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This has been all over the place today, but if you haven’t seen it already, it’s worth your time. And if you’re feeling impatient, start watching at the 3-minute mark, when President Obama begins channeling Teddy Roosevelt.


Via Sadly, No! I learn that the mayor of Los Alamitos—a city whose proximity to Los Angeles disqualifies its citizens from claiming they live behind the Orange Curtain—recently sent the city council an email entitled “No Easter egg hunt this year.”  It contained this picture:


When questioned as to the propriety of sending poorly-executed racist photo-shops to government employees, the mayor claimed to be “unaware of the stereotype that black people like watermelon.”  Putting the issue of what exactly is “funny” about the picture in the absence of said stereotype aside, there are some conservatives who claim that the real problem here is hypersensitive blacks and their “rat-fink” instincts:

The fink who ratted him out was a black woman who sacrificed friendship to the motto, “Never Fail to Be Offended.”

His commenters agree:

How dare [defenders of the rat-fink] be offended at everything? So far the list is getting pretty long: fried chicken, monkeys, watermelons, poverty, any number of words in several languages referring to the color Black, any mention of Africa as anything less than the greatest cultural center in the history of mankind, any suggestion that there is some kind of bell shaped curve in the intellectual and physical attributes that all humans share and that Blacks are not clustered at the far right percentile [ . . . ] There is one thing that is certainly apparent and that is that Blacks seem to have a serious genetic deficiency in the lack of a sense of humor.

Being offended because they cannot violate decorum with impunity is bad enough.  This is worse:

What is wrong with Blacks liking watermelons? Should a Scot go crazy if somebody mentions plaid? Should a Norwegian go nuts if somebody has an axe or a spear or a horned helmet and God forbid a mention of lefsa or lutefisk? Should an Irishman go berserk and start screaming discrimination if somebody has a potato?

Scotland is a country.  Norway is a country.  All the other countries mentioned in this comment are countries.  Black is not country.  Even if it were there would be nothing wrong with liking watermelon per se.  The same cannot be said of the claim that blacks have a special affinity for watermelons.  Why?

Read the rest of this entry »

On this date in 1864 Union prisoners of war began arriving at Camp Sumter, a shadeless, sixteen-acre marsh stockade where, as one former inhabitant later described it, the “spewings of toads and reptiles and swamp ooze, decaying wood, weeds and rank grass are distilled into poison.”  Known more conventionally as Andersonville Prison, the site became an enduring symbol of Confederate perfidy, the subject of dozens of ghoulish memoirs that sustained Unionist indignation for decades.

In a sense, the prison was a material consequence of the very cause for which the South was fighting.  When the Union armies began enlisting African Americans — including escaped slaves — in 1863, the Confederacy declared its intention not to return captive black soldiers, whom they insisted were still the rightful property of their masters.  In the wake of the Confederacy’s refusal, the prisoner cartel program dissolved entirely, and massive, makeshift  facilities were constructed on both sides to warehouse wartime prisoners.  Over the next year, more than 45,000 Union soldiers would be received at Andersonville, which had initially been expected to maintain a mere quarter of that number. Even a ten-acre enlargement of the camp in August 1864 left a mere 34 square feet per soldier.

Due to unspeakably filthy conditions and inadequate supplies of food and clean water, more than 13,000 of those soldiers — as well as numerous Confederate guards — would perish from some combination of scurvy or dysentery before the camp was liberated at the end of the war. Most succumbed between August and December 1864, a period that saw an average of 100 deaths per day.

By any account, Andersonville offered a squalid glimpse into hell. Sgt. David Kennedy, 9th Ohio Cavalry, wrote in his journal on 9 July 1964′

Wuld that I was an artist & had the material to paint this camp & all its horors or the tounge of some eloquent Statesman and had the privleage of expresing my mind to our hon. rulers at Washington, I should gloery to describe this hell on earth where it takes 7 of its ocupiants to make a shadow.

Clara Barton, visiting the grounds of Andersonville a year later after the camp had closed, wrote with horror of what she had seen there:

