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As a recent post on Metafilter points out, the well-known children’s author and sometime New Yorker cartoonist Syd Hoff had a radical alter ego, a Mr. Redfield who drew cartoons for the Daily Worker. Philip Nel has written about Hoff’s radicalism here and here; apparently, despite being a real-live Stalinist through and through—i.e., ticked at those who bailed on the party after the Hitler-Stalin pact—and a high-profile children’s author, Hoff never got blacklisted.
I came across Hoff in my own research because he illustrated a pamphlet supporting Bretton Woods titled Bretton Woods is No Mystery published by Pamphlet Press in 1945. The pamphlet’s author, Joseph Gaer, was a UC Berkeley lecturer who wrote extensively about religion, labor, and Western authors (including Bret Harte and Ambrose Bierce). At the time he wrote the pamphlet, Gaer was director of the CIO PAC; shortly before that he had been an assistant secretary of the Treasury and before that worked for the Farm Security Administration and the Federal Writers’ Project. He was also founder of Pamphlet Press, which (the back cover explains) worked “to find the area of agreement among all the progressive groups of our nation and unite them on the issues of their common concern”.
At the time of the pamphlet’s publication, the Treasury had embarked on a campaign to persuade Americans across the political spectrum to support the Bretton Woods Agreements and their adoption by Congress. Opposition came from the American Bankers Association and Senator Robert Taft (depicted by Hoff below).
So a Democratic administration put forward an international banking bill, and met well-funded opposition from the main banking trade group, opposition that persuaded the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and much of the major metropolitan newspapers that the bill was a bad idea.
Nowadays, a Democratic administration in such a position might well just give up. But the Roosevelt administration did not: it mobilized regional bankers, civic organizations, and labor groups on behalf of the bill, persuading them that it was vitally important to support Bretton Woods because (a) it was the first opportunity for Americans to show that in 1945, unlike in 1918, they would embrace international responsibilities and (b) it was a program for world prosperity and full employment.
That it hasn’t worked that way lately is more a reflection on what happened to Bretton Woods since 1971 than how and why it was created; at the time the Roosevelt administration meant it to save international capitalism, and lined up a coalition of bankers, businessmen, civic-minded middle-class professionals, and unions behind the idea that international capitalism should be saved.
(Which is the subject of this talk.)
We’re having a nor’easter this weekend, here in the extremely eastern part of the American West. I had the grumpy-old-man thought that we didn’t have nearly as many nor’easters when I was growing up, grumble, grumble, aaarr, get off my lawn, you kids. So I went and checked, and oddly there’s some truth to the thought. From Google’s quite wonderful Ngram viewer, mentions of the word “nor’easter” from 1800 to 2008:
Meanwhile, the New York Times mentions “nor’easter” 254 times from 1851-1980, but 272 times since 1980. The word is being used more, though whether that means those kind of storms are more frequent? Unclear.
[UPDATE: A kind reader points out that a number of the more modern hits may come from the 1991 publication of Sebastian Junger’s book A Perfect Storm, which uses “nor’easter” in its book description.]
But…grumble, grumble, aaarrr, get off my lawn, you kids.
We should have equal opportunity for bad domestic analogies, suggests Will Self.
It has become a commonplace of political discourse since the banking crisis of 2008 to compare the national finances to those of an individual or a family. You cannot – or so we are admonished by our current rulers – continue to run up more debts, when your credit cards are already maxed-out.
But why shouldn’t we apply the same domestic analogy to the conduct of states themselves? If we consider a government that attacks its own citizenry to be on a par with a homicidal maniac who stabs his wife, then what does that make the government/person who supplies the knife other than an accessory to uxoricide?
I know Wordles are so last week, but I just decided to Wordleize Lincoln’s First and Second Inaugurals. I’d like to say the results are stunning or at least interesting. They aren’t. Still, if you’d care to see for yourself, you can peek below the fold.
When did the political parties switch?
Plastic Surgery WWII.
Well, okay then.
I’m having an unusually difficult time this quarter convincing the students in one of my courses that I really do want them to be quiet while I teach. As always, I began the quarter by mentioning that I have very few pet peeves, but people who chat while I’m lecturing are near the top of that short list. I mean, people who kick kittens and/or puppies are far worse than incessant talkers. But I don’t encounter kitten- and puppy-kickers all that often, at least not while I teach, so they’re not a real-world pedagogical concern of mine.
