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In the course of arguing that Congress should really do virtually nothing about health care, Joe Lieberman approvingly cites the Civil Rights movement as a model of incremental change. Why he believes it was a good thing that nearly a century passed before the federal government outlawed racial discrimination and provided meaningful substance to the Reconstruction Amendments, I won’t bother to speculate, but one would have to be a complete tool not to recognize that if a society is morally obligated to dismantle an exploitative and violent caste system, there’s no especially good reason to advocate that such change should take place “in steps.”

It’s another thing entirely to recognize that such changes did take place incrementally, though it’s worth pointing out that the legislation of 1964 and 1965 were dramatic and comprehensive by comparison with anything the previous ten decades had produced from the institution Lieberman allegedly serves. It’s also worth recalling exactly why the gradual transformations Lieberman celebrates were so long in coming:

  • The leadership of two major political parties colluded for decades to avoid dealing with an evident national problem; when even the mildest of remedies were suggested, they relied on parliamentary tactics to block debate and preserve minority rule.
  • “Sensible” opinion-makers argued that change, while acceptable perhaps in theory, should be delayed for the time being because current economic growth would solve all problems, or because economic catastrophe required that other issues receive more immediate attention, or because there was a war to be won.
  • Advocates of change were cited by their opponents as evidence that a pernicious, foreign ideology was eagerly seeking the republic’s destruction.
  • Dray loads of irate throwbacks, styling themselves patriots, organized themselves and vowed to preserve the status by all available means.
  • If Holy Joe wants to align himself with that history, he should at least recognize that he is, as the cliche goes, on the wrong side of it.

    Furloughs, that is, and the University of California. As you know the state of California, despite having a majority of legislators who are willing to tax residents adequately to pay for services, requires a supermajority to put through any tax increase. So the legislature cannot vote a budget that will pay for the level of services the state government provides.

    The state has therefore been furloughing employees to save money without laying people off. This means that, for example, if you need to go to the DMV, you must make sure you’re not planning to go on a furlough day—if you do, your friendly neighborhood DMV workers won’t be there.

    The state university budgets react a little more slowly than the state government budgets, but come this fall furloughs will apply to the best public higher education in the world.

    As Ari mentioned a while back, at the Athens of the Central Valley there was a straw poll to ask faculty whether they supported taking furloughs on teaching days. Eighty-two percent said yes. For many of these faculty, the logic was the same as the DMV’s (and other state offices’) closure; the service is already being provided at below-market cost: lower funding makes it unrealistic to provide the service at the same level.

    This Friday evening, Lawrence Pitts, Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs for the whole UC, issued a memorandum explaining how the UC will implement furloughs for faculty.

    faculty furlough days will not occur on instructional days…. In such difficult times, I believe that we must do everything we can to ensure that the students continue to receive all of their instruction. Asking the faculty to carry a full teaching load during furloughs is a large request, but in my mind is justified by the University’s paramount teaching mission. Research is permitted on furlough days….

    Research being permitted means research will be expected, of course; no eight percent diminution in research output will be acceptable, as UCD Academic Senate Chair Robert Powell points out in the local newspaper today.

    “Basically he’s telling the faculty ‘keep working – keep doing research and teaching and service, you’re just going to get paid 8 percent less.’ … ”

    The California State University not only thought similarly to the vast majority of UCD faculty, it has adopted a policy whereby faculty can and presumably will take furloughs on teaching days.

    CSU faculty are unionized.

    The University of California at Berkeley will coincidentally be reducing its teaching days for reasons that have nothing to do with furloughs.

    The general trend has been clear for twenty-seven years since acute observers noted “the concept of a free [i.e., free to the student] education at publicly owned colleges and universities has already been largely abandoned”.

    William Calley has, for the first time, apologized for his involvement in the My Lai massacre. Robert Farley wonders why the Kiwanis Club invited Calley to speak in the first place. That seems like the wrong question to me. I’m more interested in what prompted the man to apologize at this point in his life. As I understand it, he had spent years insisting that he was either: a) a good soldier for having carried out orders, or b) the victim for having carried out orders. I wonder if we’re finally getting far enough from the drama of Vietnam that the principal players can take stock of their performance. The other obvious example is Robert McNamara.


