Category Archives: Books

U.S. forced sterilization, aped by the Nazis


One of the darker chapters of U.S. history involved the medicalization of problems that were actually matters of sex, class, and ethnicity.

And of the measures taken by physicians, with the full backing of government and the nation’s finest universities, was the forced sterilization of those deemed feeble.

Lutz Kaelber, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont, and his Honors College students have compiled an extensive database on forced sterilizations in the United States, and it may come as a surprise that the state performing the largest numbers of such surgeries was California, accounting for a third of the national total of operations conducted.

The sterilizations didn’t stop until 1963, and the following graphic shows the cumulative numbers of victims as they accrued over time:

Temporal Pattern of sterilizations and rate of sterilization

Temporal Pattern of sterilizations and rate of sterilization

From his website’s California page, some details:

In total, 20,108 people were sterilized in the state of California prior to 1964. California had by far the highest number of sterilizations in the United States (one third of all sterilizations nationwide). The numbers of men and women sterilized were about equal. Of the total sterilizations, almost 60% were considered mentally ill and more than 35% were considered mentally deficient. Men and women of Mexican origin represented between 7% and 8% of those sterilized. African Americans made up 1% of California’s population but accounted for 4% of the sterilizations.  However, because of the sensitive nature of sterilization records, many are difficult to access or have been altered. This suggests that the total known number of sterilizations may be conservative compared to the actual number.

>snip<

The 1909 law was aimed specifically at those in prisons and with mental disabilities that caused them to be institutionalized.  Of those with mental disabilities, the law targeted patients in state hospitals and institutions of the feeble-minded.  In terms of the prisoners, the law targeted those who were inmates for life, showing “sex or moral perversions”, or were certain repeat offenders. The 1913 law expanded to target all inmates in state hospitals or homes for the feeble-minded (except voluntary patients in state hospitals), as well as all repeat offenders in state prisons. The 1917 amendments greatly expanded the groups targeted even further to include those who had hereditary mental diseases, “those suffering from perversion or marked departures from normal mentality”, and those with sexually-transmitted diseases. These two later laws expanded to include virtually any individual deemed unfit.  About 70% of all sterilization were performed on people who were labeled mentally ill.

In 1909, in order to legally sterilize someone, the approval of any two of the three following individuals was required: the superintendent or resident physician of the institution, the superintendent of state hospitals, and the secretary of the State Board of Health (Gottshall).  If these approvals were given, sterilization could occur (Gottshall). In 1913, the jurisdiction over sterilization in California expanded to include the “State Lunacy Commission” and gave it the authority to order the sterilization of an individual with certain mental illnesses.  In 1917, after the establishment of the institution called the Pacific Colony, which dealt with the sterilization of epileptics and mentally delayed individuals, authorization procedures for sterilization changed. Sterilizations required the authorization by a Board of Trustees, and a clinical psychologist with a Ph.D..  For all, although consent from the sterilized individual or their family was not required, it was usually received. However, many individuals may have given consent so that they would be allowed to leave the hospital.  Neither records nor reports were required by any of the California sterilization laws to be kept.

The notion of eugenics was coined by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, who thought it would be a wonderful idea to take the natural out of natural selection, and speed up the process by weeding out those he and others like him deemed misfits.

Mostly they were people who didn’t look or talk like them, and they were disproportionately immigrants, women [seen as breeders of misfits], the mentally ill, the habitual criminals, the epileptics, the alcoholics, and anyone else deemed not eminently clubable.

Hitler’s medical minions loved what they saw in the U.S., and what they heard from Americans studying in the German universities then deemed the world’s finest medical schools.

And after he seized power, his lawyers and physicians used the American eugenics laws as the basis for their own sterilization programs and the infamous Nuremberg Laws that would define the parameters for exclusion and extermination.

And now for an interview an interview with the Adam Cohen, author of Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck, the latest book on American eugenics laws and their legacies.

