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You really are utterly worthless. Your latest outrage, in a long parade of horrors, agreeing to vote for Judge Mukasey, is the final straw for me. Are you so frightened of the president’s sub-30% approval rating that you can’t even muster the guts to stand with the decent people of the world against torture? Seriously, what in God’s name is wrong with you?

Actually, come to think of it, you’re far worse than worthless, as your seat, should you choose to do the honorable thing and give it up, would almost certainly be taken by another Democrat. And, unless Joe Lieberman wants to uproot Hadassah and the kids for a long move out to Orange County — where, in fairness, they’d just love to have him — I can’t think of a Democrat more craven than you. So there’s nothing but upgrades out there. Also, think of the money some loonbag Republican would waste trying to win your seat. Daryl Issa would probably throw gazzilions of dollars at the race. And that would be theater.

So what’s your excuse? I understand why the Ben Nelsons and Evan Bayhs of the world suck. You, though, don’t have to answer to the people of Nebraska or Indiana. Which leaves principle. You must actually believe that having Attorney General Mukasey, a man who can’t tell whether or not waterboarding is illegal, is the preferable choice. I have bad news for you: not only are you wrong, but you’ve just sold your soul. Enjoy the pottage.

Update: It goes without saying that open letters are a bit cliché. But, Senator Feinstein, you’re so horrid, so truly obejctionable, that you’re worth the embarrassment.

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From Stephen Fry, The Hippopotamus (New York: Random House, 1994), 189.

One afternoon, during his officer training in Wiltshire, Michael read a short story by Somerset Maugham which gave him the idea he had been looking for. It concerned a young man who found himself in need of a packet of cigarettes in a Midland town one afternoon. He walked along the streets searching for a tobacconist: the better part of a mile he walked before he found one. Instead of going on his way and thinking no more about it, as an ordinary person might, this young man retraced his steps to the place where he had first stood. “I shall open a tobacconist’s here,” he said to himself, “there is clearly a need.” His shop was a magnificent success. “How childishly simple,” thought the young man. For the next twenty years he travelled Britain walking the streets looking for cigarettes. Whenever he had to walk far, there he would open another shop. He was a millionaire by the age of thirty-five.

“Well, Tedward,” said Michael to his friend Wallace. “God bless Mr. Maugham.”

“Don’t you think,” said Wallace, “that others might have tried it first?”

“What you have to understand, Tedward, is that ‘others’ don’t try anything. They leave it to people like us.”

This is of course the difference between the entrepreneur and the economist. You know, the economist who walks by the fifty-dollar bill on the pavement. “Why didn’t you pick it up?” the friend asks. “If there was a fifty-dollar bill on the pavement, someone would have picked it up by now.”

Much as certain persons want us to think more like economists, we shouldn’t, as researchers. We should think more like entrepreneurs. God I hate myself for writing that. But it’s true.

Graduate students live in fear someone will scoop them — has scooped them. They haven’t. Trust me. They say, but what if in some corner of some library lies an unpublished seventy-two page monograph from the nineteenth century…. No. Look, this is like saying, what if one block over the chap might have found a tobacconist? But he’s a reasonable man, so we can assume a reasonable man wouldn’t have looked one block over. The tobacconist you can’t, after due diligence, find, is a tobacconist you can, by opening a more readily findable storefront, drive out of business. Same goes for research. Really. Just do it. Someone else hasn’t.

The story, by the way, is “The Verger,” originally known as “The Man Who Made His Mark,” (much better title given the story) and Maugham claimed it was aboriginally a well-known bit of Jewish folklore. (p. 478, Folktales of the Jews.)

Lots of dumb stuff about best blog post ever (which, honestly, I generally concur in the choices, especially the Davies Bush Initiative Test and the Editors’ Poker with Dick Cheney) made me want to bookmark this, especially for the concluding exchange.

Tyrone: (shrugs) Probably right, then. Speaking of Obama, I need to get t-shirts printed up to sell.

John: I can do that on the web. What do they say?