    As relief from the grim tone of the page, with no pictures or conversations, here are some links to work by the great Alice Neel (1900-1984). A true Greenwich Village bohemian, she lived a life that (had I the time) would warrant an extensive post. Apparently her work was disparaged during the brief (and macho) hegemony of abstraction; and certainly she suffered for it, living at times on welfare. In 1934, her companion Kenneth Doolittle destroyed hundreds of her paintings “in a rage”. And yet she made an extraordinary body of work, from the 1920s into the 1980s. Her specialty was the portrait, but there are striking cityscapes and still lifes as well. Looking at the pictures, I’m perpetually surprised at how much variety she achieved with seemingly simple means — and in particular, what variety of expression and personality she could convey in the faces of her sitters.

    Atrios points us to this Times article, by Jennifer Steinhauer, on the foreclosure crisis in Moreno Valley, out by Redlands in the Inland Empire. It’s inhibited by conventions of the genre, and the interviews seem only to have gone so far, but it’s suggestive — it sketches a picture of the community that took root on one street during the boom years, and the strains that were put on it by the bust.

    The neighborly virtues of mutual consideration and assistance seem, in this telling, to go hand in hand with wealth, or with the exclusion of those whose wealth isn’t above a certain bar. For the established residents, moving into this neighborhood, ten years ago, was a move up, and a move away from rougher neighborhoods (El Monte, for example). And as foreclosure pushes some of them out, and the prices of the vacated houses fall to 1989 levels, they seem to fear that rough neighbors like the ones they moved away from (South LA is mentioned) may move in.

    It’s possible that this element in the story is due to Steinhauer’s spin. Her concrete examples turn out to be a little more complex: for example, the line “I didn’t get this house that I paid a lot of money for to be next to a mechanic” is spoken by one of the new neighbors about one of the old ones, who’s fixing up cars to get by after losing his job. (And in context, it seems she’s objecting to being next to the auto work, not his person.) But the story left me gloomy again about our national inability to live with each other. A decent built and human environment is a right, and it’s one we generally deny to those who can’t pay a lot for it — true I think even if inadequately supported in this case.

    4:30: ow. It’s early.
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    Back in May, I wrote a post on Medals of Honor, and how the standards for awarding them seem to have changed. It was a quick look that focused particularly on how the de facto requirements for being given a Medal of Honor now, more and more, seem to include dying. In both Korea and Vietnam, more than 60% of Medals of Honor were posthumous, a dramatic shift from previously. As I said then:

    The valor that garners a Medal of Honor has changed since the Civil War, when the award was first created. In fact, many of the ways that the Medal was previously given no longer hold. Perhaps the most obvious of these is that it is now extremely difficult–if not impossible–to get a Medal of Honor while surviving the acts of bravery.

    We now have an interesting further case. Read the rest of this entry »

    Given past discussion here (and here and here) , I thought I’d at least mention that The Times has a forum up about whether Berkeley should fire John Yoo. For those of you who are too impatient to click a link, the answer is: procedural liberalism!

    I’m trying to think of an appropriate program, ceremony, or activity.

    It is with great pride that our Nation commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of Statehood for Hawaii. On August 21, 1959, we welcomed Hawaii into the United States ohana, or family. Unified under the rule of King Kamehameha the Great, it was Queen Lili’uokalani who witnessed the transition to a Provisional Government controlled by the United States. As a Nation, we honor the extensive and rich contributions of Native Hawaiian culture to our national character.

    Borne out of volcanic activity in the Pacific Ocean, a chain of islands emerged that would bear witness to some of the most extraordinary events in world history. From Pu’ukohola Heiau and the royal residence at the `Iolani Palace, to the USS ARIZONA Memorial and luaus that pay tribute to Hawaiian traditions, Americans honor the islands’ collective legacy and admire their natural beauty. Home to unique and endangered species, active volcanoes, and abundant reefs, the Hawaiian islands actively conserve their distinctive ecosystems with responsible development and a deep-rooted appreciation for the land and surrounding ocean.

