You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2008.
After SEK forever ruined the Count for me, I was lucky enough to happen upon a link to this vid in the comments at unfogged (No, Wolfson, I can’t figure out exactly where. But there, you just got your hat-tip, okay?). So, hip people, do we like this Feist character? Because I’m not so sure. I think she may hate America. And it troubles me that she can only count to four. What’s up with that?
[Update: Also, this appears to be the 666th post on this blog. Coincidence? You'll have to judge for yourself, of course. For my part, though, I worry.]
[Update II: Turns out I didn't see it in the comments; it was a post over at Unfogged. I truly am an idiot. And I'm very sorry, Stanley. I hope you can forgive me. In my defense, you put the video below the fold. So it was hard to find.]
Lizzie Andrew Borden emerged into the world on this date in 1860; about three weeks after her 32nd birthday, Borden discovered the body of her father, Andrew, on a couch in their home at Fall River, Massachusetts. Contrary to popular rhyme, Mr. Borden had not suffered “forty-one” whacks with a hatchet. The eleven he did sustain, however, were quite fatal — including the one that split his eye and another than severed his nose. The body of Abby Borden, which bore nineteen distinct wounds to the head and neck, was discovered upstairs in her bed a short while later.
Lizzie Borden, who was always the most likely suspect, was charged with the murders and acquitted by an all-male jury in June 1893.
Less fortunate in their own trials, five women from the town of Salem, Massachusetts — Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Good and Sarah Wildes — were hanged for witchcraft on 19 July 1692. Nurse, who hailed from a prominent family and was one of the most respected women in the community, had been accused by one Sarah Holton of putting a lethal hex upon her husband, Benjamin, several years before. According to Holton, Nurse came to their farmhouse one Saturday and scolded Benjamin about his pigs, which she claimed had gotten into her fields. The argument went nowhere, as Benjamin Holden insisted his pigs were adequately yoked and had not left their pen. After Nurse left, Sarah Holden claimed, her husband
was taken with a strainge fitt . . . being struck blind and stricken down two or three times so that when he came to himself he tould me he thought he should never have com into the house any more: and all summer affter he continewed in a languishing condition being much pained at his stomack and often struck blind: but about a fortnight before he dyed he was taken with strange and violent fitts acting much like out poor bewitched parsons when we thought they would have dyed and the Doctor. that was with him could not find what his distemper was: and the day before he dyed he was very chearly but about midnight he was againe most violently sezed upon with violent fitts tell the next night about midnight he departed this life by a cruel death.
On the basis of these and other implausible scraps of “evidence,” Nurse was arraigned and charged with the crime of witchcraft. Tried by a jury, she was initially acquitted on June 30. When the verdict was announced, 12-year-old Ann Putnam and several other girls who had brought forth accusations against Nurse collapsed and howled in pain, insisting that Nurse was somehow afflicting them. The judge then asked the jury to reconsider their decision, which they subsequently did.
Fourteen years after helping to send twenty people to an early grave, Ann Putnam apologized publicly for her role in the witchcraft hysteria. She had, she ruefully observed, been “deluded by Satan.”
As the some of you caring for my cats already know, I’m off tomorrow to reacquaint myself with the depths of the American South. (I am a Future Mississippi Landowner, after all.) Blogging may be light, as the internet is carried in buckets uphill both ways during violent thunderstorms down there, but I’ll do what I can. In the meantime, feast on my appreciation of The Dark Knight, or Gerry’s, or the one I’m compelling Adam to write via the Power of Link.
(And remember, kids, this ain’t a substantial academic post on an academic blog so much as announcement of future unavailability of the sort common to academic listservs, so complain at your own risk.)
Marshall asks, “Did he really just do that?”—did John McCain just casually reveal, for no very good reason at all, Barack Obama’s travel schedule to a war zone?
Compromising the security of an American official, just because you can, makes you unfit for the presidency.
Just to be clear, Marshall means to say: just suppose the shoe were on the other foot, and Obama had done it? Who would be impossible to trust with the nation’s security then?
(thanks to B)
A couple of people have linked Lance Arthur‘s interaction with a guy trying to cut in an iPhone line:
…I turn around and find a stranger standing behind me. Certain, he is nothing at all like the young Asian girl I was joking with for precious hours of my life. And the game commences.
“Are you standing in line?”
“Were you standing in line behind me outside for three and a half hours.”
“Yeah, I was.” Grin.
