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…but it’s spelled Douglas, with one “s”. Which is to say, this is filled with wrong:

Gingrich has been selling GOP primary voters on the value of Lincon-Douglass style debates for a long while now. On Saturday as other days he also promised to pick up Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 tactic of following Stephen Douglass around and speaking the day after him until, Gingrich explained, Douglass agreed to debate him. (Lincoln went on to lose the Senate election against Douglass, but it’s assumed Gingrich expects a different outcome if he’s the GOP nominee and chases Obama across the country.)

Frederick Douglass had the spare “s”. Senator Stephen Douglas, the guy who debated America’s greatest president, had only the one. Anyway, like I said, I know I’m being obnoxious. But in a case like this, I really can’t help myself. Sorry.

Also, probably nobody cares, but Stephen Douglas spelled his name with a second “s” until around 1846, when he first won a Senate seat. He apparently became Stephen “Single S” Douglas in part to distinguish himself from Frederick Douglass.

Is anybody other than me interested in this? No? That’s what I thought. Okay, then.

This does a fine job pointing out the absurdity of a system that everyone knows is anti-democratic and broken but probably won’t be fixed any time soon. Regardless, WY, MT, RI, etc.? I want my ten votes (and my two dollars) back.

Also, here’s Hendrik Hertzberg on the remedy for this mess.

Having taught the War of 1812 the other day, I have to say I only did marginally better than this. And I’ve got no excuse. I’ve read Alan Taylor’s new book.

I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened. But it certainly looks like UC police began beating unarmed and peaceful students in Berkeley this afternoon.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, in the unfortunately named Happy Valley, students apparently are rioting to protest the ouster of Joe Paterno.

Herman Cain, among his many insane ramblings over the past few days, apparently suggested that his face should be on Mt. Rushmore. Well, fair enough. (Though, having visited the monument last summer, I have to admit that I found it more affecting than I expected. I mean, it’s very big. And by the way, Lincoln but no FDR, amiright? No, seriously, there was something about the scale of the president’s faces, the setting in which they’re carved, and the history of dispossession surrounding the place that left me feeling a bit overwhelmed by the power of the state to shape the landscape of American memory.)

Anyway, Michelle Bachmann picked up the ball and ran with it. To her credit, she didn’t suggest that she should join Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy — aka, “The Real Man’s Roosevelt”), and Lincoln. Her pick? James Garfield. Wait, what? Garfield? My colleague, Kathy Olmsted, replied to this news by asking, “Is that the only president she could think of?” Yes, apparently so. And while I don’t think this disqualifies Ms. Bachmann from the presidency, it should disqualify her from tenure in one of the better history departments near you. Which is to say, don’t worry, Newt! You’re still the only serious scholar in the Republican field!

UPDATE: post updated with more Ericness.

Forgive me for casting aside studied indifference and blog-standard irony. And forgive me also for seeing in tragedy a potential opportunity. But I think the horrifying situation at Penn State suggests that it’s time to acknowledge that big-time college football is a net loser for universities.

Forget that most programs hemorrhage money. Forget that the players are typically African-American, typically don’t graduate, and are typically put in harm’s way for the entertainment of wealthy donors who are typically white. Forget that academic standards are rejiggered or ignored so that these young men can be admitted to play football. Forget that the BCS isn’t a meritocracy that rewards excellence so much as an oligopoly that protects its most important members. Forget that college football has always oozed corruption. Forget that football coaches wield extraordinary, even frightening, power on campuses. Forget that it’s insane that universities provide — free of charge! — the NFL with a minor league system.

And just remember that at a time of real peril for higher education, with budgets being slashed and classrooms crumbling, we are told, again and again, that we must focus on the core mission of the university. Then ask, “Is big-time college football part of the core mission of the university? Should it be?”

