You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2008.

Sometime commenter and (as Henry Farrell says) one of the Internetses’ smartest guys Cosma Shalizi has kindly listed my Blessed Among Nations on his list of “Books To Read While the Algae Grows in Your Fur” (also known, perhaps less slothishly, as “Books I’ve read in the last month or so and feel I can recommend”). So I think it’s only fair to respond to his query, which is so astute that only my colleague Kathy Olmsted has previously raised it. To wit:

Rauchway seems to find it unproblematic that a certain set of institutions should form Back In The Day, when they fit conditions … and then tend to survive later, when they did not fit so well. But I would like some explanation of why adaptive processes had an easier time working in the earlier period, as opposed to the later one.

Here is what I think I think, if I understand the question correctly:

In the earlier period the US was subject to evolutionary pressures in its environment that encouraged it to develop certain policies (those having to do with controlling and directing immigration and capital investment) but not others (those laying the foundation for a modern welfare state).

At around 1920, that environment ceased to exist, and so did those evolutionary pressures. But they were not replaced by an immediately imperative new set of pressures, because in this new environment the US was not only, if you like, top predator, but top predator in a damaged ecosystem (if I remember my Alfred Crosby-esque arguments correctly).

So under these circumstances it did indeed keep its old habits, and there was no immediate direct pressure to change them. But the old habits did not make the US a particularly good steward of this environment, nor entail a restoration of its previous vigor. Instead they caused a progressive deterioration of the environment of the 1920s, and then a precipitous and disastrous collapse beginning in 1929.

Those of you wishing extra credit can flesh out the climate-change analogy on your own time.

I would go further: the new, much more direct evolutionary pressures of the 1930s did indeed work on the US just as one would imagine they should, and encouraged changes in American institutions accordingly. But if we want to talk about that, we need to talk about a different book.

The other day, a student gave me a copy of one of Bukowski’s posthumously published diaries, The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship. It’s a real pick-me-up, as you’d expect.  For some reason, though, I can’t read the entries without hearing John McCain’s voice. Here’s an excerpt from the entry written on this date in 1991.

I’m not good company, talking is not my idea of anything at all. I don’t want to exchange ideas — or souls. I’m just a block of stone unto myself. I want to stay within that block, unmolested. It was that way from the beginning . . . .I think that people who keep notebooks and jot down their thoughts are jerk-offs. I am only doing this because somebody suggested I do it, so you see, I’m not even an original jerk-off. But this somehow makes it easier. I just let it roll. Like a hot turd down a hill.

Can you hear the McCain?  Maybe it’s just me.  And maybe it would be funnier in Sarah Palin’s voice.  I dunno.  It’s been a weird fucking week.

As dana noted earlier this week, I wrote a comment at Cogitamus wondering:

I’m not sure why nobody’s writing about how the Clintons have been, at best, neutral parties in this campaign. Their proxies and surrogates keep saying crappy things about Obama, and Senator and President Clinton haven’t been that much better. Yes, they were both great at the convention, where, had they been less than great, it would have hurt them personally. But since then, my sense is that they’ve done next to nothing useful for the Obama campaign and lots that has been, as I said above, somewhere on the spectrum between neutral and counterproductive.

The Clintons’ commitment, or lack thereof, to the Obama campaign wasn’t really the point of dana’s post. And the comment thread on that post ended up going in several screwy directions as people, including me, mashed up a number of different ideas. Given that, I’d like to revisit the issue laid out in my comment above.

First, in the wake of President Clinton’s and Chris Rock’s appearance on Letterman, and now that Pres. Clinton has followed up that performance by suggesting that we should all take at face value Sen. McCain’s claim that he’s suspending his campaign for patriotic reasons, people are writing about this issue (here, here, here, and here). Second, I now agree with Scott Lemieux that Sen. Clinton has, on balance, been much more supportive of Sen. Obama than has Pres. Clinton. I’m not sure the difference is as clear as Lemieux suggests. But certainly my statement above cast the two Clintons as walking in lockstep. And that was a mistake on my part.