He stares at me. I instantly hate him. A lot. I hate everything about his self-congratulatory smart-assed grin and his cheating little heart and his idea of how life should work for him, where he can outsmart us all and get what he wants and get away with it. “No, you weren’t.”
“Yeah, I was.”
I point out to the front of the store. “She was behind me in line. You weren’t.”
“Are you gonna tell on me?” He asks this while still grinning that grin. I want nothing more than to kill him with something sharp.
“I am.” I start looking for someone to tell.
“How does it hurt you?”
It’s a great statement of the problem. These people infuriate us: we want them to suffer for their violation of the rules, even if bringing this about hurts us too. (Read the comments if you want empirical support for that.) But Line Jumper has a point: cutting in doesn’t hurt Lance, who would be better off, absent his rage, if he ignored Line Jumper rather than investing energy in making a scene.
So it looks like a case where anger motivates irrational action– irrational, that is, by the cool calculations of the egoist, or something like this. One game-theoretic justification for patterns of anger responses goes like this: if you’re the kind of guy who gets angry, you might find yourself in situations where you want to sacrifice your interests to hurt the person who hurt you, because that’s what anger motivates you to do– it gets you to value (temporarily) the other person’s suffering over your own coldly-assessed well-being. That’s bad, but, on the other hand, if potential aggressors know that you’re this kind of guy, they won’t aggress against you in cases where they would aggress against those who coldly consider their interests before deciding to retaliate. “Don’t mess with that guy, he’s crazy” is the short version. (In The Strategy of Conflict Thomas Schelling makes a lot of the way in which apparent liabilities, e.g. irrationality, can be assets, and this is a case in that general area. Another good read on the emotions case in particular is Robert Frank’s Passion Within Reason.)
The upshot is that it’s beneficial to have traits that are suboptimal in particular instances, especially if having the trait prevents most of those instances from occurring. (The ‘paradox of deterrence’ works this way: suppose only a sincere intention to counterattack prevents an aggressor from striking first, but a counterattack would be morally unjustified. Thus it looks like there’s a moral reason to adopt an immoral intention. Zing!) The twist here is that Lance himself isn’t the one benefitting in this direct way. If I knew anything about this I’d bet that a willingness to get angry (e.g.) is a way of not being a free-rider, and the best way to signal that is to actually have the relevant anger policy.
The horrible, horrible irony is that I’ve talked myself into being more like my mother. She loves to see aggressive drivers ticketed, for example. “What’s it to you?” I used to ask, because I found it petty. But I endorse norms that prohibit aggressive driving– partly on anti-free-rider grounds, because aggressive drivers are making others do the work of accident-avoidance– and if I do that I have to put my emotional money where my mouth is.
[Editor's Note: Sandie Holguin, a very dear friend and occasional commenter at the EotAW, has kindly agreed to provide us with a history lesson about the Spanish Civil War. Sandie's book can be found here. (Apparently, her middle name is Eleanor. Who knew?) Thanks, Sandie, for doing this.]
On this day in 1936 (also on July 17, aka “yesterday,” if you want to get technical), a group of disgruntled army officers led by General Emilio Mola initiated a military rebellion against Spain’s democratically elected Popular Front government. The revolt began in Spanish Morocco a little earlier than planned, and soon thereafter, the Army of Africa and General Francisco Franco, who secretly had been whisked away from his exile in the Canary Islands, were supposed to use Morocco as a launching point from which to cross the Straits of Gibraltar and invade southern Spain. Meanwhile, other army officers revolted on the Peninsula the next day. Following in the footsteps of nineteenth-century Spanish generals, and, more recently, of dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-1930), these generals staged a pronunciamiento — or, as we say in English, a coup d’état — to restore order to a chaotic state. But things didn’t quite work out as planned. The Spanish navy remained loyal to the Republic, temporarily foiling the generals’ plans, and the insurgents met fierce resistance by workers’ militias in Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia. And thus, what was meant to be a simple military rebellion lasting a few days became the Spanish Civil War (cue portentous music).
