white  people (or pink-skinned, as my daughter called us when she was young) of the USA and the world, here’s a bit of news:  we are a distinct minority.  Regarding this fact, I have three words:  big fuckin’ deal.

Now that we have established that fact, neutral in its import, let’s move on to the anxiety and hysteria that seems to grip some people when this fact is brought to light.  In the USA, people talk darkly of the country turning Hispanic, ceasing to be a white-christian nation.  (See Frank Rich today.) Well, the census tells us that by mid-century, the USA will certainly be a non-white majority nation.  And what will be lost?

In this country, there have always been anti-immigration forces, know-nothings, nativists, and the varied scattering of racist and bigoted groups, but as powerful as they have been from time to time, any fool can see that the basic principles of the Constitution just don’t jive with that point of view, and the entire history of the country is one of immigration.  This makes these groups, however ferocious, laughable in a way.

In Europe, the worry is about the influx of Moslem people.  Well, have more babies if you don’t want them coming in to prop up your welfare state economies, or get over it!  A review of a new book, supposedly quite sane and balanced, concludes:

It is hard to argue with his ultimate observation about Europe today: “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture” (Europe’s) “meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines” (Islam’s), “it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.”

I wonder what it will look like thirty years from now?  What about the economic power of the existing European establishment – is that going to suddenly convert to Islam?  If Islam is so confident, why are people not staying in their homelands and making a life there?  And, finally, what if European culture changes?  Is that bad?  Is it so transcendentally valuable as it is that any change would be a terrible loss?  I don’t think so.

It is so reminiscent of debates over Jewish assimilation in America and elsewhere.  The horror of it all if Jewish culture were to be diluted and “lost” to the more powerful stream of the host culture.  If that’s how people feel, they are free to make their own ghetto, but I couldn’t care less.

A postscript:

Looking through some websites about this question, most of them revolting, I was struck by the frequency of the juxtaposition of images of beautiful white women with slogans like, “Save your race!”  Granted, these people are a sick and twisted minority, but I find the durability of the link between sex, race, and fear of being overwhelmed by “the other” quite interesting.  Here are two images of women that were compared on one website that was so confusing, I’m not sure that it wasn’t a parody:

ziv_mulatto nordic_white

(The one on the left is supposedly far less beautiful than the one on the right.) Is it fair to compare the headshot on the left, from a book cover, with the cheesecake on the right?  Men will be men, and these sites all seem to be written by men, surprise.  Is there anything to be said about these two other than that they are both beautiful young women?  If one appeals more than the other to some male libido, well, that’s a matter of beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and not the manifestations of eternal principles of human perfection and racial purity.  Such drivel.

USA by the numbers

September 12, 2008

Where is everyone?  Crowded on your doorstep if you believe the group NumbersUSA, a group dedicated to reducing all immigration, even legal immigration.  (I heard about them from this NPR story.)  Whatever their real reasons for opposing immigration may be – misanthropy, nostalgia, bigotry, fear of change – their argument about environmental degradation in the USA is a lot of hooey.  The biggest problem with our treatment of the natural world here in the US of A is our history of gobbling up space as if there’s no tomorrow!  Consider these maps:

This is a map of the population density (people per square mile) in the lower 48 with 2004 Census data.  Note that nearly all of the land is settled at the lowest density on the map, less than 250 people per square mile.  (Much of it is at much less than that!)  The high concentrations are where the cities are.  If we weren’t so violently opposed to city life…

“I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man. True, they nourish some of the elegant arts; but the useful ones can thrive elsewhere; and less perfection in the others, with more health, virtue and freedom, would be my choice.”

–Thank you, Thomas Jefferson!

…perhaps we would concentrate our citizens there and leave the rest of the continent as a garden.  Even in those diseased parts of the nation that are highly urban, the density is not nearly so great as what is common in the rest of the world.  Consider this next map of the metro area around New York City.