That said, for some reason the initial no-talking PSA didn’t seem to take this go round, so I decided to mention it again. Adopting my very best insouciant manner (because I wanted to make sure that everybody understood that the talkers weren’t getting under my skin), I stopped class a couple of weeks ago and said, to nobody in particular (because I didn’t want to embarrass the talkers), “Hey, look, all of this talking is very distracting for me. And if my needs don’t concern you — and really, why would my needs matter to you, I’m only the one doing the grading — perhaps you could consider that you’re probably distracting the people sitting around you as well. So, please stop.” And then I started back in on the Puritans. Which was an odd thing to do, I’ll admit, because before the interruption I had been lecturing about cotton culture in the Chesapeake. See? All of the talking distracted me!
Well, I’m afraid that didn’t work either. Which meant that yesterday I stopped lecture suddenly, looked directly at the same group of people who have been chatting the quarter away, and said, without regard for their delicate sensibilities, “Enough. I’ve asked you before, and I meant it: please stop.” One member of this gang of recidivists then tried to stare me down, but I just smiled my Gore Vidal smile and looked away. Because I’m that cool. Well, fifteen minutes later they were talking again. No, seriously, they were.
I’m almost out of ideas at this point and thought I’d see if you can help. I suppose the next step is to ask this group of louts to see me after class. But I don’t really want to spend more of my time on this sort of classroom management. In part I feel that way because, really, this isn’t middle school. But it’s also so depressing to waste time on such stupid crap*.
So, what’s worked for you? Anything short of bringing a dart gun to class? Bear in mind that your answer will be recorded for posterity and that PhD candidates apparently read this blog. Which is to say, this is another opportunity for us to consider those things that don’t typically get taught in graduate school to aspiring scholars/teachers. Also bear in mind that, yes, I know these sorts of challenges are very often a much bigger problem for women. And I know, too, that the most appropriate and effective responses to such problems differ depending on the race, gender, age, and deportment of the professor in question. Still, I’m stumped and thought I’d see if you people can help me out.
Finally, yeah, don’t even get me started on all the texting and web-surfing that’s going on this quarter. I’ve mostly decided that the best thing to do about such practices is to ignore them. Except, of course, that I announced early in the quarter my “please don’t distract your neighbors with your gadgets” policy. Whether that works or not is anybody’s guess. I’m at the front of the room, fortunately, so I can’t see what’s displayed on the students’ screens.
* No, teaching about cotton culture in the Chesapeake and the Halfway Covenant is not “stupid crap”. You talked a lot in class during college, didn’t you?
Among the many things we don’t teach our graduate students — not just here but anywhere that I can think of — is how to referee a manuscript. There are many reasons why this skill isn’t taught: methods aren’t universal, time is short, most people suck at it. There are others, too, I’m sure. That said, this is a really useful guide. Useful enough that I’m just going to paste it in its entirety below the fold.
Further on the counterfactual issue: we always advise doctoral students and indeed each other that historians should be able to give an elevator pitch for any new project, and that this pitch should always answer the “so what?” question—i.e., you’re writing about the history of the glass-bead game of the Pacific islanders in the 1940s; so what?
“So what?” is of course always a challenge requiring you to counterfactualize twice over: it demands you to say (a) “but for” this event or phenomenon, x important thing would not have occurred and also (b) at a meta or historiographical level, “but for” my research, we cannot understand y important thing.
Believe me, I always worry about these things myself. Writing as I am about Bretton Woods, I get people saying either “That’s great!” and beaming, as if at a slow-learning child who has managed to write his name, or else looking dumbfounded completely. Why Bretton Woods, you can see them thinking—when you can’t see them thinking, what’s Bretton Woods?
Usually the answer has to do with the purported goals of the system—freer trade and stronger, better distributed economic growth—both of which were realized in the quarter-century or so that the system actually operated. But the connection between Bretton Woods and those trends is not easy to pick out of the data.
I think it’s more important to say, Bretton Woods was the first major opportunity to get the US to sign on to an international system in the post-1945 world. To have failed at the first hurdle—to have permitted Robert Taft and his ilk to scuttle the initial effort—would have increased the perception that isolationism still dominated the American temper, or at least the US Congress, and would have shaken the foundations of the whole postwar international project. So it was important to adopt Bretton Woods simply to set a pattern of postwar international cooperation; otherwise (note counterfactual) the forces of isolation would have been emboldened and strengthened.
