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In the wake of the election, I’ve cut way back on my blog reading. For instance, I never read a thing posted here any more. But now, dammit, I’ve got a new place to stop every day. Jelani Cobb, an assistant professor of history at Spelman, is a sharp cultural critic and smart guy. Do yourself a favor, and check out his brand new(ish) blog. Or you can ignore the water, horse. It’s up to you.


Ari’s fulmination over Rick Warren reminded me, awhile back Elvin Lim did a neat bit of scholarship on presidential rhetoric. Here’s the graph for “God” as a percentage of words in the annual messages and inaugural addresses, charted over time.

Lim, Elvin T. “Five Trends in Presidential Rhetoric: An Analysis of Rhetoric from George Washington to Bill Clinton.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 32, no. 2 (June 2002): 328-348. Graph on p. 336.

Balmy California, with year-round outdoor swimming. (AKA, “this morning at 6:55 AM or so, air temperature around freezing….”)

Sometimes working papers are better, Ezra, because they have the raw data that journal publishers deem too bulky to publish, but which is of the highest value.

Last night was the brand-new Muppet Christmas special. I haven’t watched it yet, but if you want to, it’s on Hulu.

On this date in 1865, the following statement was entered into the public record:

Now, therefore, be it known that I, William H. Seward, Secretary of State of the United States, by virtue and in pursuance of the second section of the act of Congress approved the 20th of April, 1818, entitled “An Act to provide for the publication of the laws of the United States and for other purposes,” do hereby certify that the amendment aforesaid HAS BECOME VALID TO ALL INTENTS AND PURPOSES AS A PART OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES.

The “amendment aforesaid” was the thirteenth such alteration to the United States Constitution and the first since the administration of Thomas Jefferson — a slaveholder whose envisioned “Empire for Liberty” had recently been cut from sternum to pelvis by four years of war. Seward’s announcement was in most respects anticlimactic; the eradication of slavery was a near-universal fact throughout the country by late 1865, with former slaves themselves taking the lead in its demolition. Begrudgingly, in areas of the South under Union control, former masters had generally acknowledged the reality of emancipation, though many had hoped in vain that the US Supreme Court might eventually nullify Lincoln’s wartime proclamation, thus leaving the door open for gradual, compensated emancipation or — even better — the retention of the peculiar institution in all but name.

With the appointment of Salmon Chase to the Court in December 1864, however, those fantasies dissipated. Chase was Lincoln’s fifth appointment to the bench, and it virtually assured that his policies would survive any constitutional scrutiny. Political events as well that fall seemed to indicate that slavery would continue to wither as the war itself drew to a close. At the state level, new constitutions brought immediate emancipation to tens of thousands of border state slaves. Maryland ended two and a half centuries of chattel bondage on November 1; Missouri would follow in early January 1865. Pro-slavery advocates in Kentucky and Delaware resisted similar efforts in their own states, but they were clearly staring into a headwind. In November 1864, voters throughout the country elected a House of Representatives with a massive Republican majority — 136 out of 193 members — sufficient to ensure the passage of an amendment that would officially transform a pro-slavery Constitution into an anti-slavery Constitution. The amendment to abolish slavery had narrowly failed in the House in early 1864. Now, however, at Lincoln’s urging, the lame-duck 38th Congress finally passed it, 119-56, with the support of fifteen Democrats, including James Guthrie of Kentucky, an erstwhile opponent of the amendment. (Guthrie would later oppose the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the Freedman’s Bureau, demonstrating that for many Congressmen, abolishing slavery was quite literally the least they could do on behalf of African American freedom.)

Lincoln quickly signed the amendment and watched approvingly as 21 states ratified it; among them was Louisiana, which had recently held free elections, rewritten its constitution, and accepted the Thirteenth Amendment on February 17, 1865. The President would trumpet Louisiana’s transformation on April 11, when he delivered the last speech of his life. Three days later, a few hours prior to his assassination, Lincoln would likely have received word that Arkansas as well had adopted the Thirteenth Amendment, leaving it six states shy of ratification. Over the next few months, the pace of the amendment slowed. Union states like Iowa, California, and Oregon were slow to move on the issue, while New Jersey, Delaware and Kentucky openly rejected the amendment. In November and early December, the new state governments in South Carolina, Alabama, and North Carolina accepted the amendment, and on December 6, Georgia — originally been settled in 1733 as a slave-free colony — unofficially ended slavery throughout the US.

