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It seems Mr. Ed Morrissey caught President Obama fibbing again. See, Michelle Obama said this:

I will never forget the time eight years ago when Sasha was four months that she would not stop crying. And she was not a crier, so we knew something was wrong. So we fortunately were able to take her to our pediatrician that next morning. He examined her and same something’s wrong. We didn’t know what. But he told us that she could have meningitis. So we were terrified. He said, get to the emergency room right away.

Which the New York Times reported thus:

In her speech, Mrs. Obama also told the story of how her daughter Sasha would not stop crying when she was 4 months old. A doctor’s visit revealed she might have meningitis; she ultimately did not, but the illness produced a scare.

So far, so consistent: something was wrong with Sasha Obama; she was brought to a pediatrician; the pediatrician told her parents she could have meningitis and advised them to take her to the hospital. But Morrissey is suspicious because

[i]n a speech to nurses just eight days earlier, Barack Obama told the story quite a bit differently (emphasis mine):

When our youngest daughter, Sasha, was diagnosed with meningitis when she was just three months old, it was one of the scariest moments of my life. And we had to have a spinal tap administered and she ended up being in the hospital for three or four days. And it was touch and go, we didn’t know whether she’d be permanently affected by it. It was the nurses who walked us through what was happening and made sure that Sasha was okay.

Well, she wasn’t diagnosed with meningitis. How hard is it to get the facts straight so that both Obamas tell the same story?

I know what you’re thinking: this is the kind of close-reading I advocate doing in posts like this. Let it be known, however, that I do not believe paying close attention to language is enough: the conclusions drawn from that analysis abide by the basic rules of logic and the English language. So let me help Mr. Morrissey out:

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The Detroit airport is the weirdest one I pass through regularly. There’s the cool fountain and the irritating but points-for-trying tunnel of light– and, it turns out, a chapel, or, as it’s called, a “religious reflection room,” which I found via this interesting post.

I’m trying not to be totally weak with the salat, it being Ramadan and all, and it was time for maghrib and I had a long layover anyway, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

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Really, Congressional and Political Insiders? Really?

This chart, gratuitously stolen from Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly, suggests strongly that political discourse in the United States is going to get worse rather than better:

R2K_GOP.png

We have the perfect storm: an African-American President and an opposition party whose concerns, language, and obsessions is driven largely by the concerns, language, and obsessions of the American South. Those ideas–racial, cultural, martial–are what is going to drive the GOP until they escape their regional status. Jimmy Carter well knows this, and it is no coincidence that the current poster child for Republican obstructionism is South Carolina. We may date the finish of the Civil War to 1865, but the conflict has never really ended.

While in Boston recently I happened into a pub offering actual English beer on tap—not just Boddingtons, which I’ve seen, but real good stuff like Old Speckled Hen and Fuller’s.

Are there such places elsewhere—possibly, even, in Northern California? It would save a lot of money and environmental damage in transcontinental-plus-transatlantic pub visits.

For purely academic reasons, I’ve never understood the argument that we should ignore Rush Limbaugh because he’s simply an entertainer who says outrageous things that millions of people are merely entertained by.  I didn’t read the complete works of Silas Weir Mitchell because they were good—they are almost uniformly awful—I read them because they were popular.  I was interested not in the content of his thought—it is almost uniformly mediocre—but in why his contemporaries found it so wildly appealing.  If you want to learn which ideas and ideologies literate Americans in 1900 found comforting, you do not consult Henry James: you turn to the inartistic novels that parroted their prejudices back to them in a language they already understood.  So when people say that we should dismiss Limbaugh on the grounds that he only says outrageous things to sell his product, I’m never quite sure why they’re more concerned with Limbaugh’s motivations than the fact that millions of Americans are buying what he’s selling.