Very few wars have inspired such international passions nor such polemical histories as the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). To date, there are thousands of books on the subject, most of which try to figure out whom to blame for the Republican loss and the subsequent 36-year dictatorship of Francisco Franco.**
Those with a very general knowledge of the war tend to describe it as a prelude to World War II, emphasizing the international component of the war, and its grand ideological struggle between fascism and communism. Some may also know it for the great art it inspired, great posters, (This is one of my favorites — I cannot resist animated food), and the intellectuals and artists who participated in it, e.g., Ernest Hemingway, Stephen Spender, George Orwell. But the war itself was caused by conditions endemic to Spain: uneven economic development; land hunger, especially in the south; extreme poverty; conservative landowners and industrialists; an overly powerful Catholic Church; a top-heavy military; a radicalized working class, including a very strong anarchist movement; a regional nationalist movement in Catalonia and the Basque Country, among other things. The various governments of the Second Republic were unable to solve any of these entrenched problems (although many people tried) and violence continued to spiral on the eve of the war.
As to the ideological struggles, communism and fascism were but two of many. In fact, as the conflict drew near, there were very few fascists or communists active in Spain. Those who supported the Nationalist side (the insurgents), included much of the military (who tended toward your basic conservative values); the Spanish fascists or Falange (FE de las JONS); the Carlists (a group revived from the nineteenth century who wanted to return Spain to pre-French revolutionary absolutism and theocratic values); Alfonsine monarchists, who wanted to restore the Alfonso XIII to the throne; the Catholic Church; large landowners, conservative peasants with small landholdings, and, industrialists, many of whom coalesced around the conservative Catholic party known as CEDA. As the war progressed, Franco wanted to impose unity on these disparate groups, and they eventually came under the mellifluous initials the FET y de las JONS. On the Republican side, there were middle-class Republicans, anarchists (CNT-FAI); socialists (PSOE); communists (PCE); Basque and Catalan nationalists; and in Catalonia, the non-Stalinist Marxists (POUM) and the communist controlled Catalan Socialist Party (PSUC). On this side, unity was much more difficult to achieve, especially since the communists and anarchists hated each other, and because the anarchists wanted to have a social revolution at the same time they were fighting the Nationalists, while everybody else on the Republican side wanted to win the war and save the revolution for later.
The war did become internationalized almost immediately, however, when the Germans and the Italians provided artillery and transport planes to Franco so that he could cross the Straits with his armies. Soon thereafter, the Germans and Italians provided more war materiel and troops to win the war. The Republicans hoped that France and Britain would intervene, but those hopes were soon dashed when those two nations decided to remain detached and opted for implementing a Non-Intervention Agreement, which was meant to prevent the selling of arms or the provision of troops to either side. The effect of the agreement, signed by some 27 nations (Including Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union), was to make the Nationalists much better armed than the Republicans. As a response to Italian and German intervention, the Soviet Union intervened on the side of the Republic in September (as did Mexico in a minor role), and with the Soviet Union came the International Brigades, over 59,000 volunteers from 53 countries around the world, ready to “fight fascism.”
The war went poorly for the Republicans, who had very few military victories and who faced internecine violence as well. The anarchists had begun a revolution in Catalonia Aragon and parts of Andalusia, which resulted in the collectivization of agriculture and industry. The socialists, communists, and Republicans kept trying to rein in the revolution, hoping that they could convince Britain and France to intervene on behalf of the “bourgeois Republic.” The tensions culminated in a civil war within a civil war (May 1937), resulting in the purging of the POUM and marginalization of the anarchists so well depicted by Orwell. Demoralized and hungry, the Republicans kept losing battles to the unified and better equipped Nationalists. The Republicans hoped to hold out until the now obviously-looming-in-the-distance WWII broke out, but they were finally defeated by the Nationalists on April 1, 1939, five months before the next outbreak of war.
I’ve left so much out, but I’ve gone on too long—kind of like Franco’s dictatorship.
* “It looked at first sight as though Spain were suffering from a plague of initials.” George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (San Diego, New York, and London: Harvest/HBJ, 1952), 47.
** The last exact count was 15,000 books and pamphlets in 1968 (Paul Preston, The Spanish Civil War (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Co., 2006), 333. Since Franco’s death in 1975, another buttload of books have been published on the subject.
On this day in 1975, United States Air Force General Thomas Stafford shook hands with Soviet Colonel Alexei Leonov through a set of hatches in their respective space capsules.
As you can partly hear here, each man used the other’s language. The mission also saw Donald “Deke” Slayton, one of the original Mercury astronauts who had been deprived of a spaceborne billet owing to a health issue, finally travel into space.