From Democracy Now!:

Part 1: Buck v. Bell: SCOTUS Case That Led to Forced Sterilization of 70,000 & Inspired the Nazis

Program notes:

As President Obama nominates centrist Judge Merrick Garland to replace late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, we take a look at what’s been described as one of the worst Supreme Court rulings in history. In the 1927 case Buck v. Bell, the court upheld a statute that enabled the state of Virginia to sterilize so-called mental defectives or imbeciles. The person in question was Carrie Buck, a poor, young woman then confined in the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and the Feebleminded, though she was neither epileptic nor mentally disabled. In the landmark decision, eight judges ruled that the state of Virginia had the right to sterilize her. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote the majority opinion concluding, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The decision resulted in 60,000 to 70,000 sterilizations of Americans considered “unfit” to reproduce. At the Nuremberg trials, lawyers for Nazi scientists cited the opinion in defense of their actions. We speak to Adam Cohen, author of “Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck.”

Part 2: Buck v. Bell: SCOTUS Case That Led to Forced Sterilization of 70,000 & Inspired the Nazis

A transcript of the interview is posted here.

Thug Notes: The classics in another voice


Take a trip to Thug Notes.

The first thing to catch your eye is the slogan: Thug Notes: Classical literature. Original Gangster.

And then there’s the greeting:

Welcome to Thug Notes, your main hookup for classical literature summary and analysis. I’m your host, Sparky Sweets, PhD. Join me each week for a new episode.

The site’s only been up a short while, but it’s a helluva trip

Here’s a taste:

Thug Notes — 1984

Other episodes include:

Spark Sweets also has a Twitter feed.

This just might save the humanities.

MediaWatch: Pay for play in the world of reviews


Back in the 1960s when esnl was a cub reporter and newspapers employed lots of scribes, reviewing was a major part of the medium’s functions.

These days, reviews are few and far between, and websites have taken over the function, sometimes superbly [as in the case of cameras] and sometimes miserably [as in the case of books].

But opening up the reviewer’s craft to all has carried a pernicious side effect: The paid reviewer who doesn’t disclose that the contents are subsidized by folks with a direct financial interest in seeing the product praised or panned.

Two recent stories have brought the seedy reviewing underworld to light.

Google versus Oracle and a judge’s questions

The question of play for pay emerged in a San Francisco courtroom during a landmark legal battle between two software giants, resulting in a controversial judicial order.

From Richard Chirgwin, writing for The Register:

An unknown number of bloggers and hacks are feeling a little sweaty around the collar today, with a US judge ordering the disclosure of financial relationships that might have affected published articles and comment in the Oracle-versus-Google lawsuit.

The order follows FOSS Patents’ blogger Florian Mueller’s voluntary disclosure that he had a consulting relationship with Oracle.

Read the rest.

Here’s the money quote from the order [PDF] by U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup, a jurist who’s also skilled in writing his own computer programs:

The Court is concerned that the parties and/or counsel herein may have retained or paid print or internet authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have and/or may publish comments on the issues in this case. Although proceedings in this matter are almost over, they are not fully over yet and, in any event, the disclosure required by this order would be of use on appeal or on any remand to make clear whether any treatise, article, commentary or analysis on the issues posed by this case are possibly influenced by financial relationships to the parties or counsel. Therefore, each side and its counsel shall file a statement herein clear identifying all authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have reported or commented on any issues in this case and who have received money (other than normal subscription fees) from the party or its counsel during the pendency of this action.

Some background on the case, reported Monday by Brandon Bailey of the San Jose Mercury News:

Oracle did confirm that it has a consulting contract with Florian Mueller, a  prolific blogger and commenter on patent issues who has written sympathetically about Oracle’s position in the Android case.  Both Oracle and Mueller said his contract  – which Mueller disclosed in his blog last spring – was unrelated to his commentary on the legal dispute.  (Mueller also notes that he’s been critical of Oracle in the past.)

Google, for its part, said it had not paid anyone to pontificate on the dispute. But the search company acknowledged it has given money to a variety of trade groups and other organizations, and added:  ”Google is aware that representatives of some of these organizations have elected to comment on the case.”

That wasn’t enough for Alsup.  Oracle has accused Google of maintaining an “extensive network of influencers to help shape public perceptions” on the dispute, and the judge apparently wants to know more.

Alsup issued second order on Monday, saying Google had “failed to comply” with his first instruction.  The judge clarified that he wasn’t just  looking for people who were paid directly to comment on the case.  He also wants to hear about any commenters who received any compensation at all.