Twelve days later, Seward announced the validity of the Thirteenth Amendment. That same day, a former Republican congressman named Thomas Corwin died in Washington, D.C. Corwin, an Ohioan and ex-Whig, had sponsored an amendment in early 1861 that — had it been ratified by the states — would itself have been the Thirteenth Amendment. The Corwin Amendment, as it was generally known, was part of a final effort among Northern and border state political leaders to capitulate to the demands of slaveholders and to bring back the original seven states of the confederacy. Passed by a single vote in Congress, the amendment nevertheless failed to win ratification from any state but Ohio and Maryland. The stillborn Corwin Amendment would have protected the “domestic institutions” of the states, including the rights of white people to own black people.

The eradication of those “rights” would require a war of unprecedented carnage and an effectively rewritten Constitution, but the Thirteenth Amendment was merely the starting point of a much longer national struggle over the question of how to define citizenship in a world without slavery. “Verily,” noted Frederick Douglass, “the work does not end with the abolition of slavery, but only begins.”

Speaking of ethnic naming practices, you might want to take a few minutes to read this uplifting tale. Or not. In which case, here’s the bestest part:

A supermarket is defending itself for refusing to a write out 3-year-old Adolf Hitler Campbell’s name on his birthday cake…

Heath Campbell said he named his son after Adolf Hitler because he liked the name and because “no one else in the world would have that name.”

The Campbells’ two other children are named JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, who turns 2 in a few months, and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, who will be 1 in April.

Campbell said he was raised not to avoid people of other races but not to mix with them socially or romantically. But he said he would try to raise his children differently.

“Say he grows up and hangs out with black people. That’s fine, I don’t really care,” he said. “That’s his choice.”

He said about 12 people attended the birthday party Sunday, including several children of mixed race.

Do you think Honszlynn Hinler is named for Himmler? I probably shouldn’t have even considered that. Because somehow it’s that detail of the story that makes the whole thing sad for me. Rats, killed the funny by over-thinking it.



Rick Warren? Really? I’m afraid so. Rick Warren, who compares homosexuality to incest and pedophilia. Rick Warren, who labels advocates of the social gospel Marxists. Rick Warren, who makes common cause with James Dobson and his ilk. Rick Warren will give the invocation when President-elect Obama is inaugurated.

What does this mean? In terms of policy, let’s hope very little. But in terms of symbolism, a great deal. As a statement from People for the American Way notes, this elevates Warren, who has already airbrushed his rough edges so effectively that many observers think he’s a moderate, into a position of bipartisan authority. And that’s a real shame, although I suppose it should help boost bumper-sticker sales.

Update: John Cole provides a reasonable counterargument. I remain unconvinced.

Update II: As jazzbumpa notes in the comments, Bérubé brings the hammer down.

This question haunts job applicants who’ve been asked to wait till then to hear about interview schedules; it also now plagues those of us curious to hear from the National Research Council’s Research Doctorate Programs board. The NRC last issued ratings of research doctorate programs in 1995. Its methodology guide for the new ratings was to have appeared December 15.


Revised December 15, 2008

Report Release.
The release schedule for reports for the NRC Assessment of Research Doctoral Programs has changed. The release of the Methodology Guide is now estimated for mid December. The release schedule for the project report and its database will be announced when we have precise dates.

Stay tuned.

Yes. Or so says this site. Which, I guess, might just be trying to drum up business among the Jews. Anyway, here’s the relevant piece of the text:

The Wild Things (except “Goat Boy”, of course) were named after (and are presumably caricatures of) Maurice’s aunts and uncles: Aaron, Bernard, Emil, Moishe and Tzippy.

Careful, people, there really is an international conspiracy. And it’s roaring its terrible roar, gnashing its terrible teeth, and rolling its terrible eyes.

(Also, if you’re interested, there’s this.)

I’ll blog some philosophy once I figure out what to write about, but my muse is buried under grading. 

Start with a car, and take away everything that isn’t an incubator.”  It’s like philanthropic steampunk!  That saves babies!

Ezra Klein argues that the likely death of newspapers is not a bad thing:

The problem for the newspapers is that even as they die off, most consumers are in fact in a better position. There may be fewer outlets today, but I have access to a lot more news products than I did 10 years ago. So do most people. If the Baltimore Sun cuts much of its staff, but the people in Baltimore now have the LA Times and the New York Times and the Huffington Post, they have more news, not less. There will be no push to save journalism because only journalists believe it to be dying.

I disagree.  There will be plenty of international news, and no dearth of journalist-pundits idly hoping that Santa brings them a nice scandal to warm their hearths.  But there won’t be solid coverage of local news; and there won’t be local perspectives on the national news.    (And, since the foreign bureaus as I understand it are first to go/already gone, there will be a dearth of perspective.)  