    The Aloha Spirit of Hawaii offers hope and opportunity for all Americans. Growing up in Hawaii, I learned from its diversity how different cultures blend together into one population — proud of their personal heritage and made stronger by their shared sense of community. Our youngest State, Hawaii faces many of the same challenges other States face throughout our country, and it represents the opportunity we all have to grow and learn from each other.

    NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by the virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim August 21, 2009, as the Fiftieth Anniversary of Hawaii Statehood. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

    On this day in 1940, an actual Communist leader, Leon Trotsky, was stabbed in the head with an ice pick by Ramón Mercader, who was himself not only an actual Communist, but an agent of Stalin, who awarded Mercader’s mother an Order of Lenin for her part in the plot.  Upon his release from prison in 1960, Mercader moved to an actual Communist country, Cuba, and then to another, the Soviet Union, whereupon his arrival he was awarded a Hero of the Soviet medal from the head of the KGB, Alexander Shelepin.

    On this day in 1944, an actual Communist country, the Soviet Union, launched an offensive against a real Nazi country, Hitler’s Germany, over the fate of Romania, which would end the day either a real Nazi or actual Communist coutry, but not both, because real Nazism and actual Communism are such different beasts that Hitler’s Germany went to war against Stalin’s Soviet Union over whose distinct sytem of oppression the Romanian people will be compelled to live under.  The actual Communists won the day, routing the real Nazis and installing an actual Communist government that would survive until 1989.

    On this day in 1991, actual Communist tanks pulled in front of the actual Communist parliament building, the White House, in preparation for Operation Grom, a KGB-orchestrated coup against an actual Communist government led by Mikhail Gorbachev.  Within two days, Gorbachev would resign his position as General Secretary of the the actual Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and by Christmas of that year, the hammer and sickle—the actual Communist flag of the Soviet Union—would be lowered from the Kremlin for the last time.

    For the latest breaking news about mock communists and ersatz Nazis, keep it turned to FOXNews throughout the day.


    Here’s another edition of “there is in fact good and nontrivial scholarship in modern historical journals” (we need a catchier name for this series; previously: 1, 2). Today’s installment addresses the question implicit in this post title: how wild was the West?


    Randolph A. Roth, “Guns, Murder, and Probability: How Can We Decide Which Figures to Trust?” Reviews in American History 35, no. 2 (2007): 165-175. Accessed 8/20/09, here.


    Was homicide really more common in the American West than elsewhere? How can we know?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    A conservative woman, Pamela Pilger, yells “Heil Hitler!” at Samuel Blum, an Israeli immigrant, as he’s being interviewed by a local television crew.  She’s unthinkingly and ignorantly odious.  Even were Blum not Jewish, shouting “Heil Hitler!” at a political opponent is never an acceptable option in civil discourse.  (Different standards no doubt apply at official Hitler Youth mixers.)  Although she’s the one berating a former Israeli citizen while wearing an Israeli Defense Forces shirt, the more interesting party is the man to her left.  There she is, with her IDF shirt on, and when the Blum mentions that he served the required three years in the IDF, the man to her left leans in and says . . .

    Consider this a bookend to Ari’s post, as those are the words of Hitler according to this protester:

    According to her and those like her, Hitler didn’t actively conspire to murder millions of people in the service of a racist eugenics, he passively refused to “spend the money to keep them alive.”  Who are “they” here?  Because she claims that “limiting Medicare expenditures in order to reduce the deficit . . . is the T-4 policy of the Hitler—of a Hitler policy in 1939,” she must be talking about those killed under the auspices of the Aktion T-4 Euthanasie: the lebensunwertes Leben, or “life unworthy of life,” i.e. the elderly, the mentally disabled and the otherwise infirm. Par for the course for those who believe in “death panels.”

    However, if people like this protester possessed a perspective of more depth and extension than the Wikipedia Brand Knowledge currently bandied about conservative discussion boards and listservs, they would know, for example, that the T-4 initiative was prohibitively expensive. Its predecessor, the Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses, or “Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring,” which mandated the sterilization of the physically and mentally disabled, had been scaled back because it was too expensive. That is, they stopped, not started, the ideologically-based murders of those they considered defective because it would save Germany a few million Reichsmarks.

