You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2008.
Here’s a different way of looking at it: overlay Obama and Kerry results, see what you get. Obama’s in blue, Kerry’s in red, with linear fit lines to help see trends. Basically, all the lines are near to parallel, with the Obama one higher—except in the South.
Paul Krugman uses the magic history phrase in teaching George Will how to tell the truth about the 1930s.
(Just in case NPTO is still keeping score.)
When I was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, I “taught” the future professional wrestler — and now Heavyweight Ultimate Fighting Chamption — Brock Lesnar. FERPA probably constrains me from describing too precisely the semester we spent together, but let’s just say I was less than impressed with Lesnar’s academic potential; his essay on Kant’s anthropology of race was likely not his finest work. Regardless, he won the NCAA heavyweight title that year, drawing (by the standards of college wrestling) enormous crowds to home meets, where he apparently had his way with all challengers. There’s no way to understate this: he was a massive human being in 1999, and nearly ten years of protein, lifting weights and beating the fuck out of people seem not to have diminished him.
Lesnar parlayed his amateur glory into a three-year run with World Wrestling Entertainment, during which time he evidently vaulted to the top of his profession, wrestling the likes of Hulk Hogan and The Rock on his way to becoming the youngest WWE champion in history. As I understand it, he was known for such moves as the “spinebuster,” the “scoop powerslam,” the “rear naked choke,” and something mysteriously known as “repeated turnbuckle thrusts.” His signature line, Wikipedia tells me, was “Here comes the pain!” — a phrase that I suppose I could have utilized whenever returning Mr. Lesnar’s written work.
In any event, the whole thing is rather strange. I’ve been teaching my own courses for about 13 years now, and every now and then I wonder what some of the more memorable students have done with themselves. Sometimes, I suppose they turn up as assistant professors of geophysics at one of the Penn State campuses; sometimes they establish themselves as successful photographers in Chicago; and sometimes you find them on pay-per-view, thrashing grown men until they semi-consciously soil their tights.
On this day in 1972, the Dow Jones industrial average closed above the 1,000 mark for the first time in its history. International Business Machines led the way, moving up more than 11 points, to 388. One trader remarked: “This thing has an obvious psychological effect. As for the permanence of it — well, I just don’t know.” The New York Times, meanwhile, compared the milestone to “the initial breaking of the four-minute mile,” noting that the stock exchange resembled a carnival:
At 3:29 P.M., red light bars flashed on above and below each of the time clocks surrounding the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. This was the traditional visual signal to show that one minute of training time remained. At the same moment, a bell began clanging on the speaker’s rostrum — the auditory warning.
Traders, brokers and clerks on the floor — aware that history was in the making — broke into cheers that lasted about 20 seconds. Some paper was tossed in the air and drifted down like confetti.
Said another broker, “There’s a sort of renewed confidence in the whole economic outlook.” Ah, those were the days. The market finished today off more than 337 points, down almost 4%. And shares of IBM now sell for just over 80.
Update: See the comments for an explanation of the impact of splits on IBM’s stock price. And then if you can figure it out, explain it to me. Thanks.
At 10 a.m. Pacific time, emergency sirens will blare across Southern California and millions of residents will dive for cover, as part of an earthquake simulation that will involve close to a dozen colleges and universities. The University of California, will be staging events at its Irvine, Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Diego campuses.
I understand, Great Wise One. I will prepare my students for the blaring sirens. They will learn to duck and protect their important bits.
SEK enters the classroom at 9:30 a.m.
You are in grave danger! At precisely 10:00 a.m. this campus will be struck by an earthquake of unprecedented proportions! Sirens will blare and you will panic and die!
But we are too young to—
Too pretty to—
Fear not! I will save you with techniques! When sirens they do blare you are to duck! When you have ducked you are to cover! When you are covered your are to pray!
We are to pray.