David Simon unsurprisingly disagrees, too.  Everyone should read this; it’s older, but great.  And I’ll quote my favorite anecdote from the piece, because it demonstrates not just how well a good local reporter knows his city, but how much he loved it.  His city:

Rebecca is telling us that we have to start writing, that the piece needs to be early if it has any chance at the Sunday front. I go back to the newsroom, where a full take of Carter’s history in foster care, along with careful, annotated notes from Canzian, greets me. I leave Zorzi on the street, telling him we have to locate the mother, that the piece can’t run without quotes from the woman who brought Dontay Carter into the world. He calls every area hospital. He asks for a computer check on ambo runs for burn victims going back weeks. He checks with the patrolmen working the neighborhood where she’s last seen. Nothing.

Eventually, he remembers that the city fire department had started billing for ambulance runs. The communications unit has no record of ambo calls for service going back more than a few weeks, but did the billing unit, by chance, keep records for longer?

He pulls a name and an address on Lennox Street.

“How the hell did you find me?” asks the mother as Zorzi comes through her door, notepad and pen akimbo.

“We got the mother,” I tell Rebecca minutes later, doing my best to make it sound inevitable. We were Baltimore’s newspaper, and we were writing about a kid who had terrorized Baltimore. And that kid had a mother. In Baltimore. Of course we got her.


One class of college instructors dislikes teaching introductory courses: big, unwieldy things, necessarily intellectually irresponsible because they must perforce skim over many topics, treating each but superficially, they demand that we doff our rigor and strike an undignified pose for the benefit of students who, honestly, are just trying to fulfill a distribution requirement and can’t be bothered.

Another class of college instructors enjoys teaching introductory courses: big, theatrical things, restricted of necessity to mere snippets and adumbrations, they afford us an opportunity to provide a glimpse of the problems that draw us in to scholarly work without dwelling on the labor involved in working out such a problem thoroughly; they demand that we express ourselves plainly to nonspecialists and challenge us to intrigue students who don’t have a native interest in the subject.

Suppose only one of these classes truly understands the introductory course. Which is it?

Riffing on the blogosophere’s many riffs on this wonderful Robert Samuelson column in which it is explained that

the poor and middle class do have powerful advocates. To name three: the AARP for retirees; the AFL-CIO for unionized workers; the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities for the poor.

we find Drum noting

The top 400 taxpayers, a group so rich and elite that I’d need scientific notation to properly represent their proportion of the population, have doubled their share of income in the past decade or two but have decreased their tax burden by nearly half. Nice work! As you can see, Warren Buffett wasn’t exaggerating when he said his secretary paid a higher tax rate than he does.

Which refers to one of the most remarkable trends of recent history, of which Lane Kenworthy has the best graph, in which incomes shown “include government transfers and subtract taxes”:

There’s some discussion over which comes first, the political polarization of recent years or the income polarization of recent years. Krugman says [in the pdf linked here] “it looks as though the political polarization is the lead on the economic changes”—which is to say, people don’t vote Republican/Democrat because they’re rich/poor, rather, the rich have gotten richer because of Republican policies.

A mock interview goes horribly wrong:

Interviewer: As you know, we’re a small liberal arts college. Part of what keeps our philosophy department in business is our ability to offer six sections of “Critical Thinking” every semester. “Critical Thinking” is a required course in our General Education curriculum. So, each member of the Philosophy department offers at least one section of “Critical Thinking” every semester. Could you describe to us how you would teach such a course?

Candidate: Critical Thinking?… hmmmm… Well, that’s not my area.

Interviewer: Well, I realize that this is not your area. It’s not mine either. But, as I said, we all have to teach it. So, could you say something about how you would construct the course.

Candidate: Well… I’d rather not teach that kind of course. Couldn’t I just stick to “Intro” and upper-level courses?

Interviewer: Well… No. As I said… We all have to teach “Critical Thinking.” It sounds to me as if you’re saying that you’re unwilling to teach it. Is that right?

Candidate: Yeah.

A happy thought for candidates: some of the people you are competing against are this bad. Huzzah!

Another lesson: seriously, think about the needs of the department that is considering hiring you. My department is not in the same business as the department granting you a PhD, but we don’t think that’s our problem. A surprising number of people show up to interview knowing that we value teaching and research yet without having thought in any serious way about teaching. It’s lame.

Finally, when in doubt, just talk about the New Deal. We go nuts for that stuff.