Think of thirty thousand men penned by close stockade upon twenty-six acres of ground, from which every tree and shrub had been uprooted for fuel to cook their scanty food, huddled like cattle, without shelter or blanket, half-clad and hungry, with the dreary night setting in, after a day of autumn rain. The hill-tops would not hold them all, the valley was filled with the swollen brook; seventeen feet from the stockade ran the fatal dead-line, beyond which no man might step and live. What did they do? I need not ask where did they go, for on the face of the whole green earth there was no place but this for them; but where did they place themselves? How did they live? Ay! How did they die? But this is only one feature of their suffering ; and perhaps the lightest. Of the long dazzling months when gaunt famine stalked at noon-day, and pestilence walked by night; and upon the seamed and parching earth the cooling rains fell not, I will not trust me to speak. I scarce dare think. If my heart were strong enough to draw the picture, there are thousands upon thousands all through our land too crushed and sore to look upon it. But after this, whenever any man who has lain a prisoner within the stockade of Andersonville, would tell you of his sufferings, how he fainted, scorched, drenched, hungered, sickened, was scoffled, scorged, hunted and persecuted, though the tale be long and twice told, as you would have your own wrongs appreciated, your own woes pitied, your own cries for mercy heard, I charge you, listen and believe him. However definitely he may have spoken, know that he has not told you all.

Henry Wirz, a Swiss doctor from Louisiana, served as prison commandant during the last few months of the camp’s existence after its original commandant, Brigadier General John Winder, died in February 1865. For his efforts, such as they were, Wirtz was hanged in November 1865. His last fourteen minutes of life were spent at the end of a rope that was too short, listening to Union soldiers taunt him with cries of “Andersonville! Andersonville!” as he slowly choked to death. Remarkably, he was the only Confederate official to be executed for war crimes.

Of all the things I’ve read about Lincoln recently, this very moving something-or-other is among my favorites. The idea that a person unfamiliar with Lincoln might meet and then find herself falling in love with him warms my heart.

(Thanks to a reader for the link.)

More news from China over the ten days from February 15 to February 25, 1900. The most aggressive German missionary to China, Bishop Johnan von Anzer, returned to Europe to meet with the heads of state, including the Pope. His aim, as the Times explained, was to “induce all the European Governments interested to join in an attempt to convince the Peking Government of the necessity of suppressing all combinations and demonstrations against foreigners, and, if necessary to enforce this jointly….” At the end of the article came a brief line that illustrated the closeness between missionary activities and state imperialism, as well as serving as a nifty shot across the bow of the Catholic Church. “Emperor William,” the Times intoned (Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany), “attaches great importance to Bishop von Anzer’s counsels.” [1]

Meanwhile, the Times did not mention the Boxers. Other secret societies, however, were causing a ruckus, one which the British Navy had to deal with: “In the early part of last month, the crew of a steam launch from the British gunboat Tweed…had a lively fight with pirates, who are known as the ‘Order of the Red Flag.'” [2] And here I thought piracy was a modern problem? The Times did pause to print a sociological explanation of Chinese Secret Societies, however. Such societies, the Times announced, were similar to American unions or clubs.

bruce lee, enter the dragon
Member of Secret Society
After Fight

“Many are trade unions as simple as those which prevail in this country.” The Times continued “in their origins, these societies were laudable…and then their degeneration–inevitable in any country, but how much more so in China?–set in.” The story warned, darkly, that “wherever the Chinese go they take their secret societies with them. And it may be taken as a rule that every Chinaman belongs to one of them. The most innocent and well-meaning may be a member of one of the most criminal.” More, those secret societies and their members indulge in mysterious and violent practices: “Sometimes these societies get up fights, when at the signal–the beating of a gong in a special manner–peaceful citizens will be seen to rush from their shops, armed with murderous-looking tridents, swords, spears…and other instruments of offense that one might never have suspected they possessed.”[3]

Finally, Wu Tingfang’s public relations tour of the United States continued apace. Read the rest of this entry »








Words fail me.

Fortunately, I have pictures.  Stare at this picture:


Now do this Google Image Search, find that picture and click on it.  I’ll wait . . .

. . .

. . .

. . . now don’t you feel better?

EDIT: YMMV but I see this.

On that day in history, the Japanese submarine I-17 surfaced off the West Coast of the United States and fired a brace of shells at the Elwood Oil Refinery complex in southern California. The attack came after dusk on February 23rd, just as the nation was settling into their couches to listen to a fireside chat by FDR. Despite claims otherwise, this was the first foreign attack on the continental United States since the war of 1812.*

c.jpeg The shelling had no appreciable military effect, with none of the shells getting terribly near the refinery itself but instead blowing holes in nearby farm land. What it did provoke, however, was an intensive hunt for the submarine by American forces and a continuing wave of scares on the West Coast over the next few years, including one three days later, when reports of Japanese aircraft over Los Angeles sparked several barrages of anti-aircraft fire and a five hour blackout during which two Angelenos were killed in traffic accidents.

This was not the only Japanese submarine to attack the west coast. In a particularly impressive effort in September 1942, the Japanese submarine I-25 launched a floatplane which flew inland and dropped two bombs on a section of deserted forest in southwestern Oregon.

