You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2010.

The great Louise Bourgeois has died. Previously, on this blog.

On May 31, 1951, Rodolfo Hernandez of Colton, California, earned his salt:


Rank and organization: Corporal, U.S. Army, Company G, 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. Place and date: Near Wontong-ni, Korea, 31 May 1951. Entered service at: Fowler, Calif. Born: 14 April 1931, Colton, Calif. G.O. No.: 40, 21 April 1962. Citation: Cpl. Hernandez, a member of Company G, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. His platoon, in defensive positions on Hill 420, came under ruthless attack by a numerically superior and fanatical hostile force, accompanied by heavy artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire which inflicted numerous casualties on the platoon. His comrades were forced to withdraw due to lack of ammunition but Cpl. Hernandez, although wounded in an exchange of grenades, continued to deliver deadly fire into the ranks of the onrushing assailants until a ruptured cartridge rendered his rifle inoperative. Immediately leaving his position, Cpl. Hernandez rushed the enemy armed only with rifle and bayonet. Fearlessly engaging the foe, he killed 6 of the enemy before falling unconscious from grenade, bayonet, and bullet wounds but his heroic action momentarily halted the enemy advance and enabled his unit to counterattack and retake the lost ground. The indomitable fighting spirit, outstanding courage, and tenacious devotion to duty clearly demonstrated by Cpl. Hernandez reflect the highest credit upon himself, the infantry, and the U.S. Army.

On May 31, 1945, Clarence Craft of San Bernardino, California, was somewhat occupied:
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Some cutesy references are too heavy-handed even for Oliver Stone. In the early reports on Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the villain was a character named—no, just read it for yourself:

The film will center on young Jacob Moore (Shia Labeouf) who acquires the assistance of former Wall Street mogul Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) — who happens to be the estranged father of his girlfriend Winnie (Carey Mulligan) — in trying to bring down hedge fund manager Bretton Woods (Josh Brolin) who he blames for the suspicious death of of his mentor (Frank Langella).

In the currently reported version of the cast, this character’s name has changed to Bretton James.

Thanks to a colleague for the tip.

Wallace Stegner famously said that California is like the rest of America, only more so.  But when did he say it, and in what context? Yesterday I tracked down the original quote, which appeared in an editorial Stegner wrote for a special Golden State edition of Saturday Review magazine in 1967.

The references to Max Rafferty, Ronald Reagan, and Gary Snyder may seem dated, but in many ways the essay describes the California we know today:

If the history of America is the history of an established culture painfully adapting itself to a new environment, and being constantly checked, confused, challenged, or overcome by new immigrations, then the history of California is American history in extremis.

Like the rest of America, California is unformed, innovative, ahistorical, hedonistic, acquisitive, and energetic – only more so.  Its version of the Good Life, its sports, pleasures, and comforts, are increasingly copied by the envious elsewhere.  It creates an art and literature as nervous, permissive, and superficial as itself.  It has its own intensified version of the Brain Drain, borrowing both ideas and the men who generate them.

It borrows from everywhere – in nothing is it so American…. Read the rest of this entry »

Sometimes this happens, out here in the west of the west, and you remember why people come, and stay.


I was extremely pleased to find today that the 1939 LaFollette committee hearings on free speech and the rights of labor, all seventy-something volumes, were printed, bound, and on the shelf in my library, and I could check out every single volume and take it home until June 2011.  Which got me thinking about public universities, public libraries, and their accessibility to the public, even the Unabomber.

Everyone in Davis knows the Unabomber allegedly used our university library to, um, write his 1995 manifesto.*  The manifesto liberally borrowed from a book by a San Francisco stevedore-cum-philosopher named Eric Hoffer – and I mean “borrowed” in the sense of “if a student did this, she would be referred to Student Judicial Affairs.”   When newspapers published the Unabomber’s manifesto, a UC Davis student noticed that several sections matched underlined passages in the Shields Library copy of Hoffer’s True Believer.

In other words, it looked like the Unabomber had used our library to do his research.  The student notified the librarians, the librarians notified the FBI, the FBI notified the local press, and everyone in Davis began to imagine that they had seen Theodore Kaczynski hunched in a neighboring carrel.

Of course, just because someone underlined the relevant passages in the UCD copy of Hoffer does not mean that Kaczynski underlined those words.  But this scenario always made a certain amount of sense to me.  If one were a hermit in Montana, and one wanted to take a bus to the nearest big library that was completely open to the public, one might indeed think of UCD.  The university library has no barriers to the use of its stacks.  No one has to show identification; there is no visible security.  Anyone can walk in off the street, past the wonderful Arneson egghead sculpture, and read, say, part 66 of the LaFollette committee hearings, or Eric Hoffer’s True Believer, or any other of the 3.5 million volumes in the stacks here, without having to identify or justify himself.

