Speaking to a crowd of supporters, Margaret Thatcher, as played by Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, explains what she would do as prime minister: “Crush the working class, crush the scum, the yobs.”

That’s in a pirated version. The cheap joke to make of course is, how pirated is it really though? And we’re not above that, in the same way as the sea is not above the clouds (as Douglas Adams would say).

John Demjanjuk has died.

Reuters: “Former Nazi guard Demjanjuk dies in Germany aged 91”
BBC: “Nazi camp guard Demjanjuk dies”
Al Jazeera: “Nazi camp guard Demjanjuk dies in Germany”
NYT: “John Demjanjuk, 91, Dogged by Charges of Atrocities as Nazi Camp Guard, Dies”

NYT: Why so circuitous?

Jerusalem Post editorial here.

And, relatedly, a fascinating New Yorker review by Richard Brody of Claude Lanzmann’s autobiography, including discussions of the making of Shoah.
Read the rest of this entry »

(Well it had to be something like that.)

I have three thoughts on This American Life‘s retraction of its episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.” If you do not involve yourself with public radio, Apple, or the Internet, briefly: Read the rest of this entry »

Titan arum1webA titan arum or “corpse plant” is about to bloom in a Cornell University green house:

[The] bloom…has been recorded only 140 times in cultivation, and perhaps that’s for the best, as the plant smells like rotting meat when in bloom. The strong odor and deep purple color of the inner leaf attracts carrion flies for pollination in its native rainforests on the island of Sumatra.

The plant has reached 66 inches in height as of Saturday, 3/17, and might bloom today. Live video can be seen here.

Someday, perhaps someday soon, The Very Last Edited Collection of Essays will roll off a university press.

For years historians have been told that There Will Be No More, because they don’t make money. When one goes to a small conference, the organizers always say, “we would like to get an edited collection out of this, but the publishers we’ve spoken to say they aren’t doing them anymore.”

For a long time, putting out an edited collection was a good way of defining a new subfield – of saying, not only am I toiling in these weeds, but so also are a dozen other promising scholars. Or of redefining an existing subfield, of saying, brave new work is still happening here. Or, very occasionally, they essay a redefinition of the field itself. Or of course they collect the short works of a major historian.

I have a number of these collections on my shelves. The ones I reach for, repeatedly, are few, and almost always of the last kind – the collected short works: Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style, Brinkley’s Liberalism and its Discontents, Haskell’s Objectivity is not Neutrality.

Despite the long era of warning that There Will Be No More, a thinning stream of them still trickles off the presses. When it stops, I suspect it will be the first kind of book to stop – before the dissertation monograph.

When they came for the edited collection, I said nothing …

Gerard Depardieu will play Dominique Strauss-Kahn because

He is very French: arrogant, smug. He’s playable. I will do it, because I don’t like him.

I think there’s a terrific Gallic vindictiveness in that last line.

Eric Alterman has this to say about George Kennan and John Gaddis:

Had Kennan not lived so long, Gaddis might have done a fair job as his biographer. But as Kennan, despite remaining an old-fashioned conservative in the tradition of Walter Lippmann and Hans Morgenthau, moved further and further to the dovish/diplomatic wing of foreign policy debate, his biographer rushed headlong in the opposite direction. Kennan, for instance, strongly opposed Bush’s Iraq adventure, while Gaddis sounded like Dick Cheney on steroids during this period. Cautioning Democrats not to take issue with intellectual currents underlying Bush’s foreign policy, Gaddis argued: “The world now must be made safe for democracy, and this is no longer just an idealistic issue; it’s an issue of our own safety,” later adding, “A global commitment to remove remaining tyrants could complete a process Americans began 232 years ago.”

The result, sadly, is a biography, George F. Kennan: An American Life, in which the author not only sides emotionally and intellectually with his subject’s adversaries but, in many instances, does not even try to do justice to his subject’s arguments.

It must be significant that Kennan agreed to Gaddis as his biographer before Gaddis wrote The Long Peace – before that, I suppose it was not clear how different were their respective directions.