Which raises a question: why did the Roosevelt administration decide to do Bretton Woods first? It was complicated, and difficult to explain. Perhaps Keynes’s answer was right: that it was precisely the intrinsic dullness of Bretton Woods that made it an ideal initial effort. “This is such a boring subject that no public enthusiasm can be roused by discussing the details, whilst it would be frightfully dangerous to be open to the challenge of sabotaging the first international scheme. Anyone with isolationist origins will think twice before doing so.” But this turned out to be an incorrect prediction; there was considerable opposition to overcome.
This morning in the graduate seminar we’ll be discussing Niall Ferugson’s Virtual History, which (per Andrew Gelman here and here) seems to me an agreeably rigorous thought experiment on the nature of causation in history. A cause is that x without which no y; to establish the causality of x one ought to be able to show that without it, no y, which means a comprehension of the counterfactual.
It strikes me as odd that some historians remain unhappy with this concept. Tristram Hunt suggested awhile back that this was because counterfactuals are inherently conservative; I think this is true only if you are wedded to a radical or progressive concept of history in which the end is foreordained. (See responses to Hunt here.) It is of course also possible that counterfactuals discomfit because, past a certain nearby point, there can be no evidence for them. Or perhaps for the same reason Gelman likes them—they are kin to a quantitative modeler’s mindset.
Salman Rushdie is running a series of #LiterarySmackdowns on Twitter, currently pitting Joan Didon against Susan Sontag, and Flannery O’Connor against Eudora Welty.1 I take it Didion and O’Connor are the obvious choices.
1This is a very Norman Mailer-ish conceit.
One of the best things about being a dad, for me at least, is the chance to revisit some of my favorite childhood experiences*. Sadly, George Lucas chose to sully several of these sacred moments when he
bowed to Mammon made the Star Wars prequels. Now, I know that shrewder critics have done a much better job** than I ever could documenting Lucas’s hackery. But that doesn’t mean I can’t pile on.
Last weekend, the younger boy, having saved up his screen time for several days***, earned the right to watch an entire movie. Yes, an entire movie! All at once! He wanted to see Episode I, but, because I’m a good father and a patron of the arts, I insisted that he had to sit through Episode IV first. He loved it. Phew. But then he saved up his screen time again, and yesterday he put his foot down. It was time to watch Phantom Menace. “Okay,” I said, “if you really want to waste your afternoon, I’ll sit through it with you.” Big mistake. From the unspooling of the backstory — I’m explaining to the younger boy, “There’s a trade war being fought over taxation. Which has implications for the parliamentary proceedings of the galactic senate.” And thinking to myself, “WTF? Kids are supposed to care about this?” — through the final credits the movie makes absolutely no sense. That said, again, the review linked above does a perfectly good job taking apart the film.
Still, I did want to add that it’s a bit unsettling when you’re watching a movie with a four-year-old and he says, “Daddy, why did Obi Wan say he doesn’t know R2D2 in the other movie?” “Huh, what?” I replied groggily, because naturally I was trying to sleep away the pain. “In the other movie [Episode IV], daddy, Obi Wan tells Luke that he’s never met R2D2. But in this movie [Episode I] R2D2 saves his life.” And the younger boy is right, of course. They make a huge deal of the fact that R2D2 saved the day in Episode I, presumably because Lucas had a new set of action figures he wanted to include in Happy Meals or whatever. But in Episode IV, Ben Kenobi, upon meeting Luke and R2 for the first time, insists that he’s never seen the little droid before. Wait, what? Is Old Ben getting a bit senile? Has he been drinking too much of that purple drank that Aunt Beru served back at the Skywalker Ranch? Or is he just some kind of incredible Jedi ingrate? Who the hell knows.
Anyway, I wanted to tell the younger boy, “Look, kid, I’m sorry to say that capitalism is a cruel system. And George Lucas wanted to cash in this go round rather than tell a well-crafted story. You should prepare yourself for more such disappointments in life.” But instead I mumbled something about the complexities of continuity, and by then there was another light saber fight going on — because like twelve seconds had passed — so he was distracted. But seriously, what’s up with that? Did Lucas not even watch Episodes IV–VI before making the prequels?
And then there’s Jar-Jar’s and Watto’s minstrel show. No comment necessary
* Re-reading A Wrinkle in Time with my older boy? Heaven.