President Ford and Premier Brezhnev spoke to the astronauts. Here is an excerpt of Ford’s conversation:
[THE PRESIDENT.] It has taken us many years to open this door to useful cooperation in space between our two countries, and I am confident that the day is not far off when space missions made possible by this first joint effort will be more or less commonplace….
COL. ALEKSEI LEONOV. Mr. President, I am sure that our joint flight is the beginning for future explorations in space between our countries. Thank you very much for very nice words to us. We will do our best….
THE PRESIDENT…. As the world’s oldest space rookie, do you [SLAYTON] have any advice for young people who hope to fly on future space missions?…
MR. SLAYTON…. Well, yes, I have a lot of advice for young people, but I guess probably one of the most important bits is to, number one, decide what you really want to do and then, secondly, never give up until you have done it….
I remember this—truly or not—especially the footage. It made a big impression on me. Much later, when I saw Billy Bragg perform this song it made me deeply sad.
I know we should be—and should have been—fixing our hopes and spending our money improving things here on earth, but those spaceships rising toward heaven were something to see.
[Editor's Note: Michael Elliot, whose book is "one of the finest recent works in the field of memory studies" sends along this dispatch from the American South. Contributions to the fund we're setting up to cover Michael's child's therapy bills can be sent directly to Michael's paypal account.]
I’ve just returned from a quick historical road-trip with my son, age 4, through Alabama. We hit civil rights sites and museums in Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery. (Also on the itinerary: the Sloss Furnaces, minor league baseball, and a zoo.) I ascribe to the blank-slate school of parenting, in which the whole raison d’etre of offspring is the chance to indoctrinate/mold/shape the child into a smarter, better version of oneself. So this kind of road trip is pretty much what I have had in mind since the day G. was born.
Like most of my parenting ventures, this one reminded me how little I know about how to speak to a child of G’s age. About a year ago, for instance, I was driving G. to see the Martin Luther King crypt here in Atlanta and realized that I should probably say a word to him about, um, death, a topic we really hadn’t discussed before. So it turned out that he learned more about dying than anything else that day. For months afterward, whenever G. heard about someone who died, he would ask, “Like Martin Luther King?”
At least I had more time on our Alabama trip, and I thought that if we saw enough things he would come away with some sense of the basic outlines of the struggle. If this were a college course, I know that I would have a set of bullet points on race, class, resistance, civil society, and maybe the African American church. For G., I just want him to know that people used to do terrible things to one another, especially to African Americans, and that the world improved because of the brave actions of people who organized to protest. I suppose I should be glad that even these rudiments are remarkably hard to teach to G. As we toured the museums and visited the monuments, he would ask questions so breathtakingly innocent that they seem like they were ripped from a Hallmark after-school-special: “Why is there so much fighting?” And “why were people so mean?”
It’s hard for me to know exactly what he has retained from it all. In the long-run, I want him to have a thick sense of history, to be captivated by the past in the way that I am. In the short-run, I suppose it’s enough that he realize that things were not always the way they are now.
Strange objects intrigue him, and on this trip he was both frightened and interested in the shell of a bus displayed in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It’s a replica of the Greyhound bus, burned and broken, that was attacked in Anniston, Alabama, during the Freedom Rides. Recognizing a point of pedagogical entry, I talked to G. about how there used be rules on the bus about where people could sit; I explained that he and his friends from preschool would have had to sit in different parts of the bus; and then I told him that some people finally said “that was silly” and decided to ride together by sitting wherever they wanted on the bus. Of course, I couldn’t bear to tell him the next part, about the attacks in Anniston, Birmingham, Montgomery. Maybe next year.
Anyhow, the story of the bus rides seemed to break through. The next day, as we were driving to Selma, he brought up the bus, and we went through the whole story again. I even tried to get him to remember the name “Freedom Rides.” I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until we had dinner that evening. Thanks to some salad dressing, we were discussing mustard. I like it and he does not, and I was assuring him that we could differ on this point. “People can like different things,” I said. There was a pause, and then he replied:
“Just like the kids on the bus.”
“What? What bus?”
“The kids on the bus who said that you can do whatever you want. You can do whatever you want. [Beat.] They also said that people shouldn’t kill each other any more.”
On the one hand, I suppose I should be thrilled that G. knows how to apply the lessons of history. On the other, I am pretty sure that the Freedom Riders would be appalled to think that they spilled their blood just so that my son could refuse mustard and other undesirable foods. I tried to say something about how the situations weren’t quite the same — and that sometimes he needed to eat certain foods because they are good for him. But mostly, I was silently pulling up my stakes to retreat. The last thing my son needs is historical authority to justify him in doing whatever he wants.