Read the rest.

Here’s an RT interview exploring the pay-for-media-play controversy with Georgetown University journalism professor Christopher Chambers:

Another pay-for-play venue: Book reviews

As the Los Angeles Review of Books notes:

The great tradition of the American comprehensive book review, in magazine and newspaper form, has been in its death throes for years. The disappearance of the newspaper book review supplement (papers in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Des Moines, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington and elsewhere have shuttered or radically shrunk theirs) has been accompanied by an explosion of titles in the book market. The net result: twenty times as many titles are published each year than were a quarter century ago, and we have one twentieth of the serious print book reviews. They have been replaced in partial ways by web-based reviews, many of them crowd-sourced or user-generated forums for book talk.

So what about those web-based reviews? How reliable are they?

New York Times scribe David Streitfeld offers a fascinating look at another venue where cash can buy a good review: Self-published books.

His story focuses on Tulsa “review entrepreneur” Todd Rutherford, who made his living writing reviews for self-published authors looking for blurbs to punch into the websites where they sell their ebooks.

Rutherford’s service offered a menu of offerings, starting with $99 for a single Continue reading

GWB Roundup: Obama guy, war crimes, prank


We’ll go from the ridiculous to the visceral, then on to pranksters.

First the ridiculous: Bush would’ve endorsed Obama

Really, this is not a joke, but a report from The New American’s Thomas R. Eddlem. The question we have here at esnl is who the hell are the “they” he talks about?

And, second, what does it have to say by the American political system?

President Bush told British officials in the heat of the 2008 presidential election, “I’d have endorsed Obama if they’d asked me,” according to a November 9 blog entry by Financial Times of London correspondent Alex Barker. The Financial Times is the chief British financial newspaper, a newspaper that corresponds roughly to the New York-based Wall Street Journal.

Barker observed that his two sources for the quote note that Bush had been asked by British officials in a private meeting that included British Prime Minister Harold Brown what Bush thought of McCain and the U.S. presidential election. According to Barker, his two sources said Bush responded:

“I probably won’t even vote for the guy,” Bush told the group, according to two people present. “I had to endorse him. But I’d have endorsed Obama if they’d asked me.”

Barker exclaimed: “Endorse Obama? Cue dumbfounded look from British officials, followed by some awkward remarks about the Washington weather. Even Gordon Brown’s poker face gave way to a flash of astonishment.” Barker added that his two eyewitnesses to the meeting have continued to wow friends at dinners in London society. “Some of the witnesses still dine out on it,” he wrote.

The quote goes a long way toward demonstrating the lack of difference between the ideology of the leadership of the two major political parties in America. Indeed, President Obama has only continued and expanded the bailouts, “stimulus” spending increases, and deficit culture that Bush encouraged during his presidency.

Amnesty International: Investigate Bush

Here’s a press release from the organization, released yesterday:

US must begin criminal investigation of torture following Bush admission

Amnesty International today urged a criminal investigation into the role of former US President George W. Bush and other officials in the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against detainees held in secret US custody after the former president admitted authorizing their use.

Amnesty International today urged a criminal investigation into the role of former US President George W. Bush and other officials in the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against detainees held in secret US custody after the former president admitted authorizing their use.

In his memoirs, published yesterday, and in an interview on NBC News broadcast on 8 November 2010, the former President confirmed his personal involvement in authorising “water-boarding” and other techniques against “high value detainees”.

“Under international law, the former President’s admission to having authorized acts that amount to torture are enough to trigger the USA’s obligations to investigate his admissions and if substantiated, to prosecute him,” said Claudio Cordone, Senior Director at Amnesty International.

“His admissions also highlight once again the absence of accountability for the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance committed by the USA.”

In his memoirs, former President Bush focused on the cases of two detainees held in the secret program.

Abu Zubaydah was held at various undisclosed locations from

Continue reading

Texas school board urges new textbook purge


As expected, the Texas Board of Education passed a resolution Friday decreeing that their states textbooks should be purged of references to Islam. By law, the board couldn’t adopt a binding resolution about existing texts, so the measure does little more than prove the obvious: Texas has a bad case of the crazies.

