You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2010.

(a poem mostly cribbed from the writing of Hogan, at Redstate, as a followup to Epistemic Closure)

I frankly don’t know,
Don’t know,
Conscience, conservative, statistic, number.

Correct or not:
Goldwater, Reagan,

The facts were in the ballpark,
The principles were
Timeless and correct.

The facts were in the ballpark.
I have read.
Good book,
Good citations,
Good facts.

In the ballpark.


The New York Times discovers the perils of military powerpoint:

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown a PowerPoint slide in Kabul last summer that was meant to portray the complexity of American military strategy, but looked more like a bowl of spaghetti.

“When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” General McChrystal dryly remarked, one of his advisers recalled, as the room erupted in laughter.


Those types of PowerPoint presentations, Dr. Hammes said, are known as “hypnotizing chickens.”

Way ahead of you, oh paper of record.

Some tiresome shite about religion below the fold.
Read the rest of this entry »

I’m so happy we can now add “epistemic closure” to the list of terms that have both a technical meaning in philosophy and a different meaning in popular conversation. Much hilarity results from imagining Jonah Goldberg muttering “I know I have hands. I know that if I have hands, I must not be a brain in a vat…but I don’t know I’m not a brain in a vat! Dammit!

In addition to the recent Military History Carnival hosted at EotAW, links to past versions of the Carnival can be found here.

When students have asked me about Stephen Ambrose and using his books for research papers, until recently, I’ve laid out the plagiarism issues with his later works, and warned against using them. His early works, I told them, seem reasonably reliable, but they should retain a residual wariness of them. This sometimes sounded overly harsh; condemning a man’s life work for later failings. I wish it had been:

Nonfiction writers who succumb to the temptations of phantom scholarship are a burgeoning breed these days, although most stop short of fabricating interviews with Presidents. But Stephen Ambrose, who, at the time of his death, in 2002, was America’s most famous and popular historian, appears to have done just that.

I should be more surprised, but I’m not. What had appeared the failings of a historian overwhelmed by the popularity of his works and the demand for more, now seems–if this evidence is accurate–to be the lifelong betrayal of his discipline.

Welcome to the twenty-third edition of the Military History Carnival. We have an eclectic range of entries in this edition:

Asian Military History

Alan Baumler submitted an entry on Wartime Dog Killing Squads at Frog in a Well.

Read the rest of this entry »

Well, both:

He may have never told a lie, but George Washington apparently had no problem stiffing a Manhattan library on two books.

Two centuries ago, the nation’s first President borrowed two tomes from the New York Society Library on E. 79th St. and never returned them, racking up an inflation-adjusted $300,000 late fee.

via Consumerist

It’s no wonder that this is happening on Barack Hussein Obama’s watch. I mean, am I right or what? And by this, I mean the fact that if Elana Kagan, the chalk pick* as President Obama’s choice to replace John Paul Stevens, is nominated and confirmed, there will be no white Anglo-Saxon Protestants left on the Supreme Court. Not one! Think about it: there will be six Catholics** and three Jews**** charged with interpreting the United States Constitution, the most sacred document in the history of ever. Somebody fetch me some tea; I’m ready to party.

* What does this expression mean? No, I’m not going to look it up. That’s cheating.

** Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Sotomayor, and Thomas.***

*** “Thomas is Catholic?” you’re saying to yourself. “Yes”, I’m saying back at you. Because it’s true: the man is Catholic.

**** Breyer, Ginsburg, and, in this nightmarish parallel universe that used to be known as the United States of America, Kagan.

I’m teaching progressivism today in introductory US history, so I thought I’d post one of my favorite cartoons of the 1912 campaign.

By E. W. Kemble, from Harper’s Weekly, 9/21/1912, p. 9.

The deadline is tonight at midnight for the next Military History Carnival. Send your submissions to hwar at comcast dot net to have them included.

The new round of arguments by libertarians that American liberty was at a high-water mark in 1880

Let’s consider, say, the year 1880. Here was a society in which people were free to keep everything they earned, because there was no income tax. They were also free to decide what to do with their own money—spend it, save it, invest it, donate it, or whatever. People were generally free to engage in occupations and professions without a license or permit. There were few federal economic regulations and regulatory agencies. No Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, bailouts, or so-called stimulus plans. No IRS. No Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor. No EPA and OSHA. No Federal Reserve. No drug laws. Few systems of public schooling. No immigration controls. No federal minimum-wage laws or price controls. A monetary system based on gold and silver coins rather than paper money. No slavery. No CIA. No FBI. No torture or cruel or unusual punishments. No renditions. No overseas military empire. No military-industrial complex.

As a libertarian, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a society that is pretty darned golden.