I looked at the three copies of True Believer in the stacks today, and one of them was indeed marked up, with underlining and mysterious notations.  As creepy as it is to think that the Unabomber might have held this book in his hands, I must admit I have a populist pride in the very public nature of my public university’s library.

*See Sacramento Bee, “Unabomber Used Library at UC Davis?” April 10, 1996.

The CIA wanted to discredit Saddam, the known genocidal tyrant, by distributing a video putatively showing him having sex with boys. Did the Church committee hearings teach us absolutely nothing?

It’s nice that when one’s book is seven years old, it’s still on the top of some people’s minds (and lists). I’d like for there to be a tenth anniversary edition, come to that. Come on, stay in print!

Via Steve Benen, an awesome or rather horrific photo-set of the oil’s arrival on the Louisiana coast.

We hear about fears of its effects on the American Gulf coast, and of what might happen as it moves out into the Atlantic — but has there been much discussion of its effects on other Caribbean countries? This map, for instance, shows that it’s expected to move past Havana and the north coast of Cuba.

Update 5/27: optimistic reports.

This seems too good to let languish in comments: is Louisiana not home to the most awesome governors ever? In Florida we had Walkin’ Lawton “the he-coon walks at the break of day” Chiles, but he was kind of actually awesome, and not a patch on these guys.

H.R. 3314, “to provide for the participation of the United States in the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development,” better known as the Bretton Woods Agreements Act, passed the 79th House on June 7, 1945, by a vote of 345-18, and the Senate on July 19, by a vote of 61-16, and was signed into law by Harry Truman on July 31, becoming Public Law 171, cited at 59 Stat. 512.
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We live in Mississippi. Or so Paramount Studios thought in 1927.

Well, on some measures we’re very close.

A nice passage from Conscience of a Conservative:

A civil right is a right that is asserted and therefore protected by some valid law…. There may be some rights—“natural,” “human,” or otherwise—that should also be civil rights. But if we desire to give such rights the protection of the law, our recourse is to a legislature or to the amendment procedures of the Constitution. We must not look to politicians, or sociologists—or the courts—to correct the deficiency.

So much genius here; for example, the word “valid” just sitting there in that first sentence. But the real marvel is the assertion that if we want to change the law we have to go to the legislature or amend the Constitution, not to politicians. Of course, how you go to the legislature or amend the Constitution without going to politicians is left as an exercise for the reader.

The State Department has adopted wiki software to create Diplopedia, a constantly evolving briefing tool for its officers. So much for the Foreign Relations of the United States. I don’t know which appeals less: trawling through endless revisions of a Diplopedia article, or trying to do research in the Twitter archive.

In comments andrew patiently reminds us he has previously pointed to Andrew Cayton’s lament that historians “leave the world of emotion to novelists, poets, and filmmakers.”1 While this is perhaps true, it is not only historians who have made this shift to bloodlessness. This discussion began with an example from the 1960s. Here are a few more, which I use in lectures.
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Yesterday I gave my Richard Nixon lecture, which I begin by talking about the tales of two other Richards, quoting this passage from Richard II:
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Jeff Ely1 argues, contra Rand Paul, that even if the Deepwater Horizon spill is an “accident,” politicians should be fomenting outrage against BP—only then will the system of incentives for good behavior work properly.

The incentives are structured so that when bad outcomes occur, BP will be punished. If the incentive scheme works then BP acts in good faith and then it is true that bad outcomes are just accidents. The problem is that when the accidents happen it is true that BP was acting in good faith and so they don’t deserve punishment. And if doling out the punishment requires political will then the political will is not there. After all, who is going to stand up and demand that BP be punished for an accident?

This is the unraveling of incentives. Because the incentive worked only because BP expected to get punished whether or not it was an accident. To prevent this, it is the politician’s job to stir up outrage, justified or not, in order to reignite the political will to dole out the punishment. The blame game is a valuable social convention whether or not you believe there is someone to blame.

So keep your pitchforks handy.

1Not a typo; this is the economist at Northwestern, not the historian at Michigan.

Today, as a number of blog posts remind us, is the thirtieth anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back (better known as “the good one”). But me, I prefer the original 1950 version.

(With frame-by-frame of the real thing here.)

UPDATED to add, apparently Pac-Man is also 30; who knows how long Google will leave this up.

Rand Paul keeps on giving.

“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,'” Paul said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business.”

This is yet another thrilling episode pitting the modern Republican Party against the scientific community.

Tensions between the Obama administration and the scientific community over the gulf oil spill are escalating, with prominent oceanographers accusing the government of failing to conduct an adequate scientific analysis of the damage and of allowing BP to obscure the spill’s true scope.

We can also file this under “I Miss Republicans,” and the enduring mystery of why academics don’t vote Republican more than they do.