    This should go without saying: the Nazis wanted to kill these people, they simply couldn’t afford to. In fact, it was only in 1939, after they’d planted a war on both horizons, that Hitler could justify the expense required to expand the T-4 initiative into the concentration camps.

    In short, whatever Obama’s policy will be, if it is, as this protester claims, designed to reduce the national deficit, it won’t resemble Aktion T-4 one whit. Moreover, the category of lebensunwertes Leben wasn’t limited to those with mental or physical handicaps as we currently understand them: opponents of Nazi policy were routinely deemed to be insane and euthanized, meaning that so long as this protester and those like her are free to berate Barney Frank with patent nonsense, Godwin’s Law is still in full effect.


    So said the New York Times about the big news on this day in 1934: that Adolph Hitler had consolidated his control over Germany.

    On this day in 1920, Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Oddly, School House Rock’s story of women’s suffrage, which is perfectly accurate in every other detail, neglects to mention that the critical vote hinged on Harry Burn’s decision to listen to his mama.

    By late summer 1920, thirty-five of the thirty-six states required for ratification had passed the Amendment. Pro- and anti-suffrage activists, wearing yellow and red roses respectively, descended upon Nashville, Tennessee, where the state legislature appeared to be deadlocked on the issue. On August 18, a preliminary roll call yielded a 48-48 tie. Then, after a second roll call also ended in a stalemate, the 24-year-old Burn, proudly wearing a red rose pinned to his lapel, changed his vote. An infuriated mob descended upon Burn, who reportedly escaped out of window and then hid in the State Capitol’s attic.

    Burn later explained that upon hearing that he would vote against suffrage, his elderly mother had sent him a telegram asking him to change his mind. And like any good son, he eventually agreed. What most people don’t know is that Burn, as he cast his deciding vote, shouted “Lucretia!”

    Coates writes,

    I was thinking about … Richmond yesterday, and The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” For those who are unfamiliar, the song is a mournful ballad about the fall of Richmond and Petersburg. I’m told that it’s a great song, and I don’t so much doubt this, as I doubt my own magnanimity.

    I don’t think it’s reasonable for anyone to expect him to be that magnanimous. I love the song, myself, or have loved it — but I’ve always kept my fingers crossed, as it were, rather than take in the text fully. As if nostalgia for the Lost Cause could be simply a lyrical attitude, a costume to put on and then take off. But I don’t think that’s tenable. True, the song doesn’t go as far into that mythology as the radically (and deliberately) offensive “Brown Sugar”; but I think I’ve passed the point where I can forget that the Cause has a bearing on current life.

    Still, what a piece of music: to pick just one detail, the way the downbeat on “the niiiight” spreads out over a full long beat itself. The clips on Youtube are mainly from later performances, e.g. in “The Last Waltz”, so here, in valediction, is one with the original LP version of the song — and, naturally, appropriate visuals. Possibly NSFW.

    Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester

    Korea was the first war fought by an officially desegregated American military. Though African-Americans had served—and indeed fought—in every war in American history, they had usually done so under restricted and restrictive official circumstances. That changed in 1947 when President Harry S Truman capped his civil rights program with Executive Order 9981 which directed the military services to give “equal treatment” to all races serving in the armed forces. The Order deliberately did not mention integration or segregation. Truman was facing an imminent reelection campaign and did not want to alienate southern Democrats any more than his civil rights campaign already had.

    Desegregation moved slowly in the following years. The President’s order had been written with a fair amount of waffle room, room of which the military took full advantage

    It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.

    What “as rapidly as possible,” or “due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale” meant was left unclear. Unsurprisingly, the military delayed, hedged, and rejected radical change. Pressure from African-American groups kept things moving, but only slowly. It was not until early 1950 that the Army established regulations that started it on the slow road to full integration. The Army that was sent to fight Korea was by no means completely at ease with the idea or practice of racial mixing and remained more segregated than not.

    The Cold War created another pressure, however. Substantially reduced in the World War II demobilization, the Army found itself in 1947-50 having to meet a number of significant new commitments in a world in which containment was now official U.S. policy. Worse, in 1950, the Army rudely thrust into a distant war for a chunk of land—the Korean peninsula—that Secretary of State Dean Acheson had only recently left outside America’s global defensive perimeter. Faced with an unfamiliar war, in unfamiliar terrain, the Army found that manpower critically important. It doubled in size from 1950 to 1951, and African-American enlistments soared from 8.2% of all enlistees in March 1950 to 25.2% in August 1950.