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A student points me to Ron Paul on the 1920-21 depression.

In 1921 we had a severe depression; it was over in one year. A little bit later in the 30s we had another one but then the government decided to do all these things, bail everybody out. Exactly what we’re doing now and it prolonged the correction.

The implication is that in 1921 the government didn’t “do all these things”. But of course the government did adopt policies to restrict trade and immigration.

Interestingly, two of the first Hoover administration responses in 1930 were to restrict trade and immigration.

I think the lesson one would draw here is that policymakers, seeing that restricting trade and immigration went along with a swift end to the 1921 recession, tried them again in 1930. But they didn’t work. I don’t see any reason to conclude that the government opted not to intervene in 1921 and to intervene in 1930.

From the live-blogging of the Oscars at Big Hollywood, I present the themes of the evening:

Read the rest of this entry »

Conversations with colleagues suggest there’s no consensus on how to reply to a journal editor’s request to “revise and resubmit”, accompanied by a sheaf of referees’ reports. I offer here some of my own suggestions of how to write a letter to a journal (or perhaps book) editor. Proposed prose is in plain text; its translation is in italics. It’s probably better not to confuse the two if you choose to apply this example.

This is meant to be a suaviter in modo approach. Your personal preferences or substantial convictions may lead you in a different direction. Broadly, I suggest turning these requests around as swiftly as possible, and opting not to address too directly the incompetence or rudeness (if any) of referees; you’ll see the kind of thing I mean below, I hope. In this venue I think it’s better simply to turn the blade than to strike back in kind.
Read the rest of this entry »

This keeps getting better and better.

First, the American Philosophical Association moves its Central Division meeting from April to February.  The Central often serves as a location for interviews for visiting appointments for the following fall, which have usually been advertised in the February “Jobs for Philosophers”, an advertising service run (I use the term loosely) by the APA.

Dates of Central Division Meeting: Feb 18-21.

Dates of publication of the JFP:  Feb. 20.*


But everyone’s known about this for weeks!  What’s new from the recently published JFP?

This gem of an ad:

FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY – FAU, BOCA RATON, FL. ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, COUNSELING CENTER, Florida Atlantic University. The Assistant Director provides psychological services for Florida Atlantic University students and provides administrative and supervisory leadership of the Counseling Center and its staff during periods of the Director’s absence. In addition, the Counseling Center is seeking a clinical psychologist to coordinate the substance abuse program, supervise the main substance abuse treatment counselor and provide some assessment and treatment services.[…]

Yes, that’s right.  An ad for a clinical psychologist.

Presumably, the HR department at FAU was told to place an ad in the APA and picked the wrong P.

I am not certain why our governing organization didn’t notice.

*Leading to ads that end like this: … “Review of applications will begin February 13, 2009. Receipt at XXXX no later than March 7, 2009 to be considered for an interview at the Central APA. posted 2/20/09.”

I’m still fiddling with iTunes, which means that my well-documented stroll down memory lane continues apace. And while ambling through The Replacements’ still-excellent Let it Be last night, a question occurred to me: when did irony go mainstream? I ask because their cover of KISS’s “Black Diamond” remains great — because it’s a great song, after all — but it seems to have lost some of its edge. And I think that relative dullness is a result of irony having become bankable and then ubiquitous. Do we know when that happened? Or ’twas it ever thus?

I ask because when I was a kid, irony was my in retrospect totally annoying, not to mention trite coping strategy for dealing with a fallen world in which popular kids didn’t like me rife with commercialism. But now, irony itself is commercially viable. And my new coping strategy appears to be buying an iPhone, rejiggering my iTunes playlists, and posting about whatever quasi-maudlin nonsense happens to be rattling around my head. Anyway, as I noted in the comments of my earlier self-indulgent post, someone should really write a cultural history of irony.

Update: For such a history, see, for starters, Kevin’s answer to my question.

eric suggested I x-post what I’ve written since Part the First.  I think what he meant was x-post the new posts as I write them, which I would do were re-uploading 40 some-odd images onto a different blogging platform not so time-intensive.  The new items are bolded.

My one reservation about posting these here is that they are less close readings and more attempts to give students the critical vocabulary required to perform a close reading.  What I mean is: I think my reading of Batman Begins provides compelling evidence that Christopher Nolan shot that particular scene such that Batman resembles a monster from a classic horror film.  What it doesn’t do is provide a reason Nolan would do that.  It is evidence in need of an argument—and deliberately so.  I try to avoid providing students with a thesis they can parrot back to me on their essays.  That final leap from what and how to why is one they must make themselves.

