As a follow-up to this post, I note this:

The Air Force has more drones and more sensors collecting more data than it has humans to interpret what the electronic tea leaves say. The glut of all that video and still imagery is “unsustainable,” says the Air Force’s top civilian — but it’ll be “years” before the Air Force digs its way out of it.

As the article points out, there are various levels of processing needed. There’s a need for an immediate triage of imagery for time-sensitive operations. If an American unit’s under attack, the imagery that might help them can’t go in the normal processing queue. But there’s also the general processing, that might yield information useful over the medium or long term.

More computers, please.

Sara Robinson asks of Rick Santorum’s false claims about the UC and US history, “Did Rick Santorum just declare the next right-wing crusade?”

The thing to remember is this: Even though right-wing narratives are often factually wrong, they are absolutely never content-free. Stories like this are always about something. And the weirder and more factually challenged they sound to liberal ears, the more important it probably is for us to know what that something is.… This is almost always a clear sign that conservatives are lining up their artillery — in this case, for an open assault on America’s public colleges and universities.

The thing is, the artillery have already been lined up and firing for years. The UC has already been drastically cut. Student tuition and fees are, notoriously, “hella high” – and rising. There’s no sense in which this is the “next” crusade. It’s ongoing.

On taking office in March 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the dollar off the gold standard. At his first press conference he was cagey about his actions, noting that the US still qualified as a gold standard country in some respects, though noting implicitly that it did not in others, and he stated further, “In other words, what you are coming to now really is a managed currency, the adequateness of which will depend on the conditions of the moment. It may expand one week and it may contract another week. That part is all off the record.” Asked if this were temporary or permanent, he replied, “It ought to be part of the permanent system [-] that is off the record – it ought to be part of the permanent system, so we don’t run into this thing again …”

Within a month or so these off-the-record comments became common understanding: the US gold standard was over. Americans had to turn in their gold in exchange for paper dollars. The dollar fell in value on international exchanges from its previously fixed value of $20.67 to an ounce of gold, and eventually, under the Gold Reserve Act of January 1934, settled legally – for the purposes of international exchange only – at $35 to an ounce.

On June 7, 1934, Harry Dexter White, then a professor at Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin, received an invitation from Jacob Viner to work on the US Treasury’s “comprehensive survey of our monetary and banking legislation and institutions.” White accepted and in about three months wrote a report on monetary standards, examining the possibilities of various options and making recommendations.

White said the US faced a choice between a gold standard and a managed currency – i.e., between fixed and flexible exchange rates. A gold standard, he said, would be better for trade – stable exchange rates allowed traders to make contracts across borders with greater confidence. But, he said, any increased trade would be more than offset by the bad effects of a gold standard in an economic crisis, when capital would flee the country, obliging the government to tighten monetary policy so the dollar could remain on gold – thus making the crisis worse. Meanwhile, White said, a managed currency would give the US greater independence in its monetary policy (it wouldn’t be tied to every other country on gold) and would permit a domestic policy aimed at a stable cost of living.

You might think White could rest there having made the cast for a flexible exchange rate. But he went on: Read the rest of this entry »

The Transportation Security Agency, in all its glory:

A spokesman said the agency has its reasons for still requiring that traditional laptops go through X-ray machines in a separate bin. But he declined to share them, saying the agency didn’t want to betray any secrets.

There are reasons, BUT WE CANNOT TELL THEM TO YOU OR THE TERRORISTS WIN.

This article in Vanity Fair left me thinking that it’s only a matter of time before performance-enhancing drugs become the norm rather than the exception in the academy. I mean, what happens you realize that the assistant professor that your department just hired can concentrate for hours and hours without taking a break for weeks on end? What happens when you realize that s/he is far more productive than you are because of these extraordinary powers of concentration? And then, what happens when you learn that the secret to her or his success is a prescription for methylphenidate? What are you going to do about it*? As for me, I’ll probably go out for a bike ride and then take a nap. But that’s because I’m old and pretty much past my prime already. But if I could still be a contender — whatever being a contender means — I wonder if I’d think twice and call my doctor.