In June of 1945, Nicholas Kaldor had a talk with John Maynard Keynes about the war. Assigned to the US Strategic Bombing Survey, Kaldor briefed Keynes on their findings.

He said that at no time had our bombing seriously interfered with German manufacture…. There was in fact a gigantic increase in output between 1942 and 1944. The really serious effects of bombing were confined, first of all to oil, where our previous optimistic conclusions were confirmed, but, above all, in the destruction of the German railway system from the time when we tackled that seriously. That had been devastating in its military consequences.

On the bright side, Kaldor said, this meant that reconstruction might be relatively simple: “the great bulk of German industry, if labour and raw materials and power were available, could be started up at full capacity again within a very short time.”

As for direct benefits to Britain, he told Keynes, “the most serviceable form of reparations we could get, he thought, would be to take over Speer and his staff and ask them to rationalise British industry.” Turning to more serious matters, Kaldor said Speer’s staffers believed Germany had lost because they had not fully mobilized for war. Women had not gone wholesale to work, “no doubt as a result of their ideology about the place of women in the home.”

Keynes reflected, “It is because we feared we might be beaten that we won, and it is because they were sure that they had won that they were beaten.”

Repurposing a comment I made in this thread, I thought I would run a chart of American military fatalities in Afghanistan. I use American military fatalities “as a quick and dirty way to tell how things are going in a US counterinsurgency effort, figuring that killing an American soldier is always a valuable achievement for an insurgent, that American soldiers (especially in the respective surges) are in harm’s way, that killing one requires mobilizing a certain amount of effort on an insurgency’s part, and that (perhaps most importantly) the Pentagon can’t really fudge the number of deaths (they can with wounded; the definition of “wounded” changed in the middle of the Iraq War to, shock! surprise!, reduce the numbers). It’s not perfect (not nearly so), but it worked pretty well for me looking at Iraq in 2008 and 2009.” Note that this is not a statement about the morality or utility of the war, but simply an attempt at measuring the military effectiveness of the American effort there.

In Afghanistan, the two periods to look at are summer and winter. Summer has the highest number of fatalities and winter the lowest. In both seasons, American fatalities began surging in 2009, peaked in 2010, and started downward in 2011.

Afghanfatalities

That suggests to me that, like Iraq, the American effort is knocking the insurgency down, if slowly.

[UPDATE, 3:00 PM: Having written and scheduled this post on Friday, it turns out to be ill-timed, given the horrific slaughter of Afghan women and children by an American soldier over the weekend.]

It troubled me when President Obama scoldingly said, “We’re putting colleges on notice: you can’t assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year”. The UC has raised tuition, but it hasn’t been on its own initiative; it’s been because the state has cut funding to higher education.

Now Robert Frank riffs on Obama’s comment, attributing rising tuition to rising faculty salaries.

To recruit professors, universities must pay salaries roughly in line with those made possible by productivity growth in other sectors. So while rising salaries needn’t lead to higher prices in many industries, they do in academia and many other service industries.

As they say about the International Jewish-Zionist Monetary Conspiracy, if there is one I want my share.1 I don’t think rising faculty salaries are the primary cause of increasing tuition costs.

Frank’s colleague Ronald Ehrenberg has been more eclectic – and I think more persuasive – in attributing the rise of tuition costs.

These include the aspirations of academic institutions; our “winner-take-all” society; the shared system of governance that exists in academic institutions; recent federal government policies; the role of external actors such as alumni, local government, the environmental movement, and historic preservationists; periodicals that rank academic institutions; and how universities are organized for budgetary purposes and how they select and reward their deans.