It is only 9:30. On with the class! Blah blah blah blah—
Excellent point! Blah blah blah blah blah—
Another excellent point! Let me illustrate it on the podium computer! First I will turn off the lights with the computer because there are no light switches in the room. We are in good darkness now. Look at this point blah blah blah blah blah blah—
Scott! It is time for the earthquake!
It is! Let me see what to do!
SEK peers down at the podium computer. There is a message on it.
BEEP! Thank you for participating in the Great California Earthquake Drill of 2008. We hope you and your students learned about shaking from it. Have an excellent day!
We missed the earthquake! Let us now resume the learning! I will turn on the lights with the podium computer!
BEEP! Thank you for participating in the Great California Earthquake Drill of 2008. We hope you and your students learned about shaking from it. Have an excellent day!
I will now turn on the lights!
BEEP! Thank you for participating in the Great California Earthquake Drill of 2008. We hope you and your students learned about shaking from it. Have an excellent day!
We will learn in the dark for now. Blah blah blah blah blah—
That is a point worth thinking about. We should revisit that scene. I will play it again for you so you can analyze it. I am pressing the play button on the podium computer now.
We will continue to learn in the dark for now. Blah blah blah blah blah—
Another excellent point! I will attempt for the second time to play a scene for you so you can analyze it. Again I am pressing the play button on the podium computer.
I am in great distress. I cannot show you the scene and must teach in the dark. All the computer will do is wish me an excellent day. I will press it again.
I am defeated. I have pressed all the buttons. They all do not work. Maybe one of you can figure this out?
STUDENT WITH MAGIC FINGER
Let me try. I am pressing now the button with my finger.
Your wish is my command.
STUDENT WITH MAGIC FINGER
All are welcome to attend this event today at 5 at the UC Davis University Club, which is free and open to the public. Planned last spring, with the idea that this is the 75th anniversary of the New Deal’s origins, we had no idea it would touch on immediate political concerns. But we’ll have David Kennedy, the Stanford professor who won the Pulitzer prize for his book Freedom from Fear, which explained how the New Deal relates to World War II; Sarah Phillips, the Columbia professor and a scholar of the New Deal’s conservation and agricultural policies, whose book This Land, This Nation uses environmental history to understand the New Deal—this is especially interesting going forward, as any “new New Deal” would have to adapt itself to the environmental concerns of the present moment; and Andrew Cohen, the Syracuse professor and a scholar of the New Deal’s relationship to the business community and government regulation of the business community. His book The Racketeer’s Progress shows how difficult it was to craft business regulation that would respect America’s legal and political past. (Readers of this site will know him for his other work.)
Whenever I teach the American Civil War, I always end the last lecture on the conflict by reading a passage from Walt Whitman’s funeral hymn for Abraham Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”
I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them,
I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
But I saw they were not as was thought,
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffered not,
The living remained and suffered, the mother suffered,
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffered,
And the armies that remained suffered.
I also read this passage whenever we look at war memorials — particularly the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC, which substantiates like nothing else that crushing sadness in Whitman’s verse. Anyone who’s visited the site knows this.
The wall was dedicated 26 years ago today. Built less than a decade after the war’s conclusion, the memorial was the outcome of a difficult process that required veterans to negotiate the meaning of the war itself; the fact that the design bore the names of the dead was not accidental — it was the only thing the committee could agree on. The final design had earned its creator, a 21-year-old student named Maya Lin, a “B” in her funerary architecture course at Yale. After the selection jury chose it, Lin’s proposal was subjected to howls of protest from veterans and others who regarded it as a sign of disrespect to the soldiers whose names it would carry. Phyllis Schlafly described it as a “tribute to Jane Fonda,” while the National Review dismissed it as “Orwellian glob” and begged Ronald Reagan to scotch the project. A veteran named Tom Carhart wrote in the New York Times that the memorial, if built, would commemorate the war with a “black gash of sorrow and shame.” Tom Wolfe, in a moment of wankery that must be judged as epic even by his own olympian standards, insisted that the memorial would fail because it emanated from the sort of elitist, modernist sensibilities that Real Americans would never accept.