Ignoring whatever millions of Americans are buying distorts your understanding of the American political scene whether it be 2009 or 1909.  If you work on popular culture in 1909, you are limited to tracking the flight of a given idea—but if you track a given idea in 2009, your work can actually change its trajectory.  You might not know exactly where exactly that idea will land yet, but you can do the political calculus required to figure out where it came from and where it’s likely to strike.   If it feels like you’re tilting window fans at cannon balls from half a continent away, remember what they say about rare Chinese butterflies flapping their wings: they are less likely to be minuten-pinned by mad lepidopterists—which is beside the point.  The point, as one prominent Beatles apologist recently argued, is that cultural studies can be an important fan so long as we aim it at the right cannonball.

In this case, the important issue is not that Limbaugh is a racist who makes racist statements, but that those statements resonate with his audience so powerfully. Consider, for example, that he feels no compulsion to qualify his sarcastic call for segregated busing:

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The State of Texas is in the process of defining new social studies standards for its public schools. And if the above video is any indication, we can look forward to a much more appealing version of American history going forward. I say that because Texas is a huge market for textbooks. So if Texans want happy history, the rest of the nation will just have to go along for the ride.

Which news, I have to say, comes as a bit of a relief. I mean, history can be such a downer. Things will be much better when we focus, relentlessly, on how exceptional our country is. Also: if we delete all mention of isolationism. Because that topic is pernicious and depressing. And U.S. history should be a celebration of us. Heck, us is right there in the title of the course.

More here and here.

In 1967, Lyndon Johnson’s Department of Labor issued the “Manpower report of the president”, in keeping with the requirements of the Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962 (76 Stat. 23) signed into law by John Kennedy for “making possible the training of the hundreds of thousands of workers who are denied employment because they do not possess the skills required by our constantly changing economy”.

Heading 4 of the introduction to Johnson’s report read, “We Must Make Military Service a Path to Productive Careers”, and underneath that announced,

… the Secretary of Defense has launced ‘Project 100,000′ to accept and train thousands of young men who were previously rejected as unfit for military service. Under this program, 40,000 young men are joining the Armed Forces this year; 100,000 will join next year. All will receive specialized training to help them become good soldiers—and later, productive citizens.1

The men had been “previously rejected as unfit” because they failed the Armed Forces Qualification Test, falling into the fourth of five rating categories. Categories I-III were eligible for military service and Category V was not, but in the considered opinion of the Great Society’s architects, Category IV could be saved—indeed, needed saving. Men falling into Category IV were overwhelmingly poor and from broken homes, half of them with IQs below 85.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then assistant secretary of labor for policy planning, worried that these men suffered “de facto job discrimination” because they could not get into the military, which he saw it as part and parcel of the problems plaguing black America he was also considering.

Given the strains of disorganized and matrifocal family life in which so many Negro youth come of age, the armed forces are a dramatic and desperately needed change; a world away from women, a world run by strong men and unquestioned authority.

Beginning in 1964, the military dipped into Category IV, taking high-school graduates who scored in the top half of the category and then going further, taking high school graduates who scored anywhere in Category IV but could pass a further set of tests. Within two years, the military had dropped its rejection rate from 50% to 34%.

It was, labor secretary Willard Wirtz claimed, “the most important human salvage program in the history of our country”. Defense secretary Robert McNamara touted the advantages to the nation’s “subterranean poor” by bringing them to the “world’s largest educator of skilled men”.

But in 1966, the increased need of men for the army had so grown that even these efforts did not suffice: hence Project 100,000, to rescue as many men from Category IV per year for the military.

It is worth noting here that African Americans seemed largely to believe the administration’s promises. Forty percent of blacks enlisting in 1965 said they were doing it for “self-advancement”, which was more than twice the proportion of whites who made this claim. And Project 100,000’s recruits were 41% black, as against 12% military-wide.

In the event the program did not work well for the advancement of its members. They were supposed to get extra remedial education; only 6% did. But 40% were trained for combat, as against 25% of overall enlisted men. Even if they survived they were three times as likely to go AWOL during basic training as the average soldier, twice as likely to receive an early discharge, and two and a half times as likely to be court-martialed.

