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Your Five Essential Reads
A rundown of five of our most important and timely stories from the past week.
- California Governor Jerry Brown has made himself a leading voice on climate change and pro-environment policy in the United States. This week, with the Global Climate Action Summit taking place in San Francisco as a direct rebuke to President Donald Trump's bowing out of international climate talks, Brown has put himself on the world's stage. But big oil has still left a black mark on California's climate record, one that Brown has largely failed to address. In partnership with the Center for Public Integrity, Pacific Standard staff writer Kate Wheeling and CPI reporter Jim Morris investigate California's oil regulator, DOGGR, and find that it has not lived up to its mandate. Read Wheeling and Morris' investigation here.
- The effects of climate change may still seem distant to most Americans, but on the tiny island of Tangier—located off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia—live the first potential climate change casualties in the U.S. Elaina Plott went to Tangier to talk to the people, who largely dispute the climate science that spells doom for their island, and, as a result, have thrown their lot in with Trump. Read Plott's feature here.
- Part and parcel of America's dependence on fossil fuels is a need for an extensive oil and gas pipelines to transport petrochemicals in, across, around, and out of the country. As Antonia Juhasz uncovers in a first-of-its-kind data investigation, the pipeline industry can be extremely hazardous for workers and the environment. Read Juhasz's investigation here.
- Pacific Standard senior editor Ted Scheinman is on the ground at the Global Climate Action Summit and writing a series of stories about the events. Before the summit took place, he spoke with a wide spectrum of protesters at the "Rise for Climate March" about their concerns over a changing environment. This march signifies that, despite the talk of "solidarity" from Governor Jerry Brown and others, a divide between those in power and those without still persists. Read Scheinman's stories here.
- What's it like to argue before a judge that you should be able to get an abortion without telling your parents? It's a difficult question, but one that exists in most states where parents must be notified or provide consent in order for a minor to have an abortion. Staff writer Francie Diep breaks down a study that gives a glimpse into what it's like to try and secure an exemption to this rule. Read Diep's story here.
Dispatches: Facing Down a Hurricane
News and notes from Pacific Standard staff and contributors.
This week marks the return of a number of modern autumn traditions: pumpkin spice lattes, warm sweaters, and, most notably, destructive Mike Tyson-esque hurricanes. One of several massive storms currently active, Hurricane Florence barreled through the North and South Carolina coastlines Thursday. In anticipation of the storm and its expected fallout, Pacific Standard shed light on some of the unforeseen repercussions of the approaching storm, and the overlooked communities likely to struggle in its aftermath.
As editorial fellow Emily Moon detailed on PSmag.com, flooding from the storm could produce an onslaught of manure and urine from local hog farms into North Carolina residential areas. Similarly, Florence was expected to trigger a heavy upwelling of rivers, which could cross paths with coal ash residue from nearby industrial power plants and breed rampant water contamination.
Despite these nearly apocalyptic conditions, recent research suggests that emergency response resources frequently fail to provide adequate aid, specifically for already underserved communities. For example, although non-whites are more likely to evacuate in response to lower-level storms, minority groups are disproportionately more affected by natural disasters than white victims. As Emily Moon mentions in her article comparing the consequences of Florence to that of hurricanes Katrina and Maria, “racism influenced government decision-making” has historically resulted in a lack of food security or access to drinking water. Furthermore, this unequal distribution of aid also intersects with socioeconomic and disability status, leaving those who "can't afford a disaster" the most vulnerable to further damage.
Given these bleak findings on the realities of natural disaster relief, the United States has a long way to go to ensure its residents are well-equipped for the impending storm. However, as critical disasters historian Jacob Remes bluntly stated in our interview with him in the wake of Hurricane Maria, acknowledging the flaws in the current response system is a valuable first step to providing better aid in the future. "What makes a [natural] disaster is how they intersect with individual and community vulnerability, which is socially constructed," Remes says. "Once we understand this fundamental paradigm, we can understand how disasters are political events with political causes and solutions."
—Alexa Lee, Engagement Fellow
PS Picks is a selection of the best things that the magazine's staff and contributors are reading, watching, or otherwise paying attention to in the worlds of art, politics, and culture.