In spite of the negative publicity, the memorial fund continued to receive a stream of donations from veterans and other actual Americans who subsequently traveled to the site to see the names of their fathers and comrades and husbands and sons. They touched their names, rubbed them onto paper with pencils and charcoal, brought them things — stuffed toys and cans of beer, wedding rings and Bibles, yearbooks and agonizing letters — all of which, having seen in person, you really, really wish you could use to beat the shit out of Tom Wolfe.
The photo at the top of this post was taken by my father sometime in the early 1990s, when he visited the wall for the first and — to my knowledge — only time. As I’ve written elsewhere, Dad never expected to survive the American war in Vietnam, where he served as a helicopter pilot for nearly two years before returning to live another forty. While he was in Vietnam, seven pilots and passengers from his company lost their lives; he may have known as many as six others who died in the year after he left. Overall, roughly half of Dad’s training group, which included somewhere between 300-400 young men, never made it back from the war.
One of those killed was CWO Kenneth Edward Messenger, whose name is visible just below center in this photo. I didn’t see this picture — and never heard the story about Dad’s visit to the wall — until a day or two after he had passed away. As a result, I was never able to ask him about his friend, who died on 5 May 1968 from a mortar that struck his sleeping quarters in Kien Hoa during a brief NVA/NLF offensive known as “mini-Tet.” Donald L. Merry and Lloyd Lockett — the men whose names bracket Messenger’s — also died the same day, as did nearly 30 others on panel 55E, which contains 199 names.
Based on what little information I’ve been able to gather, Messenger was about three weeks from leaving that awful war when he died. He was 27 — three years older than my father — and had never been married, never had kids. He grew up in Wantagh, NY. His parents may or may not still be alive, and there are no websites devoted to his memory. Still, though, he had musing comrades who remained and suffered. On a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, one of Messenger’s neighbors at the airfield in Soc Tran posted a brief tribute to someone he barely knew:
The mortar round that stole his life was the first of many. He surely never heard it, he never suffered. The impact of it blew me out of my bunk, the beginning of another horrible night of man killing man. I never knew him, but he was my neighbor, and my brother in arms, another American serving with honor. I didn’t know him, I wished I had. We fought all night, the war stopped at dawn, as usual. I cried when I learned of his fate. I never knew him, but I dearly miss him and I will never forget his name.
In the comments to ari’s post, Martin G. noted his fondness for Bérubé-style agon. I couldn’t agree more. That is, after all, the point of the copy-pasta post everyone incidentally linked to the other day. But a proper political agon requires some ground rules: first and foremost, a commitment not to Rorschach your interlocutor with a Godwin to the balls.* Such strictures are, however, unmanly. Manly men—real Men—cede every ounce of their intellectual authority to the Man who wrote The Most Important Book Ever:
- [A]s Jonah showed us in Liberal Fascism . . .
- I recommend Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism . . .
- Why worry about people using it to invoke “Godwin’s Law”? As if that is anything more than an internet convention used as shorthand to dismiss arguments like those made in Liberal Fascism.
- Goldberg’s book has opened a door to enlightening . . .
And when Really Manly Men are challenged, they choke back the tears, tighten the gasket on that whine, and project, project, project. To wit:
- The man whose posts regularly range in 4,000 word pastures writes “[a]s for SEK, he just likes to hear himself talk[.]“
- The man who valiantly complains that others “want to freeze me out from their linkfests” writes “[SEK's] entire blog is predicated on traffic.”