    The segregation system could not withstand the strain. By April of 1951, black units were massively overstrength, in some cases as much as 60%. Faced with the continuing influx of black recruits, no place to put them (an attempt to activate new black units was turned down), and heavy casualties (of all races) in Korea, the Army began shipping newly trained African-American soldiers as replacements for whatever unit needed them. Desperate to keep their fighting strength up, commanders in Korea showed little hesitation in putting African-American soldiers in white units. Effectively, the United States Army desegregated, under the pressure of war, in the foxholes. It seems to have worked. An opinion poll conducted by the Army in 1951 revealed that 89% of white enlisted men who had served in a racially-mixed unit felt that morale was equal to or higher than that of a all-white unit. As one wounded (white) private said: “’Far as I’m concerned it worked pretty good….Concerning combat, what I’ve seen, an American is an American.”

    Much the same seems to be occurring now, with women. The integration of woman into the armed forces over the last several decades has been a contentious and slow process, with an enormous amount of resistance to the idea of women serving both from within and without the military. The debate over women in the military presaged and in some ways predicted the debate of gays in the military. Women would destroy combat cohesion; they were physically weaker than men and would be unable to handle the physical requirements of military life; they would distract the male soldiers; they would get pregnant and have to be discharged. The result is the current official policy, which limits women from performing combat roles, but has opened a broad range of other responsibilities.

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    The National Research Council released its method for rating graduate programs this July, somewhat after its original deadline. This is the method; actual rankings are yet to come. The NRC last issued ratings in 1995.

    All the noise from the right about Obama being a not-so-crypto-socialist or communist or Marxist has had its desired effect: Obama now seems willing to drop the public option from his health care reform package. But everyone who always saw Obama for what he is—a dogged centrist who knows how to game the system—already knew that the public option would likely be off the table during the initial rounds of reform. Thoughtful folks knews that Obama would play politics—that he would float a plan far more ambitious than he could push through Congress—that his concessions would be scripted from the start, consisting of provisions that he knew to be untenable in the present political climate but which, after becoming familiar through repetition, would sound less extreme the next time they became fodder for public discussion.

    Such are the dictates of his technocratic fancy.

    What makes the conservative response to his policies particularly dumbfounding is that he’s flashed his incrementalist credentials numerous times—most saliently in his treatment of the GLBT issues—and yet conservatives respond like he’s always playing for the whole pot when, in fact, all his talk of high stakes is intended to distract them from the fact that he’s penny-anteing them into poorhouse. In short, conservatives are giddy because they’ve “prevented” him from winning as big as he talks even though he’s the only one leaving the table with anything in his wallet.

    Tempted as I am to expand on all the apt metaphors here—deaths accomplished by a thousand cuts that produce ghosts who proudly crow about not being beheaded, or defeated generals bragging about transitory victories in a long war—but as conservatives have provided me (and Obama) with better material, I can cut to the chase. Consider what the conservative movement currently considers a win:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    In an article forecasting the collapse of California’s public university and college system, the Economist notes

    The best public higher education in the world is to be found at the University of California (UC). This claim is backed up by Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, which provides an authoritative ranking of research universities. The UC’s campus at Berkeley ranks third behind two private universities, Harvard and Stanford. Several of the other ten UC sites, such as Los Angeles and San Diego, are not far behind. Californians are justifiably proud.

    Perhaps you asked yourself, Shanghai Jiao Tong’s rankings? Yes. In their method,

    We rank universities by several indicators of academic or research performance, including alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, highly cited researchers, articles published in Nature and Science, articles indexed in major citation indices, and the per capita academic performance of an institution.

    UC Davis, in case you’re curious about that Athens of the Central Valley, rates 48th in the world by this method. Of course Davisites prefer the Washington Monthly method, which puts UC Davis at number 8 nationwide (just ahead of Stanford), but Shanghai Jiao Tong still puts UC Davis higher than US News and some other methods.

    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...."