Our Unprotected Heritage.

I’d like to begin this post by saying that Thomas King’s sarcastic, sassy, and real writing style made all of my writing dreams come true.

Money is more important than protecting sacred spaces, and bureaucratic nightmares have been put in place to keep us from gaining the upper hand over corporations and investors – who knew? The argument that one man’s significant historical site is another man’s waste of space is something that I’ve tended to side with throughout most of these readings, but this book struck me in a different direction. The earth, our natural environment, our cultural heritage spaces, belong to all of us. Everyone should care about preserving and protecting them. But “should” is perhaps the most unrealistic and unattainable word in the dictionary, because there are far more important things in this world than emotional ties and historic appreciation.

I liked Mischa’s point that people are not as naive as King seems to make them seem, and will work to protect the environment and our heritage from the corruption that seeks to destroy it. But then I think of Standing Rock and the DAPL, and how hard people fought to protect that land. In the end, money and the government still won. We’ve been talking a lot in my UF class about the best ways to create change in the modern era, and my students have come to the conclusion that perhaps the only way to maybe make these changes is to throw yourself into the eye of the storm – run for office, work your way up, and fight corruption and ignorance from the inside out. I don’t think people can solve this on their own, and King brings this up in his last chapter. Political leadership might give you a leg up in bringing about reform within committees and in legislation.

I appreciate King’s small optimism at the end, because mine was long gone by the time I reached the final chapter. Even if political involvement is the way to go, how do we make people care about these places when there is so much money invested in their destruction? His suggestions are nice, but they still don’t seem all that realistic to me, especially under the current administration. Rep. Jackson’s bill, emphasizing the human rights component instead of environmental protection, is a hopeful idea, but would totally be laughed off of the floor today.

I like to imagine Mr. King’s reworking of this piece for the next political generation with so many more expletives.

“This is what I’m always on about…”

This book should be required reading for every political science and history majors. It should also be included in any class discussing the Gilded Age, or the Industrial Revolution. Because the destruction caused by the capitalist pig-dogs of those ages will certainly be continued. It is a scathing indictment against laissez-faire economics and policies. I found it interesting that the author included examples from both the east and the west. Being a westerner I would have thought that this was just a western problem. But then again that would just be me being naive. This is “the violence inherent in the system” to again quote Dennis the anarcho-syndicalist. Capitalists will strip, and destroy in their pursuit of their drug of choice: money. And nothing, not regulations, not people, not history will stand in their way. It also shows the duplicity of a system in which the watchmen are paid (in part) by those who they are supposed to be watching.

But as for Dr. Madsen-Brooks’ description that this book was a downer, I would disagree. This book felt more like a call to arms, a voice crying I the wilderness, asking me to do something to try and change the way things are, make things better. Hopefully that is not the same sort of lost cause as anarcho-syndicalism.

Sad but True- Cue Metallica When Discussing the Government

Studying history has made me think at times that I’ve become immune to shock and outrage, and that nothing could phase me anymore.  But reading about these Heritage Laws and the way they operate left me dumbfounded once again.  I suppose I should not be surprised, given the complicated way our bureaucratic government operates, but it blows me away how easy the statutes and regulations could be manipulated and corrupted beyond their original intent.  As someone who was unfamiliar with these laws and regulations, I had no idea how they functioned or were enforced so this reading was certainly eye-opening to all the issues that have come up in the forty years since their implementation.  The sad but true reality that King relays is that these Heritage Laws are riddled with biased consultants, administration interests in profit, complicated review systems, and exclusion of the public from taking part in any aspect of the laws.  Even in chapter 8 when King introduced Caldwell’s alternatives in addition to his own, King is adamant that the system requires complete overhaul, not just the rectification of a few elements of the laws.  With this in mind, it seems like a very daunting task, which is precisely why nothing has been done to fix the statutes and regulations.

In my opinion, one of the most important issues that King raises is concerning the public’s involvement with Heritage Laws.  In chapter 6 he states that “people who want to protect some aspect of their heritage from destruction- often themselves don’t push for it, don’t insist on it, don’t even recognize it as something that government agencies ought to do.”  The very people who want to protect their environment or heritage are alienated within the system because of the jargon, lack of awareness and consultation, ignored input, and lack of funding to hire people like King to fight on the public’s behalf, and that seems wrong on all levels.  King detailed how he submitted a paper to agencies in chapter 7.  The subsequent response from the BLM illustrates how even an expert such as King gets pushed aside.  If he is given the runaround, I cannot imagine someone like me trying to make any sort of changes.  I guess all this just reaffirms that despite its importance, history is a depressing business and unfortunately, most people don’t care.