Really Manly Men don’t care about traffic. Not one whit. The people who care about traffic are the ones who never mention it. We’re all about listening to ourselves talk, ignoring the “self-” of our importance, and guilting our readers into giving us money.** Once upon a time, I thought it possible to discuss things with Manly Men whose Knowledge and Foresight allow them to see The Coming Socialism. Then the Manly Men drunk deeply of the Manly Book, realized the Womanly Challenge before them, and told their less Manly compatriots to ____ ___.***
All of which means I was as right as I was wrong: whatever you might say about the boorishness of Manly Men, they were once far less stupid. Now that Goldberg’s spoon-fed them Kool-Aid, they feel history vindicates their abject paranoia. The Democrats won this election cycle, certainly, but we ignore idiocy at our own peril. I’m not saying all our time ought to be devoted to slapping the sluggish—that’d leave no time to marvel at the spectalurness of our failure—but as stupidity trickles down, we can’t rest on Obama’s laurels.
*Rorshach’s “power,” for those unfamiliar with Watchmen, being raw brutality of the Pol Pot variety.
**Because, you know, we’re “important,” i.e. the only ones who can “break away from partisan cheerleading and closely examine the kernel assumptions of the several mainstream political ideologies in order to tease out how and why those ideologies either conform to, or break with, our founding principles.”
***And despite their hate-hate affair with their own voice, they only linked to themselves five times while doing so.
On this day in 1969, the nation learned that the U.S. Army was investigating accusations that Lieutenant William Calley had murdered at least 109 Vietnamese civilians in March 1968. The Army called the location of the massacre “Pinkville.” The Vietnamese knew it as My Lai.
The soldiers of Charlie Company had charged into the hamlet looking for Viet Cong. They found only civilians. “It was just like any other Vietnamese village—old Papa-san, women and kids,” said one witness. “As a matter of fact, I don’t remember seeing one military-age male in the entire place, dead or alive.”
Despite the absence of enemy soldiers or weapons, the soldiers began a frenzy of killing. They set fire to huts and then shot the residents as they ran out; they herded the villagers into groups and machine-gunned them; they tossed grenades at the people who tried to hide in ditches. The soldiers believed that they were taking revenge for the buddies they’d lost. In that environment, they believed, it was impossible to tell friend from foe. “And you know,” said another soldier, “if you can shoot artillery and bombs in there every night, how can the people in there be worth so much?”
The numbers are disputed, but the Vietnamese said that 567 people were killed that day. The only U.S. casualty was a soldier who shot himself in the foot so he would not have to participate in the killing.
Though the Army tried to cover up the My Lai massacre, the word began to spread. A young GI, Ron Ridenhour, who was not present at the massacre but heard about it later, began to write letters to public officials. Eventually, two congressmen forced the Army to investigate.
The American public learned of the Army investigation thanks to the efforts of a free-lance reporter named Seymour M. Hersh, whose stories were distributed by a tiny outfit called the Dispatch News Service. The story of Hersh’s reporting on My Lai is legendary among journalists. Tipped off by sources, and funded by a small grant from a foundation, he spent days working the phone, and finally learned Calley’s name and the number of deaths. Then he flew down to Fort Benning, Georgia, to try to find Calley. He cajoled, bullied, and sneaked past various soldiers and Army officers in an effort to talk to the man at the center of the case. In the course of a day, he knocked on hundreds of doors, downed many scotches and beers as he chatted up Calley’s fellow soldiers, and persuaded one soldier to steal Calley’s personnel file. When he finally found the lieutenant himself, near midnight, Hersh convinced him to sit down, have some beers, and talk till dawn.
Hersh knew immediately what he had. “If somebody would have said to me then: ‘What’s going to happen?’ I would have said: ‘I’m going to go work on this a little more and write the most incredible story that’s going to win me the Pulitzer Prize. It’s going to be an incredible story. The best story of anybody’s life.’ Okay? I just knew it.”
He did work on it a little more, found more witnesses and participants, located a distributor (he knew that most newspapers and magazines wouldn’t touch it), and wrote an incredible series of stories that won him the Pulitzer Prize. And he went on to spend a lifetime writing other incredible stories: CIA domestic spying; the secret bombing of Cambodia; the U.S. involvement in the overthrow of Salvador Allende. And, oh yes, Abu Ghraib.