On this day in 1945 the scientists of the Manhattan Project exploded the world’s first atomic bomb, a plutonium weapon, in the Trinity Test near Alamogordo, New Mexico. (Cue sententious announcer: “… and the nuclear age began.”)
The Los Alamos lab opened in March, 1943, and so took slightly over two years to reach its goal. It involved eight Nobel laureates and around two thousand scientific and technical staff. Isolated on its New Mexico mesa—well worth a trip—it concentrated top theoretical physicists and their most promising apprentices, setting them to solve what was in the end chiefly an engineering problem.
As the prevalence of “a Manhattan project for” attests, a romance attends this episode, and a romance requires heroes. Beyond Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, the physicists at Los Alamos surely enjoy top scientific spot in the popular imagination. And they were such a variety of characters. Maybe you admire the archetypal lefty longhair J. Robert Oppenheimer. Possibly you enjoy the literary companionship of young Richard Feynman, the homesick kid from New York who hung a bagel over his bunk, who spent his time on the mesa playing practical jokes while wracked by his feelings for his dying wife. Or perhaps Edward Teller, who devoted himself to thinking of the next, bigger bomb—the thermonuclear weapon—and who thought nuclear energy could solve all problems, is more your kind of guy. Or the great theorist Hans Bethe, who, surrounded by his proteges, looked to Feynman like a battleship with its escorts. Or “Nicholas Baker.” Or Kenneth Bainbridge: at Trinity, Oppenheimer thought “I am become Death,” while Bainbridge said, “Now we’re all sons of bitches.”
Or maybe I. I. Rabi, who declined Oppenheimer’s invitation to direct a portion of the work at Los Alamos—was a bomb, Rabi asked, to be the “culmination of three centuries of physics”?—but who went to see the test at Trinity, anyway, and shared in the jubilant celebration.
Of course, whichever of those characters particularly interests you says as much about you as it does about them.
There are many ways to measure the failure of the Carter administration. Among them, we would have to include his inability to control the name usually associated with the most important and memorable address from his single term in office. Dubbed the “Malaise Speech” by the press, Carter’s televised address — watched and heard by 65 million Americans — did not actually include the word “malaise,” though it accurately condensed the overall thrust of his message, delivered 29 years ago today, on July 15, 1979.
The economic situation in July 1979 was — not to put too fine a point to it — shit. Inflation lumbered along at 12 percent, gas prices had doubled since January, and a decade of slow economic growth had depressed public confidence in the country’s future. In the metro area of New York City, 90 percent of the gas stations had closed in early July, as fuel shortages throttled the country for the second time in five years. More than 60% of Americans believed the nation was in deep trouble. In foreign affairs, another of America’s regional deputies — Iran — had succumbed to a revolution that exposed once more the limits of American power. Carter’s poll numbers were tanking. Having already proved himself inept in dealing with a Congress controlled by his own party, Carter looked uncomfortably at the meat thermometer protruding from his administration’s glistening, browned carcass.
The overall tone of Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech derived from his evangelical faith and his aversion to the sin of pride, which he believed had drawn the nation into a tornado of unsustainable materialism. In the months leading up to the July speech, Carter pursued conversations with a variety of public intellectuals, including Christopher Lasch, Daniel Bell, and Robert Bellah, each of whom had published books over the previous few years decrying consumer capitalism and warning that the nation was imperiled by the demise of traditional religious values and a collapsing ethic of hard work. Carter also received conceptual guidance from the pollster Patrick Caddell, who — in a 75-page April memo to the president — described a nation brought to spoilage by its status as “the first true leisure society.” Having conquered the problem of survival, Caddell suggested, Americans had abandoned a collective sense of purpose, while the political class had drifted far from any commitment to “rough consensus democracy.” Unless political leaders – that is, Carter himself – enunciated a new message of collective responsibility, the nation’s citizens would continue to lose themselves in a haze of narcissism, consumer debt, and vapid soft rock.