Moving on to third — this is getting to be a long list; sorry — because they’ve spent most of their adult lives trying to win elections, it’s unsurprising to me that the Clintons, who, you might recall, lost a pretty rough primary to Sen. Obama, would have a hard time sublimating their hunger for victory to the needs of the Obama campaign. Fourth, I have no idea if Sen. Clinton plans to run again in 2012 if John McCain wins this election. Despite what you may have heard, I’m not a member of the Clintons’ inner circle. Fifth and finally, I stand by my statement that Pres. Clinton especially, and, in some instances, Sen. Clinton as well, are conflicted about Sen. Obama’s candidacy, and that Pres. Clinton is doing everything he can to have it both ways: appearing to work for Obama while subtly undermining him.

We are pleased and privileged to welcome back David Silbey, who has suspended his campaign so he can provide us a truly outstanding This Day in History. Many, many thanks, David.

On this day in 1918, the United States launched an attack against the German trenches in the Meuse-Argonne region of northern France. It was the largest American effort since the Civil War; in absolute numbers it was the largest operation the United States had ever undertaken.

That which traditionally does not survive contact with the enemy.


For all that, it was a sideshow to the larger war. After the stagnation of 1916-1917, 1918 had become the year of resolution. The Germans, fresh from their victory over the Russians, had transported hundreds of thousands of soldiers back from the eastern front to the western. They knew that they had a limited amount of time to take advantage of the numbers, before millions of freshly-trained American soldiers arrived in France in late 1918 and 1919. General Erich von Ludendorff, the German Supreme Commander, threw the dice with a series of massive offensives starting in March. For a moment, the Germans broke through and the war looked like it might end before the Americans could make a difference. The crisis was serious enough that the American commander, General John J. Pershing, unbent from his insistence that American units would fight only as part of an American army under an American commander, and began sending divisions piecemeal to shore up the French and British lines. The American reinforcements, resolute defense by the French and British troops, and general exhaustion on the German side enabled the Entente to hold its lines. By late May 1918, the Supreme Entente commander, General Ferdinand Foch, was thinking about large-scale counterattacks.

Marshal Foch.

Foch envisioned a series of hammer-blows all along the German lines. His hammers were to be the British Expeditionary Force and the French Army, strengthened by further injections of fresh American troops. General Pershing flatly refused. The emergency was over, he argued, and in any counterattack, American troops would fight as a single army, responsible to an American commander, not a foreign one. President Woodrow Wilson, Pershing’s commander, had been insistent that “the forces of the United States are a separate and distinct component of the combined forces, the identity of which must be preserved.” Pershing aimed to carry that order out to the letter. Foch fumed and argued but he had no leverage. America had come into war not as an ally, but as an “associated power,” fighting against the Germans, but not necessarily for the British or French. That meant that Foch could not order Pershing to do anything; he could only ask. At a meeting, Foch demanded to know whether Pershing was willing to see the defenders pushed back to the River Loire, south of Paris itself. Pershing responded that he did not care where the Americans fought, only that they fought as a unit.

All together now! except you fellows, you go over there with the French.


To this rule, he made only one exception. The 369th (Colored) Regiment would fight with the French. The “Harlem Hellfighters,” as they came to be known, fit uneasily in a largely racist Army uncomfortable with the notion of blacks as combat soldiers. The 369th had not been allowed to participate with New York’s 42nd National Guard Division, the “Rainbow” Division, because, it was explained to the 369th’s commander, “black is not a color in the rainbow.” In France, Pershing felt that the 369th could be dumped on the French, with their experience commanding “colonial” troops.

General Haig. Not pictured: phlegmatism.