When I worked at a college newspaper in the 1980s, we all wanted to be Seymour Hersh. Not Bob Woodward, who had gone all establishment, but Hersh. Now, the newspaper industry is in free fall, and many of those inspired by Hersh have left journalism. But Hersh himself, now past 70, is still making those phone calls, knocking on those doors, and persuading his sources that the American people deserve to know the truth.
The question, raised by dana*, is: who’s the smartest person ever? I’d offer some guidelines, but then someone would say that my guidelines are stupid, which might disqualify me from being the smartest person ever. And I can’t have that; I’m clinging to my dream. Also, Franklin’s fine, if you’re looking for the smartest American**. But Newton’s my real answer, at least until I change my mind.
* She says Leibniz, by the way. In case you’re too lazy to read her post.
** Don’t even bring that Jefferson stuff around here.
Below the historians debate which American Presidents count as intellectual. Here I sing of math and the man, Gottfried Leibniz, German polymath, the smartest man that ever lived. I could sing out long and loud, but today I sing only one verse to make the case:*
In 1672, the Elector of Mainz sent the young diplomat Leibniz to Paris. The young diplomat Leibniz did little in the service of diplomacy, but instead met all of the intellectuals that he could find, including the Dutch mathematician Christian Huygens, and to his chagrin, the young Leibniz learned that his mathematical knowledge was quite deficient. So he decided to rectify the situation.
Three years later, on this day in 1675, he invented the calculus.
Of course, the claim that he invented the calculus was not (is not?) uncontroversial. Newton claimed to have developed his method of fluxions in 1666 or so, and thus Leibniz’s contribution, at most, was developing a better notation system for someone else’s discovery.
Historians of science sometimes speak of the calculus as ready to be discovered, and so, like the question of who discovered the New World, it’s simply a matter of who did it, when, and whether he did it on his own.** And the evidence at best is mixed. It’s clear that Newton did not publish his method of fluxions until 1693; Leibniz first publishes his differentials in 1684. But the intellectual currency of the day was manuscripts and letters, mostly undated, and it is not clear whether Leibniz saw Newton’s manuscripts prior to 1677, when he sent a note to Newton detailing some of the principles of his system.
Complicating the issue further is rabid partisanship. In 1687, Newton claims that he invented the calculus independently some twenty years earlier, but acknowledged Leibniz as a skilled geometer who had shared his own independently developed method ten years earlier. It was not until the early 1700s when charges of plagiarism began to appear on both sides. Neither man acquitted himself well:
All-out war began in 1710, when an English writer published an article bluntly accusing Leibniz of plagiarism. Understandably outraged, Leibniz demanded an independent inquiry from the Royal Society. In 1712, the Society duly organized a commission, which delivered its verdict: the accusation of plagiarism stands. The de facto chairman of the inquiry and author of its report on Leibniz was Isaac Newton.
An anonymous article appeared in the German press defending Leibniz and reversing the charge: Newton, the unnamed author declaims, plagiarized Leibniz. Leibniz was forced to disown the article, claiming it had been put out by a “zealous friend.” But it soon became clear to all parties that the “zealous friend” in question was Leibniz himself. In England, meanwhile, appeared an anonymous review of the dispute, according to which Newton was the innocent victim of Leibniz’s chicanery. The “anonymous” author, it turns out, was Newton himself.
The dispute resolved solomonically: We say they both independently invented the calculus. Newton invented it first. Leibniz invented it…. better.
*Diderot sings it shorter: “When one compares the talents one has with those of a Leibniz, one is tempted to throw away one’s books and go die quietly in the dark of some forgotten corner.”