A reader sends along this photograph, from Kansas, courtesy of Ellen Drimmel, whose father was frequently employed by WPA.

When we read of the New Deal sponsoring “make-work”, what do we think of? One word you certainly get a lot is “boondoggle”—which didn’t appear at all in the New York Times in 1933 or -34, but suddenly began appearing in 1935, with the debut of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), shot up in the 1936 election year, then all but vanished after Roosevelt won a thumping re-election.

What’s a boondoggle? A Boy Scout’s make-work project—braided leather, for decorating the uniform. Takes skill, looks nice, but doesn’t do much good in the end. Was that WPA in a nutshell?

For people who think of the Federal Theatre Project and other stylish, vaguely lefty projects (“You are quoting from this Marlowe. Is he a Communist?”), maybe that is WPA in a nutshell.

But that’s a poor representation of the program. Here’s a clearer one (or it’ll be clearer once you’ve clicked on it), showing total amount spent on each of the kinds of projects WPA undertook.

WPA was about building, and principally about building roads, and not about pinko Elizabethans much at all.

Still, it’s possible the roads and all the other building projects were pretty much boondoggles too, right? Like LaGuardia Airport?

Or the Triborough Bridge?

Or any of many less glamorous roads from farm to market that WPA built or widened?

Aw, but that’s cherrypicking, right? Isn’t there anything systematic we can say about the value of all that infrastructure?

Maybe. Alexander J. Field argues the 1930s—or, more precisely, 1929-1941—were “the most technologically progressive decade of the century”. Later productivity increases owed to shifts that occurred in the ’thirties.

A large part of the infrastructure required for economically successful postwar housing construction was put in place during the 1930’s, as the consequence of the use of public funds to improve the road transport system. During the 1920’s, infrastructure, particularly streets and highways, did not keep up with the burgeoning sales of private vehicles. Public expenditures during the 1930’s substantially remedied this, in a manner that has impacted the productivity of the housing sector as well as that of the economy as a whole.1

Jason Scott Smith writes, “Supporters of federal public works projects observed that these programs contributed to overall economic growth, accounting for 20 percent of the increase in national income between 1950 and 1970 by one measure.” Maybe that overstates the case (without knowing what the measure is, it’s hard to say). But when we think about evaluating WPA, we ought not to think “boondoggle” or “make-work”; we ought to think of the buildings we live and work in, and the roads we travel between them.

Which is not even to mention the Public Works Administration (PWA). I mean, have you seen pictures of the Hollywood High School library?

1Alexander J. Field, “The Most Technologically Progressive Decade of the Century,” American Economic Review 93, no. 4 (November 2003): 1399-1413; quotation on 1407.

Figures on WPA project spending from “Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43,” Table X, p. 122. These are total funds spent, 1935-43.

Project photos from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute’s New Deal Network.


I take it the Bush Farewell Tour ’08 won’t be selling a lot of T-shirts, presser/Secret Service mosh pits aside:


  1. Bush moves like a cat.
  2. I hope the guy got his shoes back.
  3. I get that the reporter was just hamfistedly trying to provide a bit of local color by including the information that in Iraqi culture, gesturing at someone with the sole of one’s foot or shoe is particularly rude, but the phrasing makes it sound as if there was some worry that American viewers would not figure out that the man was expressing contempt, because the customs of the mystical Arab, they are so inscrutable.   The question “is there a version of this in my culture?” should be in every newsroom style book, right after the bit about the comma, the semi-colon, and whether people can be evacuated.

Update: Iraq reacts.

    Via belle waring, yet another tale of foreclosure, this time on a home featured a while back on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.   

    (From the Wall Street Journal, increasing evidence that the milk of human kindness is skim:


    Rather than criticize this family, you should be thankful that you’re not in a situation like theirs.

    Or rather, I am thankful GOD gave me the means and the ability to not be in a situation like theirs. ….

    But I never planned to be poor. I always had it in my mind that I would take care of myself. Am I saying the poor planned to be that way? In some instances, they have. Alot of it is in their culture. It’s the only way they know to be. Of course I am speaking of society as a whole and not about this particular couple. Personally, I wouldnt have mortgaged the house, let the medical bills pile up, as far as I know, they cant take your house because of past due medical bills. 

    This reminds me of the joke where a yokel lusting after his neighbor’s wife (or his neighbor’s wife’s ass) goes to talk to his pastor, who tells him to find his moral guidance in the Good Book, and the man picks up the Book, prays, opens to a random verse and reads about David’s affair with Bathsheba.    He can’t believe it, so opens it again and opens to a random verse which says  “Go thou and do likewise.” The man is shocked, so prays again, and opens to a random verse which says “Put not the LORD thy God to the test.”