Foch’s misgivings about this were not merely related to the difficulties it created in planning. He was also concerned that the Americans had little experience of trench warfare and would thus find fighting on the Western Front hard going. Foch needed the Americans to carry their weight, and he wasn’t sure that they could. The airy pronouncements from American officers that they would break out of the stagnant trench warfare that the Europeans had allowed themselves to be mired in and return to a more chivalric “open warfare” reassured Foch not all. It sounded identical to the assertions of French officers in the pre-war era. The French had discovered in 1914-15 that assertions, like men, died easily in the mud and blood of the Western Front. Machine guns respected no-one’s chivalry. The British and French had painfully learned, over the course of three years, how to mount effective assaults against heavily-defended trench systems. But to Pershing, trench warfare simply reflected Old World incompetence. The strapping sons of the New World had arrived, and they would show the Europeans how to do it. Pershing was wont to make such pronouncements in staff meetings with Foch and General Douglas Haig, the BEF commander. It remains a mystery that one or both of them did not punch him squarely in the mouth as a result, but that can perhaps be laid to Haig’s dour Scottish phlegmatism and Foch’s sense that France, wearied by the slaughter of millions of her young men, needed the Americans more than the Americans needed the French.

General Pershing.

Pershing got his way. The Americans would fight as a single army, though the units that had been sent as reinforcements during the German spring offensive would stay with the French and British. Foch rewrote the plan to put the Americans far out on the right of the British and French lines. Their job would be to reduce two salients, bulges in the defensive line, to ensure that the main French assault would not have Germans on its flanks. The first of these, the St. Mihiel salient, would be attacked on September 12th. After reducing this, the Americans would immediately turn to an attack in the Meuse-Argonne, about 20 miles to the east. There, as part of a larger assault, the Americans would cover the flank of the main French assault. The second attack would be much larger, initially comprising about 240,000 American soldiers, essentially the entire AEF. The attack was scheduled to start with an artillery bombardment at 11:30 PM September 25th. The next morning, the American infantry would go “over the top” and into the assault.

to be continued….

I would appreciate it if everyone would hate on:

  1. Mr. Bady for sharing this.
  2. Mr. Manuel and Mr. McCain for making it possible.

Just watch. And always remember: never cross David Letterman.

I haven’t blogged about Gov. Palin in some time. But the news that the McCain camp is hoping to postpone indefinitely the vice presidential debate piqued my interest in tonight’s Katie Couric interview with Palin. I’m not sure what to say about this video. You really have to watch yourself to appreciate how Palin cooks up a stew of talking points peppered with a Dadaist rejection of reality.

Is that what this is about? I ask because our good friends at postbourgie point out that not only would John McCain like an extension, history be damned, on this Friday’s debate, but he’s hoping to shift that tilt into the slot that was previously reserved for the vice presidential debate, which, as CNN reports, “would be rescheduled for a date yet to be determined.” As G.D. says, “GTFOHWTBS.”

So here’s my question: how does this end? Public polling suggests the electorate isn’t impressed with this latest bit of mavericky performance art; David Letterman will be mocking McCain tonight for his inability to walk and chew gum at the same time; Harry Reid has already asked the candidates to keep clear of Washington, lest politics sully the otherwise pristine process of crafting bailout legislation. But wait, there’s good news for McCain: Newt Gingrich says his decision to forgo debating Obama is “the greatest single act of responsibility ever taken by a presidential candidate”. And Newt Gingrich knows about responsibility! Kidding aside, what’s McCain’s next move? Is Barack Obama going to debate an empty chair on Friday?

from: [Sent On Behalf Of American Public]

subject: extension?

Dear John,

While I sympathize with the demands of balancing both legislative and campaign issues, I cannot, in accord with historical policy, grant your request for an extension on the debate. Dean’s excuses can only be granted in the cases of health or personal emergencies, and would need to be submitted to me in writing.  A physician’s note is also acceptable.

Dana McCourt

On Tuesday, September 23, 2008 at 12:00pm, John McCain wrote:

sorry to bother you and i know this request is late but i have been really busy and i want to call an emergency meeting with the president and understanding all the material is taking up a lot of my time so i find myself woefully underprepared and i am throwing myself on your mercy. can i get an extension over the weekend on the debate so i can present my best work to you? or should i get a dean’s excuse?