Or consider this report:

  • The main reason tuition has been rising faster than college costs is that colleges had to make up for reductions in the per-student subsidy state taxpayers sent colleges. In 2006, the last year for which Wellman had data, state taxpayers sent $7,078 per student to the big public research universities. That’s $1,270 less (after accounting for inflation) than they sent in 2002.
  • Public universities have been reining in overall spending per student in recent years. Flagship public universities’ spending per student has risen from about $12,400 in 1995 to $13,800 in 2006 after accounting for inflation. But since 2002, spending at public colleges has generally not exceeded inflation.
  • Increases in spending were driven mostly by higher administration, maintenance, and student services costs. Public universities spent almost $4,000 per student per year on administration, support, and maintenance in 2006, up more than 13 percent, in real terms over 1995. And they spent another $1,200 a year on services such as counseling, which was up 23 percent. Meanwhile, they spent about $8,700 a year on classroom instruction for each student, up about 9 percent.
  • Big private universities, powered by tuition and endowment increases, have increased spending dramatically while public schools have languished. Total educational spending per student at private research universities has jumped by almost 10 percent since 2002 to more than $33,000. During that same period, public university total spending was comparatively flat and totaled less than $14,000 a year.

I wonder what Mark Thoma himself thinks.


1Or half-share, if you insist.

Everybody knows Casablanca is a great work of art (and a great work of art generated by a Cornellian, at that). Everybody knows, too, that Casablanca was embedded in a particular historical moment, too – it served to vindicate the recent, necessarily wrenching American volte-face1 on the subject of Europeans and their war.

History also bled through to the screen in the movie’s best scene – the singing of the “Marseillaise”:

Casablanca was shot in 1941 during the German occupation of France, at a point where many questioned whether or not the United States would ever step in to help, [UPDATED: Not true. Though the play was written before US involvement.] when nobody knew how the whole thing was going to turn out.

And the scene included actors who, in real life, had a lot at stake. To shoot Casablanca as a believable port town, producers brought together one of the most ethnically diverse casts in film history, and a lot of these extras turned out to be Europeans who had fled to America to escape the Nazis — that is, they were basically real-life refugees. They had left homes, friends and families behind, and at this point really didn’t know if things could ever return to normal. Which makes us wonder if the director didn’t stage the whole war just to get that scene.

It’s the scene that makes Laszlo believable as a resistance leader: in front of the singing Nazis he orders the band, “Play the ‘Marseillaise’. Play it.” It’s the scene that justifies Rick’s decision at the end, which is based in part on self-knowledge – when Rick snaps “Play it,” it’s so he can wallow in nostalgia; when Laszlo snaps “Play it,” it’s so people will kill Nazis.

Casablanca: one of those rare things that’s really as good as everyone says it is.


1If I can’t use French in a post about Casablanca when can I?

Arrived in the mail today:

Photo

Peter Novick, author of That Noble Dream and The Holocaust in American Life among other works, has died at the age of 77.

I believe he was a great historian, and one who, in print, introduced me to the profession. For the last three years I have annually assigned and re-read That Noble Dream with pleasure and profit. I am sure I will enjoy it and learn from it again, but I will miss the sense that he’s still out there, somewhere.

Cvn 80 02
USS Bubba?

Current American aircraft carriers are named for United States Presidents, living and dead, or political and naval leaders of some importance. In the former category, we have the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the USS Ronald Reagan (named when Reagan was still alive), the USS Harry S Truman, and others. In the latter, we have the USS Nimitz (named for the most important American admiral of WWII), the USS John C. Stennis (a Senator critical to the Navy over several decades), and the USS Carl Vinson (a Congressman of similar ilk).

They’re running out of recent Presidents to name them, though. The lead ship (CVN-78) of the new carrier class (successors to the Nimitz class) was named the USS Gerald R. Ford. Ford had naval connections, but not a particularly successful Presidency. The next ship in that class (CVN-79) has been named the USS John F. Kennedy, a quick reuse of that name as the previous Kennedy was retired in 2007. The next ship remains unnamed. There is some pressure to name it the Enterprise, a name with a long and storied history in the American navy. But if not that, then the Navy would likely have to return to the list of Presidents. They’ve cherry-picked the great ones–there’s a Roosevelt (thought not an FDR), there’s a Washington, and there’s a Lincoln–so going to the distant past would be somewhat difficult. USS Martin van Buren, anyone?

I didn’t think so.