The outlines of Carter’s speech took shape during a bizarre domestic summit at Camp David, where Carter received hundreds of visitors – including academics, journalists, religious figures, and ordinary citizens – who offered their wide ranging views on contemporary economic problems, the nation’s political impasse, as well as the flaws in his own presidency. During those ten days, numerous dissenting voices emerged within Carter’s own cabinet. The vice president, Walter Mondale, nearly resigned in protest against Carter’s apparent belief that Americans were primarily to blame for their own predicament; Mondale and others insisted that the country faced objective, structural problems that public officials could and should address pragmatically. Scolding his constituents for their spiritual and psychological failures, Mondale believed, was no way for Carter to address these challenges. In the end, the vice president did not resign, but neither could he persuade Carter to focus his speech on practical solutions rather than philosophical reflection.
The televised address, delivered the evening of July 15, was a unique moment in the history of the American presidency. Carter, a horrific public speaker to begin with, delivered a monotonous and halting half-hour sermon that included nearly five full minutes of criticism, encouragement and commentary from ordinary Americans with whom he had conversed during the previous week.
What followed was an unprecedented presidential jeremiad against affluence. Warning that a “crisis of confidence” threatened to “to destroy the social and the political fabric of America,” Carter observed that
[i]n a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives, which have no confidence or purpose.
The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next 5 years will be worse than the past 5 years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.
Inasmuch as these observations might have been true, Carter’s speech was loaded down with a the sort of self-righteous moralizing that had often irked many Americans who might have been inclined to agree with him. Moreover, the national scolding did nothing to address — or even extend legitimacy to — the immediate and quite real economic perils facing a labor force in the throes of deindustrialization, urban Americans (many of them African American and Latino) enduring their worst decade since the depression, farming communities facing an endless upward ramp of debt. His proposals for a comprehensive national energy policy — most of which had been articulated by Carter on several previous occasions — were overshadowed by his failed attempt to reverse the “crisis of confidence,” a crisis that he defined, in any event, in extremely vague ways.
The months following of Carter’s speech underscored his own political weaknesses. In a moment of epic clumsiness, he asked his entire cabinet to resign, bungled several transitions, then hired the inept Hamilton Jordan to serve as his chief of staff; he faced the start of a devastating intra-party challenge from Edward Kennedy; and he endured one of the oddest moments in presidential history when his own press secretary revealed to an AP reporter that Carter had been attacked by a rabbit earlier that spring. The administration’s foreign policy faced a series of pressures that would set the state for much worse to come. In November, Iranian students captured the American embassy; six weeks later, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Carter’s inability to manage these crises effectively brought his administration to an end and brought undeserved discredit to energy proposals that were objectively decent and sane. The speech that was supposed to reverse the nation’s self-destructive culture — and reverse his own administration’s downward spiral — became one of many emblems of the missed opportunities that defined the Carter years.
The Chronicle has an article on the job market for historians by Anthony Grafton and Robert B. Townsend featuring the characteristic virtues of both authors. In a short space they use copious data and elegant phrasing to say
- But for a brief and anomalous golden age at the height of the Cold War, the market has never been stable or reliable (the profession mimics US history)
- There are lots more PhD’s in history now, and the market they enter seems segmented between a top tier and the rest
- Postdocs, adjunctships, and short-term lecturer positions allow institutions to “maintain a reserve army of talented academic labor,” on balance to the laborers’ detriment
- Partly as a result of this market structure historians have lower salaries on average than academics in other fields
- Mobility tends to be limited, both by gender and to people already within a certain tier of institution—so where you go first matters a great deal
- The AcademicJobSearch wiki is going to transform hiring whether institutions like it or not
- “it might be time to exert pressure against some of the developments that we have lived through, and that younger scholars must now live with”
Well worth reading the whole thing.
In this as in so many other ways I am a demographic cliché: PhD to visiting assistant professorship to tenure-track job1 to tenured job; it’s getting rarer and rarer to get a TT job at a research institution straight out of PhD and work up to tenure from there.
UPDATE: Vance kindly points me here, which is where my, Eric Rauchway’s, post on whether people should go to grad school in history, which is to say, “should I go to grad school in history,” is to be found. Do you hear me, Google?
1Or the closest thing to it they have over there.
By all accounts, the Bastille was a godforsaken chasm before an assembly of Parisians smashed its gates and burnt it to the ground on this date in 1789. Originally cast as a stone fortress for the protection of the city, the 15th century towers had evolved over time into a symbol of the monarchy’s immense despotism toward its own people. Throughout the 17th and 18th century, the Bastille served as the temporary home for rebellious aristocrats, religious dissenters, petty thieves, spies, as well as anyone who offended royal ministers or other representatives of an increasingly despotic state.