Seems they think the American publishing industry is a hotbed of Islamofascism or some such.

From April Castro of the Associated Press:

The Texas State Board of Education adopted a resolution Friday that seeks to curtail references to Islam in Texas textbooks, as social conservative board members warned of what they describe as a creeping Middle Eastern influence in the nation’s publishing industry.The board approved the one-page nonbinding resolution, which urges textbook publishers to limit what they print about Islam in world history books, by a 7-5 vote.

Critics say it’s another example of the ideological board trying to politicize public education in the Lone Star State. Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which advocates for religious freedom, questioned why the resolution came at a time when “anti-Muslim rhetoric in this country has reached fever pitch.”

“It’s hard not to conclude that the misleading claims in this resolution are either based on ignorance of what’s in the textbooks or, on the other hand, are an example of fear-mongering and playing politics,” Miller said.

Future boards that will choose the state’s next generation of social studies texts will not be bound by the resolution.

“This is an expression of the board’s opinion, so it does not have an affect on any particular textbook,” said David Anderson, the general counsel for the Texas Education Agency, when asked by a board member what legal weight the resolution would carry.

Kurt Vonnegut: ‘How to Get a Job Like Mine’


Between the smiles and the laughter, Vonnegut reveals himself as a latter-day Luddite: “I need a typewriter. There is no longer such a thing, anywhere.”

Such a pleasure, seeing and hearing the writer his 80th year, and five years before his death in 2007.  The talk, “How to Get Job Like Mine,” meanders like the Mississippi, the river that so dominated another great American writer Vonnegut grew to increasingly resemble as the years passed.

It’s a wonderful ride, and at just under 52 minutes, it’s much too short a journey through the witty insights of a passionate curiosity joined to a quietly powerful, humorous voice.

Recorded at a lecture at Albion Collage.

A favorite line: “If you really want to upset your parents but don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, at least you can take up the arts.”

Another: “We are here on earth to fart around, and don’t let anyone else tell you any different.”

H/T to Metafilter.

Roots of the surveillance state lie in imperialism


In this fascinating look back through history, Alfred J. McCoy [previously] traces the rise of the modern snooper state to the nation’s first overseas colonial war, the brutal suppression of Philippine rebels following the Spanish-American War. He also plied his trades against Cubans unhappy with Americans lording it over their island in the wake of the same war.

McCoy, who first documented the corrupt ties between Southeast Asian heroin barons and the Central Intelligence Agency, is an expert on the history of the American surveillance state.

Latter-day viewers might be surprised to hear McCoy’s account of the first great struggle against federal domestic spies came not from the left but from conservative Republicans in the 1920s, who forced a radical reduction in homeland [to use the modern term] espionage .

The massive spying efforts which today vacuum up our phone calls, emails, and countless other facts about each of us have their roots in military intelligence. Today’s massive data bases were born in the military’s collection of intelligence on Filipino citizens, which included, for example, separate files on the majority of Manila residents.

After the end of World War I, Ralph Van Deman, the creator of the military intelligence program, targeted radicals, African American activists, the Industrial Workers of the World, and other allegedly “subversive” individuals and organizations.

An old source of esnl‘s said that after Van Deman’s retirement to San Diego, he eagerly provided extensive information to police department “red squads” in California and other states, much of it assembled in the course of his military career. J. Edger Hoover was another beneficiary of Van Deman’s generosity.

Another legacy of that long-ago war is targeted assassination, which Barack Obama’s bunch has taken to a new low by authorizing the extra-judicial murders of American citizens.

Obama’s move was foreshadowed, McCoy reveals, by Sen. John Kerry during his failed 2004 presidential bid, when the Democrats abandoned any stance on torture because focus group reports showed that American’s were tired of hearing about those murderous misdeeds committed in their name.

McCoy also touches however briefly on another theme of deep concern to esnl: the coming “war over water.”

It’s a fascinating talk by an expert — he’s on the University of Wisconsin faculty — who has been charting the troublesome course of America’s spies and spymasters for 40 years. A review of his latest book, which focuses on the subject of his talk, is here.

Surveillance State: Philippine Pacification & the Making of the U.S. Internal Security Apparatus, 23 April 2010, 1:16:44