    This dude apparently follows the same school of biblical criticism.  I thank thee LORD, that I am not like these other men… Next, he’ll play dice for his neighbor’s goods….But I digress!)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    If you know that countries are traditionally overrun right to left, using Fire1, and that the Roman Conquest was a Good Thing, as the Britons were only Natives at that time, then you have almost certainly read 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember including one hundred and three Good Things, five Bad Kings, and two Genuine Dates. Which all historians probably should.

    Americanists have their own versions—the work of John Hodgman is perhaps closest in spirit, though less thoroughly devoted to reproducing and amplifying the inimitable style of Confused Undergraduate.

    I have a vague idea that one of the animating impulses behind these works, an apolitical delight in rascally behavior, once also moved serious historians of the United States. Charles and Mary Beard’s Rise of American Civilization pushes its progressive interpretation forward with a constant undercurrent of glee in the occasional bad actor; so does Richard Hofstadter’s American Political Tradition take a certain pleasure in scoundrels.

    What happened? Did the profession simply outgrow satire (after all a form perfected by juveniles)? Did history become too immediately dreadful? Does humor belong in history?

    1And, according to certain unreconstructed antiquarians, the Sword.

    Ackerman’s post ridiculing the antiquarian’s desire to shave with a straight razor reminded me of his namesake’s death—I’d thought Spencer Trask died by cutting his own throat with a straight razor in a train accident. But the Internets are so shy with this story—the only other sure reference I could find was this poem, excerpted below—I wonder if it’s true.

    Spencer Trask must have stood amazed, the red gush on his shaving hand, pearl-handled razor dropping open on the floor.

    That consarned Obama, bringing neoliberal Clintonites into his inner circle. Why, Democrats these days, they’re just Reagan in a snappier suit, is what they are—wait, you said what, left-liberal Michael Kazin?

    The sit-downers of 2008 did have one advantage over their militant forerunners: unambiguous political support from leading Democrats. FDR, despite his pro-labor reputation, made no public statement about the Flint strike; in private, he urged the warring camps to negotiate a settlement. The president left the messy details to the governor of Michigan, liberal Frank Murphy, who urged GM wage-earners to vacate the plant but refused to order the National Guard to force them out.

    This time around, however, leading Democrats stood by the occupiers from the start. President-elect Barack Obama asserted, “The workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned … are absolutely right. What’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.” FDR never said anything so supportive about striking workers. Before he was arrested, Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois ordered his state to “suspend doing any business with Bank of America” until the financial giant restored a line of credit to Republic that should allow the firm to fulfill its contractual obligations. The local congressman, Luis Guiterrez, helped pressure both corporations to do the right thing.

    Huh. As usual with Kazin, worth reading the whole thing.

    B has a great post up at her place. You want a little taste? Well, the first one’s free:

    When people with PhDs (or in graduate programs) talk about doing something other than professing, we always do so in terms of their “leaving” or “quitting” academia. When I left my tenure-track job, I talked abut it in terms not only of leaving a job, but possibly of leaving the profession, though that’s not really what I wanted to do…

    But the truth, I think, is that part of what’s so painful about “leaving” academia is that we usually aren’t leaving by choice. More often, academia is leaving us, and all we’re doing is having to slowly come to the point of acknowledging that we’ve been left alone in this big apartment full of books, maybe with a cat or two, and a big pile of bills on the counter. Academia, that bastard; he just up and walked one day, and it took us a while to realize he wasn’t going to come back.

    Oh, you know, maybe we could maintain the fiction that the relationship isn’t over. We could seek him out, hang around in the background picking up a few scraps of part-time attention when he needs someone to fill a gap in his schedule and hoping that at some point he’ll realize/remember how great we are and we’ll get back together on a full-time basis. Maybe he’ll even propose someday, and we’ll say yes–of course! does anyone ever say no?–and it’ll turn into a lifetime commitment.

    The whole post is a useful reminder of what an absurd crapshoot a career in the academy is. I mean, I feel incredibly lucky to have my job. But that’s just it: I feel lucky. Because I am. How many scholars out there are every bit as smart as I am, work just as hard as I do, have CVs that are identical to mine? And how many of them have jobs they hate? Or don’t have jobs at all? What a weird profession.

    I’m shocked that in his Keynes compendium, Brad DeLong left out the great economist’s sole regret: that he should have drunk more champagne. Wise words for dark times and advice to keep the season bright. Cheers.

    This is officially an award-winning blog

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