John Carey's The Intellectuals and the Masses: John Carey's The Intellectuals and the Masses is one of my favorite books of criticism. Open it to any page and you'll find a close, often withering analysis of a major modernist that also, inevitably, seems to have a direct bearing on the political news of our own day. That's a testament to Carey's achievement, because he completed the first half of the book nearly 30 years ago. The book first appeared with the weighty subtitle: Pride & Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939. But I recommend this (relatively slim) volume to a lot of people who normally don't enjoy literary criticism—and who would normally be turned off by the subtitle—because Carey is so grimly funny in his criticisms of proto-fascist poets and intellectuals. He's the rare academic polemicist whose burns illuminate almost as much as they singe.
Carey's task in The Intellectuals the Masses is to expose and examine the anxieties and hatreds that cultural elites harbored toward a booming population that also happened to contain an unprecedented proliferation of readers. Intellectuals who feared this newly literate public (most intellectuals, in Carey's account) tended to blame the implementation of universal elementary education in England; as George Bernard Shaw noted, "The Education Act of 1871 was producing readers who had never before bought books, nor could have read them if they had." These readers posed a direct threat to the cultural primacy of the thinker-poets of Oxbridge and Bloomsbury, and they responded by circling the wagons. Modernist writing is frequently impenetrable, Carey argues, because it was a means of segregation.
Cultural elites since before the poet Horace have worried about how the masses might contaminate their work, but Horace didn't usually offer political solutions to the problem. Many of these modernists did, and their solutions often involved genocidal fantasies, and Carey's book thus suddenly becomes a lot bigger than literary criticism: Its subject is the rhetoric of dehumanization, and especially the impulse to valorize that dehumanization as morally and intellectually more serious than the humanitarian impulse.
Beginning with Nietzsche, whose genocidal enthusiasms served as the original red-pill for many 20-century conservative intellectuals, Carey goes on to clarify the reactionary tendencies of the obvious characters (Tory Catholic T.S. Eliot, eugenicist-mystic William Yeats, Nietzsche fanboy D.H. Lawrence, overt fascist Ezra Pound), but he also analyzes less obvious cases, including E.M. Forster and even avowed democratic socialist George Orwell: "Basically the trouble was that [Orwell] identified the masses both with freedom and with dirt. He believed in freedom, but dirt repelled him." It's perhaps unfair of me to quote just that line; his treatment of Orwell is thoughtful and evenhanded.
These days, the reactionaries of the West are still in the process of demonizing large populations of displaced people, and much as during the 1920s and '30s, those reactionaries hold increasing political sway. Their rhetoric is one of contamination and supremacy, the sober cruelty of regrettable inevitability. "Life is more vivid in me, than in the Mexican who drives the wagon for me," D.H. Lawrence wrote. America is saying more or less the same thing when it saves Houston but not San Juan, when it invites Norwegians to immigrate but denies passports to brown-skinned citizens. The Intellectuals and the Masses is a darkly funny book about deeply serious business.
—Ted Scheinman, Senior Editor
PS in the News
A look at where our stories and staff surface in the national conversation.
- Elaina Plott's reporting on the residents of Tangier Island, who may become the country's first climate change casualties, was shared by Longform.
- Antonia Juhasz appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss her feature, "Death on the Dakota Access," and the dangers of working for the oil and gas pipeline industry in the United States.
- Kate Wheeling and Jim Morris' investigation into DOGGR, California's state oil regulator, was included in the Cal Sun email newsletter.
'The Coddling of the American Mind' is Sort of Brainless (PSmag.com, September 11th)
- I read the book and this review. While there are some points of contention in the book, the review is full of "whataboutism," which has come to the fore following Donald Trump's election. It is almost as if the reviewer felt compelled to defend students (a lawnmower parent perhaps?). While students who have suffered racism, sexual assaults, economic hardships, etc., have every right to be heard and to be taken seriously, the reviewer makes a mistake in extending this sympathy to every single university student. —Tom Millington
- Where are the "heritage" protectors now? These camps are part of our history, and more recent than the Civil War; while we lose sleep over the protection of racist statues, we ignore the monuments of our racist actions. —Michael Tomlin-Brenner
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