Monday, January 27, 2014

Blogging for Huffington Post

Thanks to Amelia Earhart (Thanks, AE!), I’ve been invited to contribute to the Huffington Post’s blog; here are links to my first two non-AE contributions:

On the Obama administration’s rotten record of dealing with tribes on “green” energy projects --
…. and on misrepresentations re. the Keystone XL Pipeline --

Due to space limitations, a modicum of sensitivity to what may appeal to a wide readership, and other minor complications, my posts to Huffington will be short and focused on relatively general matters; I’ll continue to burden readers with my longer, more obscure stuff here on CRM-Plus.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Where Are the Young Thinkers?

I’m talking with a publisher about editing a book series, tentatively called something like “Cultural Environment, Cultural Justice.”  The idea would be to publish relatively short books about topics somewhat outside the mainstream of or more inclusive than fields like “historic preservation”, “archaeology,” “CRM,” and the like as they’re commonly defined, focusing on maintaining/preserving what people and communities value in the environment – in the Americas and world-wide.

Reviewers of the series proposal have suggested – and I entirely agree – that I ought especially to look for young or at least new authors, who relate well to contemporary (and future?) technology and who are informed by the thinking of folks like those in the Occupy movement and Idle No More.  I’m all for it, but unsure where to find such authors.

I’m looking for books that will challenge the status quo(s) and lay out new and better – but at least arguably practical – ways of managing aspects of the cultural environment, broadly defined, and/or of managing the world’s impacts on aspects of that environment.  I'm not much interested in chest-pounding diatribes or obscure theorizing -- I think what we need are books that articulate problems and solutions, without being too hung up on current standard practice but with a recognition of political realities.

If you’re interested in doing a book (and you don’t HAVE to be young or otherwise “new”; I just want especially to encourage young and little-known people), or if you know of someone who might be interested (anywhere in the world, though I expect that the books will be published in English), please drop me a note at, letting me know what you have in mind.  I should stress that nobody gets rich writing books of this kind, though they do (sometimes) produce royalties.



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Historic Post Offices, Public Hearings, and Consultation

An Op-Ed by freelance writer Anna Hiatt on yesterday’s (1/21/2014) Washington Post “Fed Page” reported that Representatives José Serrano (D-NY) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif) have issued statements urging the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to hold up on its sales of historic post offices, pending studies by the Service’s inspector general and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP).  Ms. Hiatt correctly notes that old post offices are often important community assets, and that the communities they serve often object to their being closed and sold.

This is an old, long-standing problem, resulting from changes in demographics, transportation, the way mail is handled, and the growth of the internet, among other factors.  There is probably no ready solution to it, and each case doubtless presents unique characteristics.  Each case where there are community concerns ought to get the kind of consultation among concerned parties that’s required by the regulations implementing Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), leading either to an agreement about whether and how to proceed, or to a final high-level recommendation by the ACHP.  That’s simply what the law requires.

Unfortunately, to judge from Ms. Hiatt’s article, neither side is paying any attention to what the law requires.  The USPS, she says wants to fast-track its sales by exempting them, or some of them, from review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  The two congresspeople and other concerned parties are calling for more “public input” – specifically public hearings.

Which, if the USPS graciously gives in and grants, will accomplish precisely nothing.  

All a public hearing does is get the public heard – that is, those members of the public who attend.  It doesn’t get what they say attended to; it doesn’t  force an agency to change its mind.  It merely lets the public spout off.  The agency, having generously given the public this hankered-for opportunity, can then retire to its Olympian heights and make its decision, with no necessary attention to what the public has said.  If it's said anything sensible, which is doubtful given the counterproductive structure and dynamics of the average public hearing.  

Claudia Nissley and I discuss this at some length in our forthcoming book, Consultation and Cultural Heritage: Let Us Reason Together (, and conclude that while "Americans love public hearings, ... they're not consultation, ... and often impede sensible consultation."  

Consultation being what the law (not NEPA, but Sections 106 and 110 of NHPA) requires.  Not public hearings, not public input, but consultation, which means sitting down with all the concerned parties and trying to work out an agreement.

It’s easy enough to understand why the USPS would want to obscure and ignore this legal requirement, but what would be very strange if it weren’t so commonplace is that the representatives in Congress, who must have staffs to look into things like this, could be so dumb as to do the same.  Why promote public hearings instead of insisting that the USPS do the kind of reasoning-together that might do some good, and that the law actually requires?  Consultation has a fighting chance of resulting in some kind of agreement that meets the needs of both the USPS and the communities that value their post offices.  Public hearings, by themselves, have no chance of doing anything but generating hot air.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Traditional Cultural Properties in Cambodia

Julia Wallace, Executive Editor of the Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh, had an interesting op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times -- see  It’s about garment factory workers in Cambodia who have been experiencing mass fainting incidents on the job.  The faintings are attributed to the workers' possession by neak ta – spirit beings who are angry, in the cases cited, because the construction of the garment factories uprooted banyan trees in which the spirits reside.  A neak ta, according to Wallace, is “strongly associated with a specific natural feature – a rock, a tree, a patch of soil.”

In the United States, of course, a neak ta’s rock, tree, or piece of ground would – if everyone was paying attention to the relevant guidelines – be identified as a traditional cultural property, probably eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and subject to consideration under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), as well as in environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  The Cambodian faintings illustrate why such consideration – which ought to feature respectful consultation with those human beings who believe in neak ta – is a good idea.

Maybe you believe in neak ta or some equivalent (e.g. Elves in Iceland, ancestor spirits in China, Coyote or other spirit-beings in North America).  Or maybe you suspect as Wallace seems to that the fainting epidemic is a device for drawing attention to poor working conditions and low wages among garment workers.  Or maybe you’d rather say it’s all nonsense and the workers are just finding a clever way to slack off.  Whatever you believe, you surely ought to acknowledge that whoever built the garment factories set their operators up for problems by failing to consider impacts on the neak ta and their trees. 

Would it have been so hard to consider those impacts?  To talk with the people of the surrounding community before designing the factory, finding out what they valued in the environment, and trying to do something about it?  In one case Wallace mentions, the enraged neak ta apparently could have been mollified had there been “ritual propitiation” and “apology.”  Would this have been so hard to arrange?  And shouldn’t such consultation and efforts to mitigate the construction project’s impacts be a central part of good planning?  Even if the power of neak ta is wholly in the heads of the garment workers, wouldn’t it be wise to put the workers’ minds at rest, before they start passing out over their sewing machines?