We did it to Ourselves

After reflecting on heritage protection laws, the only thing I can see when I close my eyes are the never-ending news articles on my Facebook wall detailing which government organizations the current administration is hell-bent on defunding. Is BigCorp going to build the thing at the place you love? Is that thing going to have a negative impact on the environment there? Too bad, we got rid of the EPA and all the other regulatory organizations, there’s no one left to do the evaluations you requested! Hope you like a little toxic waste with your childhood memories and cultural significance! At least these laws are consistent. Like our tax laws, they are nigh incomprehensible to someone that does not have years to figure out how they are actually supposed to work.

I agree with the author that just because a place has significance for one person does not mean that it is significant for the whole nation. “Progress” (whatever that is) should not be completely derailed for everyone as a whole just to save a tiny patch of land that is not important to more than one person. But I cannot help but think we could do better than this. Wilderness areas are important. National Parks are important. Conservation of our disappearing species is important. The newest installment of that big-box store? That one seam of dirty fossil fuel that cannot hope to save a dying industry dead in the middle of that sacred mountain? One developer’s pocket book? I cannot call these things significant on the same level.

I know I’m too sentimental for today’s economic realities. I really thought that I had a comprehensive list of things that I should be angry at congress about. We have got to do more or there will not be much of these types of sites left to bulldoze and build over.

Objectivity is dead, and we have bought and paid for its death

So, you want to build a railroad through land covered in Native American tradition and culture? Just hire someone that will say that it will not actually “hurt anything”. If that doesn’t work, all one needs to do is put more money in to debunk any significance, take a few pictures of it and say, “we saved it.” If that is all too much for you, simply declare that there is no reason to even look at all of that in the first place. One way or another you can buy your way out of objectivity too and today only for the low, low price of $2995.

As a absolute representation of what consumerist culture is, strives to be, and what it does, Thomas King shows a million and one ways to overlook any kind of culture, history, and environmental concerns about what you want to build in the name of….(wait for it)….”progress”. That is right. I said it. Need a railroad built but don’t think you should have to deal with pesky laws? Put the burden of better ideas on the other side, completely avoiding any and all responsibility.  “It’s really pretty simple. When a specialist is hired by a project proponent, no matter how skilled, professional, and even honorable that specialist may be, he or she can’t help but be influenced by the client’s interest in moving his or her project forward quickly and at least cost.” (43)

Think the idea of that is wrong. No problem. let’s bring in an unbiased third party. But wait, there’s more. Is the unbiased party unbiased? Even when the BLM brings in a third party, “The proponent pays, but the agency calls the shots. Sometimes, however— as we’ll see in Chapter Seven— the ostensibly independent “third party” contractor for the agency turns out to be the very firm that is also under contract with the proponent.”(43)



Better yet, just bury everyone in a bunch of jargon that you choose to not bother defining gumming up the entire works for anyone even attempting to figure out what you are doing.(74-77) You may even get lucky and have no one to show up to speak out against your project, as long as you make sure that it is a public hearing and that you create paperwork that you can later ignore.(114)

If none of those work to get you to the place you need to be, just wait. Over the next four years it is likely that we will see such a cutback in the systems in place to protect these places, you may be able to just do whatever you want and there will be no one there to even stop you. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/us/politics/budget-epa-state-department-cuts.html)

With these steps, you too can destroy the Earth, other cultures, and resources in five easy steps… assuming you have the money and where you want to build is in an area of regularly marginalized people.

Unprotected Heritage


I found the book Our Unprotected Heritage, written by Thomas F. King, to be quite informative and enjoyable. The first chapter of the book mentions the “Bright Green Laws,” (King, 11) or environmental laws that tells how any sort of impact on the environment, no matter how little, can create a pollutive mess. The laws include the “Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)” (11) from 1976 and the Clean Air Act. These laws provide the Environmental Protection Agency the means with which to prosecute violators or polluters.  For example, the “Superfund Law,” or the “Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)” which became law in 1980 really gave the EPA the authority and ability to fine companies or individuals who violated environmental standards and they were able to collect hefty fines or serve jail time. The author focuses on what he refers to as “Light Green Laws,” which are primarily directed at federal agencies, and are “self-enforcing,” and rarely include fines or prison sentences. (12).  Two of the most notable of the light green laws is the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) or, as he refers to them, the “heritage laws.” (13) I find the NHPA one of the most impactful laws in regard to historic preservation with Section 106 requiring “agencies to think and consult about their impacts on historic places . . .” (20).  Section 106 has also been useful in addressing environmental impact concerns, such as the case of Abo’ Pass near Albuquerque, New Mexico and helping the Buckland Preservation Society from urban sprawl.  The author criticizes the Bush Administration’s “scorn for environmental protection.” (21) If the current administration’s budget defunding the EPA goes through, our environment is in for a big hit.