Casting about last night for books that the older boy* might want to read, I began thinking about S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders as a possible candidate. Then, while looking around the web for reminders of its contents — too sexxxy? too violent? — I discovered that Ms. Hinton** was in her teens when she wrote the book. “That’s remarkable,” thought I. I then remembered the moment that I learned, shortly after reading Rumble Fish in fifth grade, that she was a she rather than the he that I had supposed. I share this anecdote not because it’s important but because the older boy only recently grilled me about why J.K. Rowling uses her initials rather than revealing her gender. “The patriarchy,” I explained with a sad nod. He understood.

Anyway, if you can think of books suitable for a somewhat precocious nine-year-old, that would be wonderful. Said books can even be written by women.

* He’s nine.
** House style.

I know Wordles are so last week, but I just decided to Wordleize Lincoln’s First and Second Inaugurals. I’d like to say the results are stunning or at least interesting. They aren’t. Still, if you’d care to see for yourself, you can peek below the fold.

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Alice Paul
When did the political parties switch?


Plastic Surgery WWII.

Well, okay then.

I’m having an unusually difficult time this quarter convincing the students in one of my courses that I really do want them to be quiet while I teach. As always, I began the quarter by mentioning that I have very few pet peeves, but people who chat while I’m lecturing are near the top of that short list. I mean, people who kick kittens and/or puppies are far worse than incessant talkers. But I don’t encounter kitten- and puppy-kickers all that often, at least not while I teach, so they’re not a real-world pedagogical concern of mine.

That said, for some reason the initial no-talking PSA didn’t seem to take this go round, so I decided to mention it again. Adopting my very best insouciant manner (because I wanted to make sure that everybody understood that the talkers weren’t getting under my skin), I stopped class a couple of weeks ago and said, to nobody in particular (because I didn’t want to embarrass the talkers), “Hey, look, all of this talking is very distracting for me. And if my needs don’t concern you — and really, why would my needs matter to you, I’m only the one doing the grading — perhaps you could consider that you’re probably distracting the people sitting around you as well. So, please stop.” And then I started back in on the Puritans. Which was an odd thing to do, I’ll admit, because before the interruption I had been lecturing about cotton culture in the Chesapeake. See? All of the talking distracted me!

Well, I’m afraid that didn’t work either. Which meant that yesterday I stopped lecture suddenly, looked directly at the same group of people who have been chatting the quarter away, and said, without regard for their delicate sensibilities, “Enough. I’ve asked you before, and I meant it: please stop.” One member of this gang of recidivists then tried to stare me down, but I just smiled my Gore Vidal smile and looked away. Because I’m that cool. Well, fifteen minutes later they were talking again. No, seriously, they were.

I’m almost out of ideas at this point and thought I’d see if you can help. I suppose the next step is to ask this group of louts to see me after class. But I don’t really want to spend more of my time on this sort of classroom management. In part I feel that way because, really, this isn’t middle school. But it’s also so depressing to waste time on such stupid crap*.

So, what’s worked for you? Anything short of bringing a dart gun to class? Bear in mind that your answer will be recorded for posterity and that PhD candidates apparently read this blog. Which is to say, this is another opportunity for us to consider those things that don’t typically get taught in graduate school to aspiring scholars/teachers. Also bear in mind that, yes, I know these sorts of challenges are very often a much bigger problem for women. And I know, too, that the most appropriate and effective responses to such problems differ depending on the race, gender, age, and deportment of the professor in question. Still, I’m stumped and thought I’d see if you people can help me out.

Finally, yeah, don’t even get me started on all the texting and web-surfing that’s going on this quarter. I’ve mostly decided that the best thing to do about such practices is to ignore them. Except, of course, that I announced early in the quarter my “please don’t distract your neighbors with your gadgets” policy. Whether that works or not is anybody’s guess. I’m at the front of the room, fortunately, so I can’t see what’s displayed on the students’ screens.

* No, teaching about cotton culture in the Chesapeake and the Halfway Covenant is not “stupid crap”. You talked a lot in class during college, didn’t you?

Among the many things we don’t teach our graduate students — not just here but anywhere that I can think of — is how to referee a manuscript. There are many reasons why this skill isn’t taught: methods aren’t universal, time is short, most people suck at it. There are others, too, I’m sure. That said, this is a really useful guide. Useful enough that I’m just going to paste it in its entirety below the fold.