** I heart the locution “discovered.” As if the calculus were behind the sofa all along!
On November 10th, The Institute for the Future of the Book kicks off an experiment in close reading. Seven women will read Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook and carry on a conversation in the margins. The idea for the project arose out of my experience re-reading the novel in the summer of 2007 just before Lessing won the Nobel Prize for literature. The Golden Notebook was one of the two or three most influential books of my youth and I decided I wanted to “try it on” again after so many years. It turned out to be one of the most interesting reading experiences of my life. With an interval of thirty-seven years the lens of perception was so different; things that stood out the first-time around were now of lesser importance, and entire themes I missed the first time came front and center. When I told my younger colleagues what I was reading, I was surprised that not one of them had read it, not even the ones with degrees in English literature. It occurred to me that it would be very interesting to eavesdrop on a conversation between two readers, one under thirty, one over fifty or sixty, in which they react to the book and to each other’s reactions. And then of course I realized that we now actually have the technology to do just that. Thanks to the efforts of Chris Meade, my colleague and director of if:book London, the Arts Council England enthusiastically and generously agreed to fund the project. Chris was also the link to Doris Lessing who through her publisher HarperCollins signed on with the rights to putting the entire text of the novel online.
Fundamentally this is an experiment in how the web might be used as a space for collaborative close-reading. We don’t yet understand how to model a complex conversation in the web’s two-dimensional environment and we’re hoping this experiment will help us learn what’s necessary to make this sort of collaboration work as well as possible. In addition to making comments in the margin, we expect that the readers will also record their reactions to the process in a group blog. In the public forum, everyone who is reading along and following the conversation can post their comments on the book and the process itself.
I don’t believe the effort’s entirely unprecedented, but it’s the sort of endeavor (and meta-endeavor, if you will) that we can and should throw our weight behind. I’ll say more as the project progresses, as the novel falls victim to the five year rule twice-over.
On this night in 1619, after a night in which he swears he was not carousing, René Descartes went to bed in an overheated, stuffy room in Ulm, and had three vivid dreams to which he later attributed the eventual course of his life.
In the first dream, a strong wind battered Descartes, and he sought shelter in the church of a college, only to be pushed back by the winds. After the winds abated he found himself surrounded by upright people, while he himself tottered along, leaning to the left. In the second dream, he perceived a loud thunderclap and saw the room filled with sparks of light. This apparently was a recurring dream for Descartes, so he meditated on logic until he fell asleep. (It’s like counting sheep, but for intellectuals.)
In the third dream, Descartes felt no terror, but instead came upon a book of verse, the first line of which read “Quod vitae sectabor iter?” and another poem, presented to him by an unknown man, with the first line “Est et non.” Which way of life shall I choose? It is and it is not.
It’s no tolle lege, but it’s surely proof that the universe has a sense of humor, having a man who would be identified with rationalism and whose books and teachings would be periodically banned, get his inspiration from a dream about a church. Descartes grew into a philosopher (and mathematician) whose method, more than his beliefs, distinguished him from the Scholastics, a method of metaphysical doubt: proceeding by extreme skepticism, he would discern those true principles which struck him as clear and distinct. And from there, he hoped, one could construct science upon firm foundations:
Archimedes, that he might transport the entire globe from the place it occupied to another, demanded only a point that was firm and immovable; so, also, I shall be entitled to entertain the highest expectations, if I am fortunate enough to discover only one thing that is certain and indubitable. (Meditations II.)
Descartes presents this new method of doubt in the aptly titled Discourse on the Method (1637), but nowhere so vividly as in the Meditations on First Philosophy (1641), in which he presents himself as a restless thinker, sitting by the fire in his pajamas (lit. toga),who over the course of six days meditates on what he can know with certainty, doubting his experiences (for has he not had similar experiences in dreams?) His first intermediate conclusion, a barbaric yawp: I am, I exist, I am a thinking thing. The famous formulation cogito ergo sum is not in the Meditations; some philosophers argue that this is omitted because Descartes did not think of the conclusion as an inference, but as a truth of unshakeable immediacy.