Some interesting details in Chapters 3 and 4, I found the descriptions of their contents to be enlightening in understanding impacts on heritage. “In trying to preserve the village of Buckland and the Buckland Mills Battlefield, the Buckland Preservation Society (BPS) involves itself in NHPA and NEPA review mostly through two federal agencies.” (49) The Federal Highway Administration and the Corps of Engineers were two agencies that assisted in both of these significant projects in improving traffic and exercising the Clean Water Act in regards to wetlands.  Chapter 8 summarizes five criticisms from the author and I share his criticism.  The first being that firms are more than likely biased because they are part of the “planning team.” Secondly, instead of looking at it as a process, many firms just want to obtain “clearance.” (141)  The third criticism deals with the fact that the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Advisory Council on Historical Preservation (ACHP) are lacking in power and any degree of enforcement.  The fourth issue deals with the complete lack of “transparency in the review systems,” and a questionable use of influence. (142) Last, but not least, is the unfortunate result of acceptance of the status quo and the inability to promote change for the betterment of EIA and CRM.  In King’s condemnation about the ineffectiveness of agencies whose primary purpose is for environmental protection and historic preservation, he cites “ignorance and unexamined assumptions,” as the reasons for “agency bias in favor of development . . .” (69) He cites government agencies which try to approach projects, listed on the National Register, that would require EIA and CRM with the same timelines and ease as if they were buying paper towels.

Our unprotected heritage

Our Unprotected Heritage book argues the point that the government in the public view acts that it is protecting our heritage and lands from being destroyed by industry. Thomas King is trying to wake Americans up to the fact that money is what makes the world go around. If the government needs to run pipelines or railways through a cultural or heritage site in the United States the government would allow it. If it will allow for the government to get more money than areas that are protected can be used if needed. Since this book was written during the administration of George W. Bush when they were talking about drilling in Alaska in the reserve for oil instead of relying on OPEC. Thomas King shows how the American people think that these National Parks and heritage places are protected by laws but that we don’t necessary read the whole law with its different stipulations on how or when the government can use the land if needed. “The failure of the heritage laws has several aspects, several parts, that interact with and reinforce one another. These are: The analyst as proponent: The people analyzing a project’s impact on the natural and cultural environment act as agents for the project’s sponsors. Agencies and project planners are disinclined ever to rethink their plans in response to public objections, and are inclined, as a result, to find ways to reject and bury such concerns, even if it requires twisting or ignoring facts.”[1] I tend to think that Thomas King is correct in one sense that the government is not protecting out national parks or heritage sites, but on the other hand feel that people will not allow the government to destroy or take away our most prized heritage places. I don’t think people are as naïve as this author thinks. I have worked for the government and yes, they put loop holes to help themselves out later in case they need to put something on the land.  On the other hand, people elect these people into office and people can get them to change their views hence why we have lobbyists. This book had some interesting viewpoints but they were few and far between making it tedious to read.

[1] Thomas F King. Our unprotected heritage: Whitewashing the destruction of our cultural and natural environment. Left Coast Press, 2012. Pg. 27.


Protecting Heritage

This in general, is a very important topic that I never have really considered. While reading Our Unprotected Heritage I kept wondering why I had never considered this to be an important topic before. Why do I assume that important laws like National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act are perfect and do their job? Have people simply become complacent in regards to fighting this kind of advantageous system? Is there nothing that is actually pure??

Terrifyingly enough, the first chapter of Our Unprotected Heritage explains each protection law and how the Bush administration has weakened their effect. Since this book was written in 2009, I am curious about how Thomas King views the Trump administration’s recent actions towards (or against) the environment. I feel like people in my generation especially take these laws for granted. We never had to live in an era where factories could dump chemicals into the water. But the terrifying part is that we have these magnificent laws in place, but they still don’t fully guarantee the protection of anything (examples being: Flint, Michigan’s water crisis, the Dakota Access Pipeline and pipelines like it). With these protections and laws being ignored more and more, we might as well continue to the point of humans being wiped out so Mother Earth can start over again without us.

The final chapter of this book is very important (I am always glad when author’s put in chapters actually calling for change).  While I tried to read this chapter optimistically, because of the current political climate, I was ultimately skeptical. Americans can try to make environmental and cultural protections important for everyone. We can try and make our politicians care about these issues. We can try and amend the Constitution. But how will any of that happen when money is awaiting the people who choose to ignore or manipulate the laws? How can we achieve anything when our own President sees the utmost importance in deregulating business to a point where businesses will once again be able to dump chemicals into lakes and build upon sacred cultural areas? I wonder if Thomas King has any answers for us now.