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One of the best things about being a dad, for me at least, is the chance to revisit some of my favorite childhood experiences*. Sadly, George Lucas chose to sully several of these sacred moments when he bowed to Mammon made the Star Wars prequels. Now, I know that shrewder critics have done a much better job** than I ever could documenting Lucas’s hackery. But that doesn’t mean I can’t pile on.

Last weekend, the younger boy, having saved up his screen time for several days***, earned the right to watch an entire movie. Yes, an entire movie! All at once! He wanted to see Episode I, but, because I’m a good father and a patron of the arts, I insisted that he had to sit through Episode IV first. He loved it. Phew. But then he saved up his screen time again, and yesterday he put his foot down. It was time to watch Phantom Menace. “Okay,” I said, “if you really want to waste your afternoon, I’ll sit through it with you.” Big mistake. From the unspooling of the backstory — I’m explaining to the younger boy, “There’s a trade war being fought over taxation. Which has implications for the parliamentary proceedings of the galactic senate.” And thinking to myself, “WTF? Kids are supposed to care about this?” — through the final credits the movie makes absolutely no sense. That said, again, the review linked above does a perfectly good job taking apart the film.

Still, I did want to add that it’s a bit unsettling when you’re watching a movie with a four-year-old and he says, “Daddy, why did Obi Wan say he doesn’t know R2D2 in the other movie?” “Huh, what?” I replied groggily, because naturally I was trying to sleep away the pain. “In the other movie [Episode IV], daddy, Obi Wan tells Luke that he’s never met R2D2. But in this movie [Episode I] R2D2 saves his life.” And the younger boy is right, of course. They make a huge deal of the fact that R2D2 saved the day in Episode I, presumably because Lucas had a new set of action figures he wanted to include in Happy Meals or whatever. But in Episode IV, Ben Kenobi, upon meeting Luke and R2 for the first time, insists that he’s never seen the little droid before. Wait, what? Is Old Ben getting a bit senile? Has he been drinking too much of that purple drank that Aunt Beru served back at the Skywalker Ranch? Or is he just some kind of incredible Jedi ingrate? Who the hell knows.

Anyway, I wanted to tell the younger boy, “Look, kid, I’m sorry to say that capitalism is a cruel system. And George Lucas wanted to cash in this go round rather than tell a well-crafted story. You should prepare yourself for more such disappointments in life.” But instead I mumbled something about the complexities of continuity, and by then there was another light saber fight going on — because like twelve seconds had passed — so he was distracted. But seriously, what’s up with that? Did Lucas not even watch Episodes IV-VI before making the prequels?

And then there’s Jar-Jar’s and Watto’s minstrel show. No comment necessary

* Re-reading A Wrinkle in Time with my older boy? Heaven.

** The creepy stuff about sexual violence notwithstanding. Yuck. Still, the reviews are pretty good primers on storytelling technique.

*** Yes, we test our children’s willpower all the time by placing marshmallows in front of them when they’re hungry. What of it?

Look, I’m aware of Gore Vidal’s excesses: in literature, politics, and appetite. And yet, there’s something positively delicious about the moment when, after Buckley calls him a queer, a sly smile creases Vidal’s face. “I got him,” he’s so obviously thinking to himself, “I’ve got this pompous little bigot right where I want him.”

As for context, remember, as Eric notes below, that the country was literally falling apart in 1968: the aftermath of Tet brought the realization that Vietnam would end in a stalemate (at best), the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy shattered many people’s hopes for a better world, and, of course, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago (where Mayor Daley screamed at Senator Ribicoff, “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch, you lousy motherfucker, go home.”) suggested that even the establishment had lost its capacity to lead.

Finally, I don’t think this exchange represents the high-water mark for WASP culture in the United States. That was probably some time during FDR’s eleventh term, right? Instead, this appears, in retrospect, like the beginning of the end of the WASP era. Various civil rights movements were still unfolding. A Catholic had been elected president. Another might have been had he, too, not been killed. And as Mayor Daley realized, Abraham Ribicoff, a Jew son of a bitch, had upstaged the party’s leaders in Chicago. Still, Buckley’s and Vidal’s accents: so very plummy!