Students Frequently Ask this Question: when did the major US parties switch places, and why? Which is to say, when and why did the Democrats, who had been the party of limited federal government, begin to favor expanding Washington’s power? When and why did the Republicans, who had favored so strong a central government in Washington that they would accept a civil war rather than see its power curbed, become the party rhetorically committed to curbing its power?

When is easier to answer than why, though there’s no single date. (It would be nicer, though, if in one presidential election, say, the two candidates had done a partial do-si-do and ended up in each other’s places.) But we can pretty easily bracket the era of change.

At the beginning, we can put the Civil War. During the 1860s, the Republicans favored an expansion of federal power and passed over Democratic opposition a set of laws sometimes called the Second American System, providing federal aid for the transcontinental railroad, for the state university system, for the settlement of the West by homesteaders; for a national currency and a protective tariff.

Taken together, this was a highly ambitious program for expanding federal power. It was mercantilist, but it also aimed to get small-time farmers and ordinary citizens to buy into it with the Homestead Act and the state universities. And, broadly speaking, Democrats opposed it.

The postwar era of Reconstruction saw this division grow clearer, as the Republicans supported an expansion of federal power to provide civil right for African Americans in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Fourteenth Amendment and the creation of the Department of Justice—an expansion that, again, Democrats opposed.

So through the early 1870s, then, the lines are pretty clearly drawn. Let’s leave that era for a moment and flash forward to our closing bracket, which we might as well make the 1936 election. Here we have the Democratic incumbent Franklin Roosevelt winning reelection for the successes and promise of the New Deal, which expanded federal power to provide … well, an awfully long list of benefits including banking, securities, and currency regulation; relief for the unemployed and pensions for the elderly; wilderness conservation; improvements to roads and electric infrastructure; support for unionization; and much else. And he was opposed in this election by Republicans staunchly against this expansion of state power.

So the switch takes place sometime between, let’s say, 1872 and 1936. That may not sound very narrow, but it’s a start.

Now, we can go further by finding some landmark dates in there. One of them has to be the 1896 election, when the Democratic Party fused with the People’s Party, and the incumbent Grover Cleveland, a rather conservative Democrat, was displaced by the young and fiery William Jennings Bryan, whose rhetoric emphasized the importance of social justice in the priorities of the federal government. The next time the Democrats had a Congressional majority, with the start of Wilson’s presidency in 1913, they passed a raft of Bryanish legislation, including the income tax and the Federal Reserve Act. And the next Democratic president after that was FDR. So from Bryan onward, the Democratic Party looks much more like the modern Democratic Party than it does like the party of the 1870s.

Oddly though, during the first part of this period, i.e., the time of Bryan, the Republican Party does not immediately, in reaction, become the party of smaller government; there’s no do-si-do. Instead, for a couple of decades, both parties are promising an augmented federal government devoted in various ways to the cause of social justice. It’s not until the 1920s, and the era of Coolidge especially, that the Republican Party begins to sound like the modern Republican Party, rhetorically devoted to smaller government.1 And that rhetorical tendency doesn’t really set in firmly until the early 1930s and the era of Republican opposition to the New Deal.

So now we have a better idea of when this happens; we need now at least the beginning of an explanation why. And the short answer to that is, the West. Which is to say, had the US not expanded westward and taken in a swath of new states in the post-Civil War era, it’s plausible that the parties would have remained as they were, with the Democrats the party of the South and states’ rights and segregation, and the Republicans seeking electoral advantage by trying to enforce civil rights legislation. But the admission of new western states changed the political calculus. In the West were voters disillusioned with the Republican Party’s Second American System, which turned out awfully favorable to banks, railroads, and manufacturing interests, and less favorable to small-time farmers such as those who had gone West and gone bust.

Those western voters were up for grabs—Bryan got them in 1896, Roosevelt helped McKinley get them in 1900, and got them for himself in 1904—and the only way to get them was to promise that some of the federal largesse that had hitherto benefited the northeast. Which is why you have the period of both parties promising some augmentation of federal power in the decades around the turn of the century.

Now, what happens next is that the Republicans prove able to regain western electoral votes from 1920 without having to promise anything much like Bryanite policies. Why this happens is, to my mind, a bit murky. Possibly it’s because a lot of Bryanite policies have already been passed, and western voters are less rebellious. Possibly it’s because of reaction against the Democrats and the war. Possibly it’s to do with the reaction against immigration. Or all of the above plus something else.

Anyway, that’s the when plus a little of the why the parties switched places. Now, one can get cleverer and point out that although the rhetoric and to a degree the policies of the parties do switch places, their core supporters don’t—which is to say, the Republicans remain, throughout, the party of bigger businesses; it’s just that in the earlier era bigger businesses want bigger government and in the later era they don’t. But this post is already long enough.

1That is to say, rhetorically devoted to smaller government even while increasing government’s size and power to regulate behavior with, e.g. Prohibition—but that’s another wrinkle to this story.

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