Tyrone: Don’t You Dare Kill Obama

John: How about Don’t You Dare Kill Obama (… and we know you’re thinking about it)

Tyrone: Niiiiice.

John: Or You Kill Obama and WE WILL BURN SHIT DOWN

Tyrone: Even better. Nobody wants their shit burned down.

John: Glad to help.

Tyrone: I’m having you taken off the list for when the revolution comes.

John: … there’s really a list —

Tyrone: Oh yeah. Hell yeah.

We are all toffs now. Evidently. Sterling Fluharty, of PhDinHistory (link here, but I’m not going to link it until we decide we’re linking and attracting attention: http://phdinhistory.blogspot.com/2007/09/recent-patterns-of-elitism-in-history.html) points out a drop in the percentage of tenured faculty in History whose fathers had no college degrees, and a corresponding rise in those whose fathers had advanced degrees. According to these data, History alone plummeted, from having about 67% tenured faculty whose fathers had no college degree, to having maybe 47%. Poli Sci, Philosophy, Psychology also dropped. Economics rose. He notes also an AHA report showing that History PhD’s had better educated parents than most folks do.

What’s going on? Are we (or those who hired us) all suddenly snobs? Are the data busted? Is there some generational shift particular to History (i.e., a pioneering generation finally retiring or dying)? Was there some dive in grad. student funding for History alone, thus making sure we could only train better-off students?

Just for fun, here’s a table showing parental occupations of college students in the 1920s, from Mary Jean Bowman, “The Land-Grant Colleges and Universities in Human-Resource Development,” The Journal of Economic History 22, no. 4 (December 1962), p. 545:

State Universities Private Men’s Colleges Private Women’s Colleges
Men Women
Professional 12 17 22 27
Proprietors 22 26 33 37
Agricultural 31 21 15 14
Other White Collar 20 19 17 19
Service Industries and Manual 13 15 11 1
Unclassified 2 2 2 2

What’s my point? Really, that I wanted to practice html tables. Well, also that higher education used broadly to be a pretty elitist enterprise. If it is becoming so again, it’s probably because the Great Compression is over, probably for policy reasons like those Paul Krugman emphasizes, and we’re a more nearly Gilded-Agey kind of society than we were a few decades ago.

If it’s becoming so specifically in History, though, I confess that’s slightly flummoxing. Is it because History has no evident utility to the average entrant, so it looks like a more aristocratic pursuit? What do the numbers look like for English?

I’ve occasionally considered some day writing a book about books. Specifically a book about books that have been responsible for social change. Or at least a book about books that are popularly perceived as being responsible for social change: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, How the Other Half Lives, The Jungle, Silent Spring, and others.

The real idea of my book would be somehow to pull apart causal chains and figure out if books actually have been responsible for changing the world. I mean, I know that the authors of all of the above weren’t actually saying anything new; they were just repackaging other people’s ideas neatly, in a way that readers could consume them. But did the books matter anyway? Did Stowe help start the Civil War? Was Riis responsible for more humane building codes? Do I eat less rat because of Sinclair? And am I awoken every morning by that scrub jay outside my window because of Rachel Carson? Damn you and your scrub jays, Rachel Carson. Really, though, what I’m after is: how would we be able to separate causation and correlation in the case of something like a book? How are ideas transmitted? And how can we tell when they begin to have an impact?

This post reminded me of this long-simmering idea of mine. I loved The Clash when I was a kid, just leaving grade school and making the painful jump into junior high. And I was sure that their music would change the world. But it didn’t. And speaking more broadly, I’m not sure that I can think of an instance where we (speaking royally) believe that a song, or music more broadly, has affected social change. It seems that we view music as a mirror of events while we ascribe to books motive power. Why? Are we right? Or am I missing something? And what about movies?





Originally uploaded by earauchway

Yes, I ripped off The New Yorker. Happy Halloween.

Also, for some reason this is running over Ari’s post below.

Unless I add some text.

So here’s some text.

And a little bit more. You know, this started off as a one-off visual joke, and now it’s become an entirely annoying shaggy-dog post. Stupid API’s.

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