Note how the higher density areas are relatively small, and are almost all within the five boroughs of NYC.  The area to the northeast of Manhattan, Bergen County, NJ, is one of the most densely populated regions of the country, but it is settled at about 2500 per square mile.  As I like to say, the USA is mostly unpopulated empty space.  To put these figures in world perspective, consider this chart:

 This graph shows many data items and has two axes.  The black curve on the top (refer to left axis) shows that about 97% of the USA population lives on only 50% of its land.  80% of the population lives on about 7% of the land.  (15% of the population lives within 50 miles of I-95 between Boston and Washington, DC.) 

The blue curve refers to the right axis, and shows that 90% of the land is settled at densities so low that they barely register on the axis. 

Manhattan, our most densely populated place, is only twice as dense as ALL of Bangladesh.  If you factor in Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Staten Island, NY City is about as dense as ALL of Japan.  Many world cities are much denser than American ones as few cities in the USA even approach the density of NYC, let alone Manhattan! 

The horizontal dashed lines show the densities of some modernized countries – clearly people are crammed in – comfortably from what I’ve seen and heard – at rates that far exceed what we have here in the USA.

So, if we want to pave over the USA and have everyone live in a McMansion, then maybe we should cut back on our immigration and population growth.  If we want to use resources wisely, I don’t see anything to worry about.

Immigration: Invasion by Stealth

October 30, 2007


The body snatchers are coming! Invading secretly, in their pods! Oh, no, it’s not that. It’s the stealth invasion by immigrants from Latin America!

Illegal immigration seems to be a topic that makes people go crazy, some people, anyway. Personally, I don’t understand what they are so upset about. They come, they work like crazy, they pay taxes, they keep our “service economy” running in all sorts of jobs that don’t appeal to native born Americans who seem to think they should be paid more and get better fringe benefits, and they send money home to their families so that they don’t also join their people in El Norte. Clearly, employers want these people – they’re so much easier to exploit; they tend to complain less because they fear being identified and deported. And the population in general wants them, but won’t admit it. But what do they say? Here are a few phrases from letters to the NYTimes today:

Many illegal immigrants are admirable in their drive…but they send vast amounts of money out of the country to their home countries and are often paid under the table.

Legal immigrants never send money to the family back home? And what is this guy complaining about…does he want to raise taxes on the lowest paid of the workers?

…illegal immigration …seriously undermines the rule of law. It is a selfish act that is terribly unfair to millions of other aspiring immigrants who patiently participate in our legal immigration [system]…It creates an underground culture that could,one day convey, shelter, and support a small number of people who wish to destroy our cities…

Okay, here it is. It undermines the law, but who does the undermining? The millions of employers who want them at low cost, or the poor immigrants? Clearly the latter are to blame because they carry with them a foreign disease that could ripen into terrorism. The enemies are among us, and growing, just like those pods. You can’t tell ’em apart. They’re all suspect! And is it really unfair to those immigrants with the time and resources to stick it out through our legal system? After all, what is being taken from them?

And yes, it could, one day, enable terrorists to find their way here and grow, like mold in a dark closet, into something horrible and dangerous.  But so could legal immigration.  Hell, so could natural population growth!  Perhaps we should just close up shop and declare, “No people allowed!”  As someone once said, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”  It makes us crazy.

…the illegals we are concerned about have undertaken a weaponless invasion…[threatening] the quality of life that has made this country so attractive to foreigners.

Wow! They planned it, right? We’ll all move north, and just demographically grow into the controlling class and make ourselves all legal! The new language will be Spanish, and everyone will have to convert to Catholicism or leave, just like the old days in Spain, 1492! Just how do these immigrants threaten our way of life, I’d like to know? Don’t they make it possible? Just what does this writer fear they are turning the USA into that will, soon enough, be so repugnant to foreigners? And what will happen then; will legal and illegal immigration stop, nobody will want to come to America anymore?

All this is the advanced economy with one of the lowest population densities around, about 120 people per square mile.