In 1970, troop requirements began falling and Project 100,000 numbers with them; the program stopped in 1972.


1Manpower report of the President and a report on manpower requirements, resources, utilization, and training by the United States Department of Labor, transmitted to the Congress April 1967, Serial Set Vol. No. 12789, Session Vol. No.25, 90th Congress, 1st Session, H.Doc. 116, pp. XVII-XVIII.

Other information from Christian Appy, Working-class War and Lawrence Baskir and William Strauss, Chance and Circumstance: The Draft, the War, and the Vietnam Generation (New York: Knopf, 1978).

I’m really happy for you, internet, but we need a new meme, and this should be good for a couple of minutes of chuckles.

I was just teaching rudimentary consequentialism this morning, and it strikes me that instead of talking about same old same old Chop Chuck, we can talk about how Kanye’s outburst is justified by being instrumentally hilarious, not only because of the photoshops but also because of Obama calling him a jackass and almost–almost!– busting on PETA.

(Up to the dating: The stupid, it along the lines of burns!)

Via someone named “davenoon,” I learn that someone named Dan Riehl recently encountered some black people who “were technically thugs.” What did these “technically thug[gish]” black people do? “There was no confrontation,” Riehl informs his readers, but “there were maybe ten or so” of them in the bus, which is about nine or so more than is required to trigger a flight-or-flight response in folks like Riehl. Somehow, he managed to keep it together long enough to hear what these “pretty young, not that big” black “kids” were saying, which he transcribed for the sensitive ears of his readers thusly:

Without resorting to the poor diction it was along the lines of, these are the people who think Obama is the anti-Christ.

Why these “pretty young, not that big [black kids who] were technically thugs” resorted along the lines of the poor diction Riehl employs is, I confess, a bit confusing. Along the lines of this confusing is also why Riehl admits, mid-sentence, that he believes these black kids are “the people who think Obama is the anti-Christ.” I could see along the lines of Riehl resorting to the transparent racism of equating Obama with the anti-Christ, but I can’t understand why he would attribute that belief to the “pretty young, not that big [black kids who] were technically thugs.”

I believe the problem is that Riehl believes they are “technically thugs,” when clearly the problem is that they are only “technically thugs,” meaning that they’re not thugs at all, but well-dressed young black conservatives on their way to celebrate Glenn Beck Day along with the likes of Dan Riehl. But that is just me resorting to the good hypothesis about the poor diction without seeing what exactly what they said was along the lines of, which was this:

That McCain he wasn’t chit.

It seems Riehl needs glasses, because it sounds like he was seated in front of ten or so terrible caricatures of Latino gangstas or, given how poor his ear for dialogue is along the lines of, possibly the Clay Davis family reunion. Fortunately for all involved, these kids who were only “technically thugs” behaved as kids who are only “technically thugs” do:

It went on but not really to a level that was so loud, or so confrontational that it needed to be addressed.

By “it,” Riehl means “they,” but don’t chalk that “it” up to poor diction: for Riehl and those like him, all black kids, even when they’re “pretty young [and] not that big,” are “technically thugs” and, as such, are undeserving of a pronoun that refers along the lines of people instead of things.

(x-posted.)

Alice Cooper tries to convince Kermit to sell his soul in exchange for fame as a rock star. From a list of the ten weirdest moments on the Muppets. Number 6, Alan Arkin on a bunny killing spree, is pretty odd. Also, Peter Sellers! That’s all.

Thanks to B for sending this along and brightening up my day.

No American should have to choose between health care and getting drunk.

Via Balloon Juice.

Come, let us walk down my hallway. People who are putting off kids because they don’t have long-term contracts. People whose parents can’t get insurance because their small business failed and they’re too old, and with too-long medical histories, to buy policies. People with relatives on the ‘plan’ of “stay healthy for a couple more years then Medicare!”

I’m not making this up! And you give me malt liquor videos.