Film: The first two links are meant as introductory.  The third is a model of close-reading intended to show students the work required to make even the simplest of points.

Comics: Both posts concern the opening pages of the sixth of issue of Watchmen because my mind is apparently stuck.  There will be a third installment tonight or tomorrow morning depending on how much longer my head can approximate thought good.

I’ve been going through all of my old music over the past few days. Most of Liz Phair’s work has really held up over time. (As has Jen Trynin’s, which surprised me.) Fiona Apple’s, on the other hand, has not. Or maybe it was never very good in the first place. I was young back then. So who can tell?

The comments on Farley’s post about grade inflation and student effort had convinced me not to read the article that inspired them.  Then Shahar excerpted a different part of the article and I changed my mind:

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.

Did that prepositional phrase modify the researchers (they are at UCI) or where they did their study (at UCI)?  I couldn’t tell from the excerpt.  So I read the article.  It didn’t say.  So I read the study it cited.  It didn’t say outright—but it hinted.  The ethnic diversity of its sample breaks down like this:

51.2% East or Southeast Asian
18.9% Caucasian
10.7% Latino
1.1% African American

The ethnic diversity of a closely related fine public university in a similar location breaks down like this:

51% Asian / Pacific Islander
24% White
12% Latino
2% African American

Participants in the study were recruited through handbills “posted at the Social Sciences Human Subjects Laboratory.”  Where do I teach?  This means that while everyone else can speak hypothetically about whether their students resemble those in the study, I must come to terms with the fact that sixty-percent of actual students actually sitting in my actual classes believe that if they “explain to [me] that [they are] trying hard, [they] think [I] should give [them] some consideration with respect to [their] course grade.”  I must accept that fifty-percent of them believe that they deserve a B if they “have completed most [of the mandatory] reading for [my] class” or “have attended most [of the mandatory] classes for [my] course.”  I must deal with the fact that twenty-five percent of them “would think poorly of [me if I] didn’t respond the same day to an e-mail [they] sent.”

I could learn to deal with that.  But I’m not sure I can live in a world in which sixteen-percent of my students think that I “should not be annoyed with [them] if [they] receive an important call during class.”

On this day in history, the United States took actions that symbolize the contradictions of the Pacific War, at home and abroad. On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which effected the internment of ethnic Japanese (Issei) and Japanese-Americans (Nisei) living in the western United States. Three years later, in 1945, forces of the 4th Assault Corps put two divisions on the black sands of Iwo Jima. In a sense, these linked days were, in their own particular way, indicative of the beginning and the end of the Pacific War. The internments–perhaps the most shameful act of Roosevelt’s Presidency–highlight the confusion, fear, and chaos of the immediate months after Pearl Harbor. Iwo Jima, at the other end, demonstrated the bloody grinding that the war had become by 1945.


The attack on Pearl Harbor had thrown the United States into war with Japan. It also reinforced suspicions that many Americans had about the Issei and Nisei living in the west. “Fifth column” activity had been a constant worry in the U.S. since the war in Europe started and suspicious individuals in the east had been questioned by the FBI for their connection to Germany or Italy. What was different in the American west, however, was the rapid shift–driven largely by racism–from the suspicion of individuals to the suspicion of the entire group. The panic that overtook the West Coast after Pearl Harbor soon focused–at least in part–on supposed Japanese fifth columnnists active in California, Oregon, and Washington. The Attorney General of California, Earl Warren, issued a study claiming that Japanese-Americans lived in greater numbers near sensitive military targets. This, Warren thought, meant that they were concentrating themselves and waiting for an opportunity at sabotage. General John L. DeWitt, the head of the Western Defense Command, echoed Warren’s assessment. The result, in mid-February, was Executive Order 9066, which laid the groundwork for the exclusion of individuals from sensitive “military areas.” Read the rest of this entry »

… which is not his natural habitat.

DeLong on Yoo.

Some line has been crossed, here.

It upsets Mary Rosh that Leno and Letterman refuse to mock Obama for using a teleprompter during his press conferences.  It infuriates her that Obama wants the White House to install a smart podium:

Obama is looking to install a computer screen into the podium so that, according to one Obama advisor, “It would make it easier for the comms guys to pass along information without being obvious about it.”  Obama’s aids would put together answers to a large number of possible questions so as soon as a reporter asks a particular question the computer screen would flash talking points to remind Obama how he’s supposed to respond to that question.

Why would a President—especially an ostensibly intellectual one—want aides to feed facts and figures to his podium on the sly?  Are we witnessing the first step down that slippery slope?

I think not.  Consider:

Read the rest of this entry »

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...."