Descartes circulated the manuscript of the Meditations to the leading theological and philosophical thinkers of his day, and in an act that earned him the love of historians of philosophy, published the objections and replies as an addendum to the first edition. The critics press Descartes on a number of points, but they can be summarized by noting that while Archimedes needed a solid place to stand in order to move the world, he also needed a lever. Arguing from I am a thinking thing to the reality of God, logic, and the external world did not prove to be an easy task, and whether Descartes’ argument succeeds or falls to circularity is still the subject of scholarly debate.
I once was fortunate enough to hold in my hand an early (first or second edition) copy of the Meditations. It was fat, and fit easily in the palm of my hand, about the size of a book of prayers. It would have fit snugly in the pocket of a jacket. While it would be irresponsible to conclude anything about Descartes’ intentions or hopes from the small size of the book (many factors determine the size of a book), speculating is irresistible: the book of dreams from a dreamer, a book of meditations for the modern scientist from a man whose aspirations were much more modest:
Of philosophy I will say nothing, except that when I saw that it had been cultivated for so many ages by the most distinguished men; and that yet there is not a single matter within its sphere which is still not in dispute and nothing, therefore, which is above doubt, I did not presume to anticipate that my success would be greater in it than that of others.
Every White House has had its intellectuals, but very few presidents have been intellectuals themselves – Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Woodrow Wilson, the list more or less stops there.
This is surely wrong. Theodore Roosevelt definitely belongs on this list, and, a correspondent suggests by email, so does Herbert Hoover, even if he wasn’t very good at making his ideas succeed as policy.
Before we get suggestions about who else belongs on this list, let’s try to be clear about what we mean by “intellectual”. I think you have to grapple with ideas for their own sake, rather than for political ends. So for example if we could read Lincoln’s book on unbelief, instead of reading about how he burned it, we might count Lincoln: but as it is, almost all his genius was bent toward specific ends.
So: Madison? JQA? Garfield?
Now, there’s a whole intellectual industry, mainly operating out of right-wing think tanks, devoted to propagating the idea that F.D.R. actually made the Depression worse. So it’s important to know that most of what you hear along those lines is based on deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. The New Deal brought real relief to most Americans.
That said, F.D.R. did not, in fact, manage to engineer a full economic recovery during his first two terms. This failure is often cited as evidence against Keynesian economics, which says that increased public spending can get a stalled economy moving. But the definitive study of fiscal policy in the ’30s, by the M.I.T. economist E. Cary Brown, reached a very different conclusion: fiscal stimulus was unsuccessful “not because it does not work, but because it was not tried.”
I think we need a new post category.
What follows is a very long post, largely made up of a block quotes from recent long posts by Hilzoy and Timothy Burke. My post and theirs are about what to make of wingnuts now that Democrats are going to be in power. If that interests you, read on. But I’ve placed this material below the fold, because Vance has an excellent post up (as usual) immediately below this. And I don’t want people, even libertarians, to ignore it. Thanks.
On November 9, 1965, a crew from Bekins Moving Company arrived at 2322 Fillmore Street, San Francisco. In an apartment on the second floor, they cautiously unmounted an enormous painting — eight feet by eleven and weighing literally a ton — lowered it to the floor and packed it into a wooden crate. A carpenter cut out a window and part of the façade; the movers gently slid the painting out this slot onto the platform of a crane, then lowered it to the sidewalk and into the truck. The artist hovered, nervously smoking, clowning for a friend’s camera as her life’s work, unmanageable and well-nigh uncontainable, was shipped away.
Jay DeFeo was born in 1929, in Hanover, New Hampshire. She grew up in the Bay Area, and studied art at Berkeley, earning her MFA in 1951. After a year in Europe, she returned to Berkeley; in 1954, she married the painter Wally Hedrick, and they moved to San Francisco. Hedrick and others founded the Six Gallery, remembered today for the first reading of “Howl”. He and DeFeo established themselves on Fillmore Street, and for the next ten years, a rotating cast of San Francisco’s painting and writing bohemia rented other apartments in the building.