A friend*, who happens to be among the most astute observers of the political scene I know, has this to say in the wake of last night’s Republican debate:

I think he’s [Romney] going to be an unbelievably good candidate in the general. He’s Obama — a tall, handsome technocrat who instituted universal coverage — with a different coalition behind him. I now have this dystopian fantasy about how the campaign will play out:

Romney: I’m Mitt Romney, and I’m not black.
Obama: I’m Barack Obama, and I’m not Mormon.
R: I’m not secretly a Muslim.
O: My religion doesn’t treat “Space Invaders” as a sacred text.
R: I don’t want to rape your daughters.
O: I won’t force them to become my sixth and seventh wives when they turn 13.

Good times. Oh, by the way, with the economy in tatters, Steve Jobs in the grave, and the nation mired in countless foreign wars, we’re considering coming back.

Time will tell.

* The Edge of the American West: new and improved and now with blind sourcing. Superpro!

With the End Days upon us (finally, right?), I really wish I had found the time to finish this book. I hope you have your affairs in order.

As apo at unfogged notes, a poll of conservative bloggers answers the burning question, Who is American history’s greatest monster? Oddly, there’s not a conservative blogger on the list! Really, it’s sad how boring and predictable the results are, with FDR, Barack Obama, and Jimmy Carter occupying the top spots. Still, credit where credit is due: Saul Alinsky? Not bad, conservative bloggers. You surprise me with your latent antisemitism attention to detail! Then there’s Woodrow Wilson. Wait, what? Woodrow Wilson? Because of internationalism, I guess. But where’s Eugene Debs? Or Big Bill Haywood? Or any of the big-government-loving Federalists? These bloggers have no sense of history, I tell you.

It probably goes without saying that if we were to use some sort of inverse felicific calculus — to find the person responsible for visiting the greatest harm on the greatest number of people in the nation’s history — I’d offer pride of place to one of the Andrews, Johnson or Jackson, atop my list. Or maybe Roger Taney.

To be honest, my iPad has disappointed me in some ways. I was expecting a revolutionary device that would fundamentally change my life, upending my sense of how I get from here to there, of what’s what, and even of who I am. But now, now I think I’ve found the product I’ve been waiting for:

Yes, friends, it’s Perky Jerky. And lest you think it’s just caffeinated beef jerky — that would be pedestrian — please understand that it’s actually “the first performance-enhancing meat snack”. Take that, Steve Jobs.

It’s no wonder that this is happening on Barack Hussein Obama’s watch. I mean, am I right or what? And by this, I mean the fact that if Elana Kagan, the chalk pick* as President Obama’s choice to replace John Paul Stevens, is nominated and confirmed, there will be no white Anglo-Saxon Protestants left on the Supreme Court. Not one! Think about it: there will be six Catholics** and three Jews**** charged with interpreting the United States Constitution, the most sacred document in the history of ever. Somebody fetch me some tea; I’m ready to party.

* What does this expression mean? No, I’m not going to look it up. That’s cheating.

** Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Sotomayor, and Thomas.***

*** “Thomas is Catholic?” you’re saying to yourself. “Yes”, I’m saying back at you. Because it’s true: the man is Catholic.

**** Breyer, Ginsburg, and, in this nightmarish parallel universe that used to be known as the United States of America, Kagan.

Today, Phil Mickelson struck a blow for monogamy and all that is right about America. With the vile Tiger Woods (I mean, how dare he not serve as a paragon of good behavior like Charles Barkley once did?) vanquished and Mickelson wrapped in the arms of his loving wife, no one in this country will ever cheat on a spouse again. Better still, Mickelson’s triumph at Augusta National Golf Club, long recognized as one of this nation’s great social engineering projects, means that African-American children will, going forward, grow up in intact families. Our teeming ghettos are filled with laughter and singing tonight.

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