Today is September 24. On this day in 1864, Abraham Lincoln presided over a country at war with itself and a party split to its roots over the question of how to plan for the nation’s reconstruction—to such an extent that on this day, Lincoln reluctantly accepted the resignation of Montgomery Blair, his Postmaster General and a valued advisor, owing to disputes over plans for Reconstruction.

Yet the campaign for the presidency was “now being prosecuted with the utmost vigor,” as one could read in the New York Times.

On this day in 1932, with the nation mired in the Great Depression, you could read Will Rogers in the New York Times saying “This is a year that will bring out lots of votes, for the voter has nothing to do but vote; his 1932 employment consists entirely of voting.” Managing the economic crisis was assuredly a full time job.

Yet Herbert Hoover prepared to give a large speech in Iowa and Franklin Roosevelt had just given what became a famous address to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco.

On this day in 1944, the US prepared one of the most ambitious postwar occupations in history for Germany, while American forces in the Pacific prepared an assault on the Philippines on the way to Japan.

Yet President Roosevelt had just officially launched his campaign for a fourth term, while Thomas Dewey took his turn speaking in San Francisco, challenging Roosevelt’s supremacy.

All these examples suggest the contest for the presidency has been an indispensable part of American democracy, enduring even in the greatest of crises. But somehow, on this day in 2008, John McCain announced the suspension of his campaign for the presidency and asked for an extension in preparing for this week’s presidential debate.

UPDATED to add: Bob Mackey adds 1940, and also “man up”.

UPDATED AGAIN to add: G.D. has an initialism that has to be seen to be appreciated.

According to Wiki, the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) arrived in Medina on this day (on the Western calendar) in 622 CE, completing the Hijra, or “withdrawal,” from Mecca, the city in which he lived when first receiving the revelations of the Qur’an, to Medina (then called Yathrib), the city in which he sought shelter from persecution at the hands of the established powers in Mecca. This event is used to mark Year 1 in the Islamic calendar as it marks the beginning of a unified Muslim political community.

Of course the Hijra is usually celebrated by the Islamic calendar– on the 8th day of Rabi’ al-awwal, the third month of the year. Since the Islamic calendar is about 11 days shorter than the Western calendar, dates on the Islamic calendar will move throughout the seasons and through the Western calendar.

This difference leads to much hilarity, as the dates of important Islamic events (the start of Ramadan, Eid-al-fitr, etc.) change from (Western) year to year– so, for example, your college might just cut and paste old Ramadan dates onto its new calendar, thus getting the dates wrong, or it might schedule an Islamic Studies lecture on Eid. Hypothetically.

(The other hilarity-generating feature of the Hijra calendar is that it’s lunar, and some old-school types insist on having moon sightings determine the start and end of months, while other people think we should just calculate. So there’s always disagreement about just when Ramadan starts, when the holidays are, and so on. As if Christmas might be the 25th, might be the 26th, won’t know until it’s here. The Ummah Films guy has a funny riff about this in his Ramadan video at about 1:00– these arguments really do get kind of heated.)

Title and video via McLemee:

This starts out a bit gimmicky, but it’s very, very strong stuff.

[Update: I should have noted that Kaptur is the Representative for Ohio’s Ninth Congressional District, which includes Toledo and Oberlin. She has been in Congress since I was in high school in Northeast Ohio (though not in her district). She grew up working class, was the first person in her family to attend college (UW-Madison — Go Badgers!), and then went on to study urban planning at Michigan and MIT. She’s something of a local legend for her opposition to NAFTA. Why I assumed that everyone would know all that is beyond me.]

Reader and occasional commenter ac sends along the following information for those of you in the New York area who want to help out the Obama campaign:

NY Friends of Labor, a group of labor lawyers, is sponsoring a fundraiser for Senator Obama on October 6 between 6 and 8 pm. Caroline Kennedy is going to be a speaker at the event, along with Jon Hiatt of the AFL-CIO. The event will be held at 330 West 42nd Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues). The minimum donation is $100, requested donation is $250. Or you could be a sponsor for $500.