In the century before its destruction, the Bastille was the subject of dozens of accounts written by former inmates who detailed its horrors to audiences throughout Europe. The most famous of these, Simon-Nicolas-Henri Linguet’s Memoirs of the Bastille (1783), is widely though erroneously celebrated as the book responsible for the prison’s demise. The Bastille, while loathed by ordinary French citizens, would not have been worth the efforts of its vainqueurs had it not been for the 15 tons of gunpowder it contained. Still, Linguet’s narrative remains a fascinating, if frequently bathetic account of daily life in one of the most notorious detention facilities in human history.
It is in this total silence, I must again repeat it, in this general desolation, in this void of a silence more cruel than death, since it does not exclude grief, but rather engenders every kind of grief; it is in this universal abomination, it cannot be repeated too often, that what is called a Prisoner of State in the Bastille, that is, a man who has displeased a Minister, a Clerk in office or a Valet, is given up without resource, without any other diversion but his own thoughts or his alarms, to the most bitter sentiment that can agitate a heart yet undegraded by criminality,; that of oppressed innocence, which foresees its destruction without the possibility of a vindication; it is thence that he may fruitlessly implore the succor of the laws, the communication of what he is accused of, the interference of his friends; his prayers, his supplications, his groans are not only uttered in vain; but even acknowledged by his tyrants to be useless; and this is the only information they vouchsafe him. Abandoned to all the horror of listlessness, of inaction, he is daily sensible of the approaching close to his existence; and he is at the same time sensible, that they prolong it only to prolong his punishment.
Only seven prisoners remained in the Bastille by the time hundreds of laborers and merchants –- shopkeepers, cabinet-makers, cobblers, locksmiths and joiners –- captured the facility and dismembered its governor, Bernard-René de Launay. The victorious forces then attached de Launay’s head to a pike and hoisted it through the streets of Paris along with the keys to the main gate. They added six other heads to the procession, matching the number of prisoners liberated in the event. (It is uncertain where the other heads came from. Aside from de Launay, only one other garrison soldier perished in the fight for the Bastille.)
Over the next few months, Parisians dismantled the prison stone by stone, leaving a single cell behind as a grim memento.
This New Yorker cover “combines a number of fantastical images about John McCain and shows them for the obvious distortions they are.”
Tim Burke posts about the This American Life re-run of “A Little Bit of Knowledge,” which reminds me: the episode makes reference to one of my favorite things on all the Internets, John Baez’s Crackpot Index.1
Historians get this sort of thing too, but much less often than physicists. I think this must be partly because it’s very difficult to publish crackpot physics but incredibly easy to publish crackpot history.
1Baez teaches physics at a fine public university at the edge of the American West.
Gramm was right about the recession and stood by his recession comments on Thursday. A recession is two consecutive quarters in which the economy shrinks, and last quarter it grew.
Now, that’s not actually what the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research says.
Q: The financial press often states the definition of a recession as two consecutive quarters of decline in real GDP. How does that relate to the NBER’s recession dating procedure?
A:: Most of the recessions identified by our procedures do consist of two or more quarters of declining real GDP, but not all of them. According to current data for 2001, the present recession falls into the general pattern, with three consecutive quarters of decline. Our procedure differs from the two-quarter rule in a number of ways. First, we consider the depth as well as the duration of the decline in economic activity. Recall that our definition includes the phrase, “a significant decline in economic activity.” Second, we use a broader array of indicators than just real GDP. One reason for this is that the GDP data are subject to considerable revision. Third, we use monthly indicators to arrive at a monthly chronology.
Other indicators matter as much or more than GDP growth because they measure economic hardships we feel. Or, as Paul Krugman says,
The point is that the official definition of recession has become delinked from peoples’ actual experience. Right now, we’re in an economy with deteriorating employment and incomes, collapsing home prices, and business retrenchment. Is it also an economy in recession? Who cares?
Indeed, Shlaes recently knew this; in her book on the New Deal she never discussed GDP growth. The US economy grew quite rapidly through much of the 1930s. Yet it would be foolish, given the high unemployment rates that continued to prevail, to claim that the Depression had ended. (“Was ending” is another matter; if you point out this rapid GDP growth and if you correctly measure unemployment, you have to admit the economy was recovering during the New Deal.)
It is possible that Shlaes has forgotten what she knew when she wrote The Forgotten Man. It is also possible that now, as then, she takes a situational view of statistics.