Through the 1950s, DeFeo painted productively, making a name for herself in the second wave of Abstract Expressionism. She had paintings in a group show in Los Angeles in 1959; then, she and Hedrick were invited to participate in “Sixteen Americans”, an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in New York, alongside the likes of Johns, Rauschenberg and Stella. The curator, Dorothy Miller, wanted to include Deathrose, a large new painting, but DeFeo said it wasn’t ready. She and Hedrick didn’t attend — with true bohemian insouciance, they gave away the airplane tickets MOMA sent them — and in any case, by the time of the opening, DeFeo was already deep in work, extending her new painting beyond anything she’d done before.
She worked at it all day, every day, for the next five years. The basic design was set early on — an abstract sunburst or cloudburst radiating from a point a bit above eye level — but the surface kept changing, and growing. Photographs of its various stages show many different textures. Sometimes she carved into the growing surface, but mostly she built, layer on layer of paint, even before the last layer had properly dried. At one point, the paint spread outward off the canvas and onto the wall around it: she jerry-rigged a new frame around it to accommodate the new scale, and kept working.
She might never have finished The Rose (as it came to be called) without the intervention of fate. In March 1965, Walter Hopps of the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon) asked to show it. And then in September, the landlord at Fillmore Street served an eviction notice. Quickly, she accepted Hopps’ offer. The day after the painting was moved, DeFeo and Hedrick vacated the building, and separated. DeFeo followed the painting to Pasadena, and worked at it a few months longer before breaking off for good.
She returned to the Bay Area, but to Marin County, rather than San Francisco; she dropped out of the art scene, and didn’t pick up a brush for the next three years. She resumed painting in 1970, and continued painting, photography, and teaching (at Mills College) until her death in 1989, of cancer. (It’s hard not to suspect that the years of work on The Rose, living on paint fumes and Christian Brothers brandy, contributed.)
The painting itself returned to San Francisco in 1969. It was exhibited at the San Francisco Art Institute, but soon began to sag badly. To slow the damage, the Art Institute wrapped it up and plastered it into the wall, until the resources could be found to restore it properly. Finally, after DeFeo’s death, the Whitney Museum took on the project. The painting was excavated and carefully restored, with a new steel frame inside the layers and layers of paint. It first appeared in its new form at the Whitney on November 9, 1995, thirty years to the day after it was untimely ripped from its birthplace on Fillmore.
I saw it a year later, on loan at the Berkeley Art Museum. For such a massive, extravagant effort, it’s surprisingly reticent at first — the sunburst is muted, white on mostly gray. In the crevasses of the surface, though, other colors peek through, hinting at what’s buried beneath. The effect is at once overwhelming and shy.
Today it’s out of sight again, packed away in a metal cage in the Whitney’s storage facility. When I inquired this summer, they told me there’s no way to see it. These days in the City, we’re hearing a lot about the proposal of Donald Fisher, founder of The Gap, to build a museum in the Presidio for his collection of modern and contemporary art. I would suggest to Fisher, once he gets the site he wants, that he make room in the building for The Rose — the greatest artwork ever made in San Francisco, and in need of a good home.
In the meantime, for a taste of the painting, you can’t do better than Bruce Conner’s beautiful short film of the removal, The White Rose (with Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain for a score). I also recommend Jane Green and Leah Levy, Jay DeFeo and The Rose (2003) — great photos and useful writing.
[Updated to correct a serious misstatement at the end: the painting is inaccessible, not decaying again.]
Andrew Gelman on the region and income results from the election, using a county-level analysis:
In the midwest and west, Obama outperformed Kerry in all sorts of counties. In the northeast, Obama did just a bit better than Kerry (who had that northeastern home-state advantage). In the south, Obama did almost uniformly better in rich counties, also did well in middle-income counties (although less so in Republican-leaning areas), and basically showed no improvement from Kerry in poor counties.
So, region and income are both part of the story here. As we already know from those maps of vote swing by county. These scatterplots are another way to look at it.