** The creepy stuff about sexual violence notwithstanding. Yuck. Still, the reviews are pretty good primers on storytelling technique.
*** Yes, we test our children’s willpower all the time by placing marshmallows in front of them when they’re hungry. What of it?
The always-worth-reading David Greenberg on the passing of John Morton Blum, who is somehow in my academic family tree (Blum was one of David M. Kennedy’s advisors, I think).
As is often the case I want to quibble a little with David, who writes, “John Morton Blum—who always used the very Jewish-sounding “Morton” in his professional byline”—to me, the “Morton” made the name sound less, rather than more, Jewish. As someone who doesn’t professionally use his middle name, I sometimes think about these things.
Correlation is not causation, you know. Still:
All US troops will be pulled out of Iraq by the end of the year, President Barack Obama has announced.
He ordered a complete withdrawal from the country, nearly nine years after the invasion under President George W Bush.
About 39,000 US troops remain in Iraq, down from a peak of 165,000 in 2008.
The US and Iraq were in “full agreement” on how to move forward, Mr Obama said, adding: “The US leaves Iraq with our heads held high.”
“That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end.”
Before the speech the White House said: “This will allow us to say definitively that the Iraq war is over,” and said the US and Iraq would work as two sovereign nations.
Maybe if we’d kept up blogging right the way along the administration could have been less aggressively disappointing.
Anyway, we still want it.
Look, I’m aware of Gore Vidal’s excesses: in literature, politics, and appetite. And yet, there’s something positively delicious about the moment when, after Buckley calls him a queer, a sly smile creases Vidal’s face. “I got him,” he’s so obviously thinking to himself, “I’ve got this pompous little bigot right where I want him.”
As for context, remember, as Eric notes below, that the country was literally falling apart in 1968: the aftermath of Tet brought the realization that Vietnam would end in a stalemate (at best), the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy shattered many people’s hopes for a better world, and, of course, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago (where Mayor Daley screamed at Senator Ribicoff, “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch, you lousy motherfucker, go home.”) suggested that even the establishment had lost its capacity to lead.
Finally, I don’t think this exchange represents the high-water mark for WASP culture in the United States. That was probably some time during FDR’s eleventh term, right? Instead, this appears, in retrospect, like the beginning of the end of the WASP era. Various civil rights movements were still unfolding. A Catholic had been elected president. Another might have been had he, too, not been killed. And as Mayor Daley realized, Abraham Ribicoff, a Jew son of a bitch, had upstaged the party’s leaders in Chicago. Still, Buckley’s and Vidal’s accents: so very plummy!
So I heard we might be starting blogging again. I kind of want to do a roundup of what’s happened since we stopped. But that seems like work. So I’ll note instead that today, I gave a lecture1 on 1968: Tet, Johnson
surrendering the Alamo declining to run, MLK’s murder, RFK’s murder, Chicago (including Ribicoff v. Daley, Buckley v. Vidal, and selected truncheons v. a whole bunch of protesters) … is it the worst year in American history?
1Lecturing is for professors who should be writing their books what writing letters was for Hemingway:2 empty calories, an excursion that makes you feel as if you’ve done something really productive when kind of you haven’t.3
2I should probably have a link for that quotation but I can’t find one. Anyway I’m not sure we’re really starting blogging again, so I don’t know if I feel committed to looking for stuff like that, you know?
3Hey, html footnotes again! I can’t remember if we thought those were funny, or not.
A friend*, who happens to be among the most astute observers of the political scene I know, has this to say in the wake of last night’s Republican debate:
I think he’s [Romney] going to be an unbelievably good candidate in the general. He’s Obama — a tall, handsome technocrat who instituted universal coverage — with a different coalition behind him. I now have this dystopian fantasy about how the campaign will play out:
Romney: I’m Mitt Romney, and I’m not black.
Obama: I’m Barack Obama, and I’m not Mormon.
R: I’m not secretly a Muslim.
O: My religion doesn’t treat “Space Invaders” as a sacred text.
R: I don’t want to rape your daughters.
O: I won’t force them to become my sixth and seventh wives when they turn 13.
Good times. Oh, by the way, with the economy in tatters, Steve Jobs in the grave, and the nation mired in countless foreign wars, we’re considering coming back.
Time will tell.
* The Edge of the American West: new and improved and now with blind sourcing. Superpro!