—has been ably met by the appropriate choruses of “are you high?’ Because you’re leaving out African Americans, and women, and whole classes of people who didn’t enjoy this vaunted liberty.

But this is a tedious and silly argument even if we stick to looking at honky men.

(1) In 1880, you had a protective tariff, a.k.a. industrial policy, a.k.a. machinery for corruption by taking the voters’ money, such that tariff duties collected ran to about thirty percent of the value of imports (as opposed to around 2 percent today). It’s worth noting that the argument for an income tax was not just to punish the rich for making so much money; it was to replace the tariff as a source of federal revenue.

(2) In 1880, you had powerful governments willing to break strikes and extensively regulate business practices; these governments make up a strange class of entities that in this country we know as states and their powers are visible in the 1873 Slaughterhouse cases, as elsewhere.

(3) In 1880 you had restrictions on immigration under the Page Act of 1875, keeping out convicts and prostitutes (hey, if you’re going to be a libertarian) and also creating a permitting system for Chinese and Japanese immigrants. This latter provision was prelude to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Noting that leads finally to

(4) Picking 1880 is a bit of a con anyway; by 1882 you do have the Chinese Exclusion Act, and as recently as 1877 you still had the remnants of something resembling an activist government working on behalf of civil rights in the South.

So even if you grant all the wacky, racist, sexist premises here, and discount items 1-3 above, you’re still looking at a five-year anomaly 1877-1882, rather than the normal way things used to be.

Today, Phil Mickelson struck a blow for monogamy and all that is right about America. With the vile Tiger Woods (I mean, how dare he not serve as a paragon of good behavior like Charles Barkley once did?) vanquished and Mickelson wrapped in the arms of his loving wife, no one in this country will ever cheat on a spouse again. Better still, Mickelson’s triumph at Augusta National Golf Club, long recognized as one of this nation’s great social engineering projects, means that African-American children will, going forward, grow up in intact families. Our teeming ghettos are filled with laughter and singing tonight.

Obviously, she needs to bring the wife along so that the boy might experience the Continent as a youngster should.

via Kieran.

As a followup to this post, I randomly encountered a Google Ad from the Appomattox Court House tourist board:


Too perfect.

On this day in history, April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Ulysses Grant wrote the following:

General R. E. LEE:

GENERAL: In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th instant, I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer to be designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged; and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery, and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by U. S. authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.


It is one of the great myths of American history, and thus a suitable answer to Eric’s question, that Appomattox ended the Civil War. It certainly surrendered the Confederacy’s most notable army and commander, but even after April 9th, Confederate armies remained in the field, fighting the Union. President Andrew Johnson’s announcement of the end of the Civil War would not come until August 20, 1865, and even then, the Confederate commerce raider Shenandoah held out until early November. But Lee’s surrender has become the de facto end of the Civil War, as it plays powerfully into the personality cult surrounding the Confederate General, and serves usefully as the founding tragedy of Lost Cause mythology.

Linked for truth.  Moreover, suppose Douthat was right about the alleged permissive sexual mores of 1970s Ireland.  What, by all the angels and saints and the holy living mother of the fuck does that explain?  What is that supposed to say about the U.S.? Are we to believe that this sexual liberation permeated the Church hierarchy so thoroughly that they kept the vow of celibacy instead of permitting married priests, but decided that raping children was okay and then constructed a time machine to send the abusers back in time so the authorities could establish a track record of complete wickedness and uselessness?

Look, whether raping children is wrong is not one of the hard ethical questions.  (Maybe Douthat skipped that night at RCIA.) And deciding whether to protect the institution or the rape victims wasn’t supposed to be one of the hard questions, either.

“Contrition” does not mean find a way to blame it on hippies on another continent.  Christ on a cracker.

Ari’s previous two posts inspire me to ask of our learned readership a question for each.1

1) Does the “which side are you on” rhetoric in response to industrial tragedy get the American public’s attention? Almost a hundred years ago Charles Beard, perhaps somewhat bitterly, said no:

Realizing the fact that a mere high mortality due to congestion will not seriously disturb a nation that complacently slaughters more people on its railways and in its factories and mines than any other country in the world, mathematically minded reformers are trying to reach the heart of the public through its purse by pointing out that there is a great economic loss in the death of persons of working age.

Which really works better to grab Americans’ attention? Rhetorical appeals to justice, or social scientific appeals to your wallet?

2) Let’s stipulate there is no greater historiographical swindle than the hornswoggling pretense that the Civil War derived principally from any cause other than slavery and there has never been a lower species of bamboozle than the neoconfederate heritage racket. What else goes on the list of great historiographical frauds? (Yes, New Deal denialism does. Others?)