Be very, very good, historians, and maybe someday someone will name an undergraduate house after you. The new Carl Becker House at Cornell, with a memorial plaque.


Carl Becker’s previous EotAW mention is here, and you might also want to read his AHA presidential address, “Everyman his own historian.”

Below the fold, more Cornell pictures because some campuses really were built to be photographed.

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Chuck Klosterman’s review of the newly released Beatles boxed set is a thing of beauty. Imagine trying to review the Beatles’ collected works. Nearly everyone knows the material. Nearly everything that can be said has already been said. There are no superlatives left. So Klosterman employs an ingenious gimmick.

From the first paragraph:

Like most people, I was initially confused by EMI’s decision to release remastered versions of all 13 albums by the Liverpool pop group Beatles, a 1960s band so obscure that their music is not even available on iTunes. The entire proposition seems like a boondoggle. I mean, who is interested in old music? And who would want to listen to anything so inconveniently delivered on massive four-inch metal discs with sharp, dangerous edges? The answer: no one.

And it goes on from there. Klosterman, with this deft move, allows himself to make the key point — that the Beatles are the most important pop band ever — by pretending to discover the joys of listening to their body of work for the first time. I kept waiting to get bored and annoyed. But I didn’t. The stunt never became trite.

For example:

It is not easy to categorize the Beatles’ music; more than any other group, their sound can be described as “Beatlesque.” It’s akin to a combination of Badfinger, Oasis, Corner Shop, and everyother rock band that’s ever existed.

It helps that he uses humor to make larger points:

The clandestine power derived from the autonomy of the group’s composition—each Beatle has his own distinct persona, even though their given names are almost impossible to remember. There was John Lennon (the mean one), Paul McCartney (the hummus eater), George Harrison (the best dancer), and drummer Ringo Starr (The Cat). Even the most casual consumers will be overwhelmed by the level of invention and the degree of change displayed over their scant eight-year recording career, a span complicated by McCartney’s tragic 1966 death and the 1968 addition of Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono, a woman so beloved by the band that they requested her physical presence in the studio during the making of Let It Be.

And again:

After Mr. McCartney was buried near Beaconsfield Road in Liverpool, Beatles bass-playing duties were secretly assigned to William Campbell, a McCartney sound-alike and an NBA-caliber smokehound. This lineup change resulted in the companion albums Rubber Soul and Revolver, both of which are okay. Despite its commercial failure, Rubber Soul allegedly caused half-deaf Brian Wilson to make Pet Sounds. (I assume this is also why EMI released a mono version of the catalogue—it allows consumers to experience this album the same way Wilson did.) If you like harmonies or guitar overdubs or the sun or Norwegian lesbians or taking drugs during funerals, you will probably sleep with these records on the first date. Rubber Soul gets an A- because I don’t speak French. Revolver gets an A+, mostly because of “She Said She Said” and “For No One,” but partially because I hate filing my taxes.

Not to mention, he’s unafraid to wield a knife when he finds himself in close quarters. Of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, he writes:

It mostly seems like a slightly superior incarnation of The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, a record that (ironically) came out seven months after this one. Pop archivists might be intrigued by this strange parallel between the Beatles and the Stones catalogue—it often seems as if every interesting thing The Rolling Stones ever did was directly preceded by something the Beatles had already accomplished, and it almost feels like the Stones completely stopped evolving once the Beatles broke up in 1970. But this, of course, is simply a coincidence. I mean, what kind of bozo would compare the Beatles to The Rolling Stones?

And you have to love a guy who finishes by telling everyone to get off his lawn:

I’ve noticed that this EMI box also includes the gratuitously titled singles collection Past Masters, but I’m not even going to play it. How could a song called “Rain” not be boring? I feel like I’ve already heard enough. These are nice little albums, but I can’t imagine anyone actually shelling out $260 to buy these discs. There’s just too much great free music on the Internet, you know? You might find the instructional, third-person perspective of “Sie Leibt Dich” charming and snappy (particularly if you’re trying to learn German the hard way), but first check out “myspace.org,” a popular website with a forward-thinking musical flavor. That, my rockers, is the future. That, and videogames.