There are recent Presidents without carriers named after them, however. Lyndon Baines Johnson has no carrier, nor does Jimmy Carter (he does have a submarine named after him, perhaps appropriate for him since he served on submarines), nor does Bill Clinton, or Richard Nixon. I note that these are all (but Nixon) Democrats. I also note that both Johnson and Clinton were two-term Presidents, that Carter was a naval officer, and that Johnson was a member of the Naval reserve with a Silver Star to his name (albeit, oddly, an Army Silver Star). Clinton had a somewhat difficult relationship with the military, both before and during his Presidency. Johnson has Vietnam, and the Gulf of Tonkin. Nixon has his disgrace. Carter was not a great President.

None of those are particularly disqualifying. Ford was not a good President, and he has an entire class named after him. George H.W. Bush served a single term and, with the exception of the Gulf War, had few notable successes (*not* being Ronald Reagan could be counted as a success for many, I think). So the question becomes: what will CVN-80 be? The USS Lyndon Baines Johnson? The USS William Jefferson Clinton? The USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23) will still be active, so it can’t be that. I personally think it should be Johnson, but the USS William Jefferson Clinton would cause right-wing heads everywhere to explode with massive force, which has its own appeal.

Current Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has shown a willingness to give ships names that break from the expected (the USS Gabrielle Giffords and the USNS Cesar Chavez for example) and so perhaps he will step up.

The general line on the Bretton Woods system is that it originated as a result of the American desire to protect the massive gold holdings the US accumulated during the 1930s, or that it was supposed to prevent the competitive devaluations of the 1930s, or that it was the product of the war.1

Still, it looks like the basic idea actually emerged from the US going off gold in 1933 and an attempt to figure out what it should do next. In 1934, Harry Dexter White noted you could derive benefits from a fixed exchange rate (easier trade) and from a flexible exchange rate (without having to worry about the exchange rate, you’d be free to use monetary policy to fight off a downturn).

But, White said,

There remains a further possibility in monetary standards. The independence of action with regard to domestic monetary policy may be combined with the maintenance of exchanges that do not fluctuate for long periods of time, perhaps not for several years.

This sounds to me like what became known as the adjustable peg: you derive some of the benefits of fixed exchanges (that’s the peg part) while holding out the possibility of changing the exchange rate in time of need (that’s the adjustable part).

(Having written this post I find James Boughton touched on the same idea on pp. 7-8, here.)


1Of course it is possible there were no competitive devaluations in the 1930s.

Shasta Dam under construction, photographed in color by the FSA/OWI. The New Deal documented its accomplishments beautifully. And now the Library of Congress has them in an outstanding Flickr collection.

The New Deal also beautifully documented the American people; here’s a photograph of African American workers at a Florida “juke joint”.

If you’ve ever wondered to yourself why I don’t edit, say, the Keynesian section on the New Deal on Wikipedia, you might want to look into the now much-covered story of Timothy Messer-Kruse’s valiant effort to get Haymarket treated properly. (We have previously drawn on Messer-Kruse’s excellent work here.)

To be clear, this is, if not quite laziness on my part, then simply a prioritizing of time and energy. I believe in what Messer-Kruse is doing and I wish him greatest success.

is up at Cliopatria. Enjoy the best of reader-nominated military history from around the web.

I was playing around with the data at USGovernmentSpending.com and decided to share:

Usgs line 1 php

We are still living in the aftermath of World War II.

David Frum speaks of the recently dead Andrew Breitbart.

But to speak only “good” of Andrew Breitbart would be to miss the story and indeed to misunderstand the man…. The attack was everything, the details nothing. This indifference to detail suffused all of Breitbart’s work, and may indeed be his most important and lasting legacy. Breitbart sometimes got stories right (Anthony Weiner). More often he got them wrong (Sherrod). He did not much care either way. Just as all is fair in a shooting war, so manipulation and deception are legitimate tools in a culture war. Breitbart used those tools without qualm or regret, and he inspired a cohort of young conservative journalists to do likewise…. And this is where it becomes difficult to honor the Roman injunction to speak no ill of the dead. It’s difficult for me to assess Breitbart’s impact upon American media and American politics as anything other than poisonous.

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