In regards to the book review of The Future of Heritage as Climates Change: Loss, Adaption Creativity, I am extremely sad at their main argument. I don’t want to believe that we have reached a point of no return but when it comes to climate change and the damages we have done to the Earth, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Stopping Bureaucratic Inertia

After reading the first and last chapters of Our Unprotected Environment by Thomas F. King, I moved on to the rest of the book. Tequila shots were a suitable addition to my study methods by the time I arrived at the Chapter Three section entitled “Bombing Boise.” The book was, ironically, a sobering read. In exposing the failure of our legislative and regulatory practices, and the resultant breakdown of the review process, King reveals agencies and regulations that are at odds with their intended purpose.  Catch-22’s Captain Yossarian would understand this world all too well. It would be beneficial to understand how an agency, and the regulations that govern it, evolved from being advocates of  protection to protagonists.  King’s examples also show us how officials use obfuscation and double-speak to wear down those trying to protect their heritage. Many eventually give up the fight, and their heritage in the process. In the end, unable to resolve his own conflicts, Yossarian, too, simply walked away.

B-25J Mitchell, 12th Air Force Over Italy, info(at)worldwarphotos.info

In Chapter Eight, King puts forward Caldwell’s Prescription, Lynton K. Caldwell’s seven suggestions for fixing NEPA. King expands on those suggestions, applies them to NHPA, and finishes the chapter with his own suggestions for fixing the problems with how agencies address preservation and protection of our heritage and environment. While I appreciate his ideas, his Memo to President Obama seems quaint in the light of the current political environment.

Since Our Unprotected Environment was written during the presidency of George W. Bush and published at the beginning of Barack Obama’s term as president, I thought it might be useful explore King’s blog at http://crmplus.blogspot.com/ and see whether there were improvements in the realm of either NEPA or NHPA.  I became even more depressed. Looking at various blog posts from the beginning of the Obama administration, through today showed me that despite a few hopeful signs, little has changed and some things appear to have gotten worse. Who would have thought?

Not unlike other professions, this field has its own world-view and jargon to ensure most people do not understand it.  Professionals believe the value of their work is self-evident, which it isn’t. This demonstrates a potentially fatal hubris. These doyens are now viewed with suspicion and disdain by much of the public. Heritage professionals need to do a better job of forcefully communicating how both environmental protection and historic preservation benefit us all.

After posting my blog I noticed that I had forgotten to comment on Glenn C. Sutter’s book review of The future of heritage as climates change: loss, adaptation and creativity, edited by David C. Harvey and Jim Perry. I hate to see statements such as ” heritage work needs to be less about preservation, stability and perpetuity, and more about embracing loss and finding creative and empowering ways to adapt.” I understand the thought process that goes into such proposals, but for developers and others, this will lead many to suggest that “[1] experts in the field” agree that we can’t preserve our heritage and instead we should capture it with photos and videos and call it good.

King describes himself as a “cock-eyed optimist” and for that I am grateful, I’m not sure I could have handled the book otherwise.  Well, the tequila’s gone and I am eyeing a bottle of vanilla extract.

Vanilla beans - Hawaiian Vanilla Company

[1]  Glenn C. Sutter (2015) The future of heritage as climates change: loss, adaptation and creativity, Museum Management and Curatorship, 30:4, 359-361, DOI: 10.1080/09647775.2015.1065569

Hat in hand?

Perusing the applications for the Digital Projects for the Public grant, and the Digital Humanities Advancement grant I found the similarities between them illuminating. In some sections the wording are exactly the same. But the differences are striking. Striking in what each of the grants is intended to take care of, and what they are not able to take care of.

In order to be awarded the DHAG you have to be focused on a digital project that creates or enhances “experimental, computationally-based methods or techniques that contribute to the humanities … examines the history, criticism, and philosophy of digital culture and its impact on society.” Now this sounds fine, but then you look at what you can’t use the grant for… No digitizing records, unless you’re pioneering a new method for digitizing, no converting a scholarly journal, no undertaking political, religious, or social actions. But that’s all well and good. We can’t expect the National Endowment for the Humanities to just pay out money to just anything for any one. This one feels like “let’s tie STEM to the Humanities and see what we can shake out.”

The DPPG is supposed to fund digital projects that are supposed to “attract a broad, general, nonspecialist audience, either online or in person at venues such as museums, libraries or other cultural institutions.” These grants can be used to conduct research, storyboard, and design. But again these funds can’t be used to archive things, purchase art, artifacts or collections, or renovating production facilities.  But one could spend the money to create a game concerning the American Civil War, or first person tours of Mayan sites, or the app we are “thinking of making” for River Street.

In both cases they are supposed to be used to protect our cultural heritage, which is what I understand we are supposed to be discussing next week…