I think this is one of the smartest reviews I’ve ever read. I’m trying to think of others that I’ve particularly liked. Well, Alan Taylor on Sean Wilentz was pretty good. Share your favorite reviews in the comments, if you don’t mind.

One of the difficulties of counterinsurgencies is that sometimes its necessary *not* to do what’s most effective in a strict military sense. This is particularly true if following standard operating procedure is likely to cause civilian casualties. But it’s often difficult for military commanders, who are, after all, trained to attack the enemy. Last week, the Taliban hijacked two fuel tankers, only to be spotted as they were trying to escape:

According to the German officers, the incident began Thursday evening when insurgents hijacked the two trucks on the main highway connecting Kunduz to the Tajikistan border. [A] B-1B bomber, which was flying in the area in support of a different mission, spotted the vehicles several hours later after they had become bogged down while trying to cross the river, 13 miles south of Kunduz, the provincial capital. The German commander declared the scenario an imminent threat and requested air support.

The question then became: what to do? The images from overhead see more than 50 people gathered around the trucks, but were they civilian or insurgents?

An Afghan informant was on the phone with an intelligence officer at the center, however, insisting that everybody at the site was an insurgent, according to an account that German officers here provided to NATO officials.

Based largely on that informant’s assessment, the commander ordered a 500-pound, satellite-guided bomb to be dropped on each truck early Friday. The vehicles exploded in a fireball that lit up the night sky for miles, incinerating many of those standing nearby.

Unsurprisingly, reports of civilian casualties soon began arriving. Some seem to have gone to try and get fuel from the trucks. Some seem to have been forced by the insurgents to help free the trucks. Some seem to have gone to gawk.

In conventional conflicts the avoidance of “collateral damage” tends to be something of a secondary concern, one subsumed to achieving the military goals. But in counterinsurgency, that avoidance *is* one of the military goals, one that is deliberately made more difficult by the insurgents. Air power, even in this age of GPS and precision-guided munitions, is still a blunt instrument, one that the German commander likely should have remembered.

P.S. Having said that, things are rarely as straightforward as they seem, as McChrystal found out when he visited the bombing site:

The council chairman, Ahmadullah Wardak, cut [McChrystal] off. He wanted to talk about the deteriorating security situation in Kunduz, where Taliban activity has increased significantly in recent months. NATO forces in the area, he told the fact-finding team before McChrystal arrived, need to be acting “more strongly” in the area….”If we do three more operations like was done the other night, stability will come to Kunduz,” Wardak told McChrystal. “If people do not want to live in peace and harmony, that’s not our fault.”

South Carolina today, South Carolina tomorrow:

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Ted Kennedy’s more-or-less deathbed injunction to Barack Obama:
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The opening from the President’s speech for this evening:

I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last. It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform. And ever since, nearly every President and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way. A bill for comprehensive health reform was first introduced by John Dingell Sr. in 1943. Sixty-five years later, his son continues to introduce that same bill at the beginning of each session.

Our collective failure to meet this challenge – year after year, decade after decade – has led us to a breaking point. Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy.

Will this ancient conversation finally take a different turn? Will we finally establish that Americans have a right to healthcare? Will the government provide a public option, on a basis something like FDR’s “yardstick principle”? Stay tuned.

A friend pointed me to this, I’d missed it—it’s Kathy Olmsted on the British radio program(me) “Little Atoms” back in July, talking about how, as the host says, “once upon a time Americans would be concerned about the Catholics or the Jews, but there’s a distinct point where the government became the focus” of conspiracy theory—and other insights from this book, which, as you know, you should buy if you can.

Program summary here, MP3 here.

As Kathy says, at around World War I, “A lot of Americans start to believe that their government is lying and covering up and conspiring because it is starting to lie and cover up and conspire.”

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