R.S.V.P. to (indicating the amount of your donation).

One other thing I probably should tell you, because if I don’t they will probably be saying this about me, too. We did get something, a gift, after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog, and, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore, saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was? It was a little cocker spaniel dog, in a crate that he had sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted, and our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it.

On this day in 1952, Richard Nixon gave the Checkers speech , a landmark in the history of television and politics.  Talking conversationally to the largest audience ever for a political speech, in the style that came to be called Nixonian, he defended himself from charges of corruption by attacking his critics.  In the process, he deftly transformed accusations of bribery into an attempt by nasty liberals to take away his children’s favorite pet.

Nixon saw the speech as a chance to save his spot on the Republican ticket that year.  After General Eisenhower picked the California senator as his running mate, the New York Post ran a story charging that Nixon supplemented his salary with a secret slush fund backed by wealthy businessmen:  SECRET RICH MEN’S TRUST FUND KEEPS NIXON IN STYLE FAR BEYOND HIS SALARY.  The fund was not illegal at the time, but later stories suggested that Senator Nixon might have done legislative favors for the men who contributed to the fund.  Nixon decided to present his side of the story on national television. Fifty-eight million people tuned in to watch.

To liberals, the speech was smarmy, unconvincing, condescending, and downright laughable at times.  There was the awkward reference to his wife’s clothes (“Pat doesn’t have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat, and I always tell her she would look good in anything”).  There was Pat herself, perched uncomfortably on a chair next to her husband, looking like she really wished she’d married her other boyfriend.  There was the false humility  (“I went to the South Pacific. I guess I’m entitled to a couple of battle stars. I got a couple of letters of commendation. But I was just there when the bombs were falling”).  And there was that corny part about the dog.

But, as David Greenberg has pointed out, conservatives heard and remembered the speech in a different way.  To them, Nixon was not Uriah Heep but Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith in Washington, a man of the people attacked by snooty liberals because he didn’t belong to their club.  Murray Chotiner, Nixon’s chief strategist from his earliest, nastiest, red-baiting campaigns, was thrilled by the speech.  “Never defend; always attack” was Chotiner’s motto, and Nixon followed his advice with enthusiasm.  After recounting his finances, Nixon went on the offensive.  His enemies would never forgive him for putting Alger Hiss in prison, so they invented these “smears” with one purpose: “to silence me, to make me let up.”  But Dick Nixon was “not a quitter.”  He planned to “campaign up and down America until we drive the crooks and the Communists and those that defend them out of Washington.”  He endured these slings and arrows for one reason: “Because, you see, I love my country. And I think my country is in danger.”  The Democrats weren’t just his enemies; they were the nation’s enemies.

Nixon would have the opportunity to insist “I have never been a quitter” again, in August 1974 as he announced that he was quitting.  The revelation of Tricky Dick’s crimes finally forced him from office, but the politics of division – of “positive polarization,” as Nixon liked to call it – continues to warp our politics today.  As Rick Perlstein says, we live in Nixonland.

Laura Conaway at Planet Money asks, “So how big is $700 billion, anyway?” And Brad Setser tells her, it’s five percent of GDP; it’s “real money.”

Good, but maybe we can do better: remember the terrible horrible no-good very bad New Deal, which was, like, socialist and all that? All federal non-defense spending during the New Deal was only a few percentage points of GDP bigger than just the bailout.

And remember—that $700 billion isn’t total payout, it’s how big the balance can be at any time. Theoretically, the total bailout could be even bigger.

UPDATED to add, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which was the Bank Bailer-Outer of the New Deal, had something like $2 billion to work with; $500 million appropriated and license to borrow $1.5 billion. $2 billion was about 3.5% of GDP in 1932.

UPDATED AGAIN to add, per Jonathan’s question, that federal nondefense spending has for the past four years or so been around 16% of GDP.