1That’s for each post, not for each reader, wisenheimer.

I think kb’s right: it’s worth putting Coates’s demolition of the Virginia GOP (and the Republican Party more broadly) on the front page. Responding to Governor Bob McDonnell’s decision to revive Confederate History Month, Coates writes:

This is who they are–the proud and ignorant. If you believe that if we still had segregation we wouldn’t “have had all these problems,” this is the movement for you. If you believe that your president is a Muslim sleeper agent, this is the movement for you. If you honor a flag raised explicitly to destroy this country then this is the movement for you. If you flirt with secession, even now, then this movement is for you. If you are a “Real American” with no demonstrable interest in “Real America” then, by God, this movement of alchemists and creationists, of anti-science and hair tonic, is for you.

Or, if you prefer a more scholarly approach to the issue, kevin, who sometimes comments here, suggests via e-mail that you might want to take note of Jim McPherson’s equally damning reply to Gov. McDonnell’s hate-mongering:

I find it obnoxious, but it’s extremely typical. The people that emphasize Confederate heritage and the legacy, and the importance of understanding Confederate history, want to deny that Confederate history was ultimately bound up with slavery. But that was the principal reason for secession — that an anti-slavery party was elected to the White House. . . . And without secession, there wouldn’t have been a war.

Of course we’ve covered all of this ground before. Some myths die hard.

Update: Gov. McDonnell, to his credit, acknowledges that he blew it.

Over at B’s place, taddyporter has a post up today about the West Virginia mine disaster that I’m going to steal in its entirety (except for a photograph):

The handsome gent at the center of the photo on the left, the one with the impressive soup strainer, is Bennie Willingham, a coal miner at the Upper Big Branch coal mine and an employee of Mr. Blankenship.

Mr Willingham has been swept away by the gigantic methane explosion at the Upper Big Branch. He is lost to family, gathered around him in the photo, and friends.

Mr. Willingham regularly worked 12 hour shifts 1000 feet below the ground at the Upper Big Branch. He moved tons of coal for the Massey Energy Company.

We don’t know what Massey Energy paid its miners since it is not a party to collective bargaining with the United Mine Workers of America. If it were a party, Mr Willingham would have been paid $22.42 per hour in the final year of the contract, 2014.

Mr Blankenship, who, so far as anyone can tell, hasn’t dug a teaspoon of coal for Massey Energy, was paid $40 million dollars for the two year period ending 2007, the last year for which I’ve been able to find any figures for his wages. I’m not sure what that comes to per hour. Its clearly a better deal than he would have got from the UMWA contract. And, he works in a nice office, ten stories above the ground. So, you know, its a good deal.

Still, you have to wonder who is more valuable to the shareholders of Massey Energy; the people who actually dig out the commodity that pays the bills or the bosses who run up the bills? Apparently, there is an inexhaustible supply of the former and a nearly pinched out premium supply of the latter, if we assume that the vaunted free market in coal determines wage costs in the coal fields.

These explosions have got to be damned expensive. The order to focus on nothing but running coal has resulted in an absolute halt to running anything. It turns out that protecting workers, operating a safe workplace, mitigating hazards, is good business. Who knew?

After the Sago mine outrage, the UMWA investigated and released a report on causes and corrections. You can read it here.

We won’t know for some time what caused the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine but the UMWA report gives some items to look for. The top three conditions I’m looking for in news reports are as follows:

1) were the abandoned areas of the mine sealed off with permanent bulkheads or temporary foam barricades?

2) were lines of communication between surface and underground armored or were they run through plenum?

3) is the mine’s safety and rescue team an outsourced contract team, unfamiliar with the Upper Big Branch operation or is it a standing team of workers who know the Upper Big Branch mine?

Its reported that when Mr Blankenship visited with miner’s families and loved ones Tuesday morning, he was escorted by more than a dozen police officers. Evidently, no expense public or private, is spared when it comes to Mr Blankenship’s safety.

Perhaps this principle could be extended to the operations of his mines. What if Mr Blankenship’s office were located 1000′ under the roots of the West Virginia mountains instead of ten stories above the commerical district of Richmond, Virginia? What if Mr Willingham and Mr Blankenship shared the risks of their business, even if they didn’t share the rewards?

I bet you if that were the case, you could eat off the floor of that mine. And Mr Willingham would be home with his family, right now.

I always feel a bit embarrassed when I fall hard for this kind of man-the-barricades, tug-at-your-heartstrings, aimed-at-red-diaper-babies prose. But that’s probably because the narrowing Overton window with regard to discussions of class inequities long ago choked off the oxygen feeding my basic decency.

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...."