In my travels this summer, I read these two books, and meant to write about them much earlier. Then Sibyl Vane over at BitchPhD wrote this excellent post, and I meant to link and write about it. And now there’s a NY Times article on the joys and health benefits of home-cooked food.

So I’ve gotten around to… well, this isn’t a review of the books. Nor is it really a criticism, for I don’t disagree with most of what the books have to say.

It’s a criticism about the scope of the books, which consider the problems of modern American eating from the monoculture of industrial agriculture to the medicalization of nutrition, from processed foods to our puritanical culture of eating for health at the expense of pleasure.

Some rambling, long-winded thoughts after the jump:

Read the rest of this entry »

I’m haunted by the sense that I’ve written this post, or something very much like it, already. Worse still, I’m almost certain that what I wrote before was much better than what I’m about to write this time. But I can’t find the old post. So I guess I’d better do this again. My mind truly is a funhouse filled with mirrors. Anyway…

On this day in 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The document did not free any slaves; instead it warned the Confederacy that the consequences of continuing the rebellion were about to change. The previous July, Lincoln had explained that: “This government cannot much longer play a game in which it stakes all, and its enemies stake nothing. Those enemies must understand that they cannot experiment for ten years trying to destroy the government, and if they fail still come back into the Union unhurt.”

After first floating another in a long series of proposals for compensated emancipation — slaveholders rejected the offer out of hand — Lincoln embraced emancipation. On July 22, he informed his cabinet that he would soon issue a proclamation freeing the slaves. Secretary of State Seward suggested that Lincoln should wait until Union troops enjoyed a victory in the field. Seward argued that Lincoln’s proclamation would then have more weight, rather than looking like “the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help.” Lincoln agreed.

Then he waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, on September 17, Union and Confederate soldiers clashed at Antietam, the bloodiest battle of the war, abruptly ending Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North. Five days later, Lincoln again called his cabinet together. He explained that he had struck a deal with the Almighty: if the army could drive the rebels out of Maryland, he had promised God that he would issue his Emancipation Proclamation. “I wish it were a better time,” he worried. “I wish that we were in better condition.” He proceeded anyway.

The Proclamation stated that unless the Confederate states returned to the Union before January 1, their slaves “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” That sounds good in theory. But in practice, the document was pretty weak tea. Its conditions would only apply to those states still in rebellion when the New Year began. Which is to say, territory where federal authorities had no ability to enforce it. As the London Times explained: “Where he has no power Mr. Lincoln will set the negroes free; where he retains power he will consider them as slaves.”

True enough. But that characterization partly missed the point. Lincoln believed that the Constitution bound his authority. In his capacity as Commander in Chief, he could seize property in territory rebelling against the government. But in areas loyal to the Union, or those occupied by Union troops, he had no such power. More than that, the Proclamation revealed that Lincoln’s view of the war had shifted. As he explained: “The character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation. The South is to be destroyed and replaced by new propositions and ideas.”

As for the details of the Emancipation Proclamation, like Lincoln’s war aims, they evolved over time. But that’s a story we’ll take up in the New Year. Hey! Wait just a second! I think I know where to look for that missing post. Yup, there it is.

All that talk about Bush being Batman? I think conservatives may’ve been right.

Consider this AP photo of Bush and Ari Fleischer exiting the White House on their way to arrest John Walker Lindh in December 2001.

To be brutally honest, I’m not sure how we missed this.

UPDATE: What? You wanted I should link to the non-action shot?

Glenn Reynolds:

I do believe that we’ve treated electoral fraud as a joke for too long, and that it’s past time to do something about it.


Now that my party faces the prospect of losing an election due to the Obama campaign’s GOTV initiatives, it’s time to stop laughing about voter fraud and start investigating all the dead people, illegal immigrants, and colored folk who have suddenly appeared on our once pristine voter rolls.

This is officially an award-winning blog

HNN, Best group blog: "Witty and insightful, the Edge of the American West puts the group in group blog, with frequent contributions from an irreverent band.... Always entertaining, often enlightening, the blog features snazzy visuals—graphs, photos, videos—and zippy writing...."