Here’s the thing: I’ve long known that there are people in the profession who are smarter than I am (some of these people have offices near mine). My response to such cruel realities has been, on the one hand, to acknowledge my limits and, on the other hand, to work my ass off to try to make up the stagger. Put another way, I’ve accepted that nature is fickle (Bill Cronon is a once-in-a-generation intellect; I’m not) and tried to overcome the vagaries of genetics with a response rooted in nurture (my willingness to work hard)**. That said, I think I’m going to find it pretty difficult to take when it turns out that people are outperforming me because they’re relying chemical enhancements*** to help them publish.

Now wait, before you give the obvious reply, yes, I know this already happens. Eric drinks coffee. I don’t. And that’s the only reason he’s written four books and I haven’t. Really, though, if there were a pill that would allow me to be significantly more productive, I worry that I’d think long and hard about taking it. Actually, I suspect that choice is already here. It’s just that I don’t have the right dealer.

* Whitey.

** The nature/nurture divide is far too simple here, I know. Some people are smarter and harder working than I am. Oh well.

*** Especially when it turns out that some people process these chemicals more efficiently than other people and thus have better results when they ingest them. Oh, nature, you are truly cruel!

I’m trying not to put up puff posts for every bit of publicity that the BRatGGC* gets, but I can’t resist two items.

The first is through the kindness of John Scalzi, the noted science fiction author, who runs “Big Idea” pieces for authors with new books. Most of those are, unsurprisingly, science fiction or fantasy, but Mr. Scalzi was kind enough to include the Boxer book today. He is a mensch, and you should buy his books.

The second is from the Wall Street Journal, which ran a review of the book last week. I liked the review, and as long as I sort of squint my way past the opinion page of the WSJ, I like it as well.

*Boy, that’s a bad acronym. Any better suggestions?

That’s a shocking infographic.”

Rick Santorum:

I was just reading something last night from the state of California. And that the California universities – I think it’s seven or eight of the California system of universities don’t even teach an American history course. It’s not even available to be taught. Just to tell you how bad it’s gotten in this country, where we’re trying to disconnect the American people from the roots of who we are, so they have an understanding of what America should be.

I suppose that narrowly speaking, he might not be lying: he might have read “something … from the state of California” that said this. That something might of course have been scrawled in green crayon on a crumpled paper bag.

But there is certainly no substantial truth in this statement, especially the notion that either of the “California system[s] of universities” is “trying to disconnect the American people from the roots of who we are”.

Someone is trying to make Santorum look like a profoundly ignorant man.

I was able to find US history courses at the CSUs:

Bakersfield
Channel Islands
Chico
Dominguez Hills
East Bay
Fresno
Fullerton
Humboldt
Long Beach
Los Angeles
Maritime
Monterey Bay
Northridge
Pomona
Sacramento
San Bernardino
San Diego
San Francisco
San Jose
San Luis Obispo
San Marcos
Sonoma
Stanislaus

As for the UC’s:

Berkeley
Irvine
Los Angeles
Merced
Riverside
San Diego
Santa Barbara
Santa Cruz

Here at UC Davis, of course, American history is part of the General Education requirement of all students.

And UCSF is of course exclusively a medical school. But even it offers a history of Psychiatry in the United States as part of its History of Health Sciences program.

William L. Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is fifty. Ron Rosenbaum re-introduces it:

The arrest of Eichmann, chief operating officer of the Final Solution, reawakened the question Why? Why had Germany, long one of the most ostensibly civilized, highly educated societies on earth, transformed itself into an instrument that turned a continent into a charnel house? Why had Germany delivered itself over to the raving exterminationist dictates of one man, the man Shirer refers to disdainfully as a “vagabond”? Why did the world allow a “tramp,” a Chaplinesque figure whose 1923 beer hall putsch was a comic fiasco, to become a genocidal Führer whose rule spanned a continent and threatened to last a thousand years?

Why? William Shirer offered a 1,250-page answer.…

He was one of a number of courageous American reporters who filed copy under the threat of censorship and expulsion, a threat that sought to prevent them from detailing the worst excesses, including the murder of Hitler’s opponents, the beginnings of the Final Solution and the explicit preparations for upcoming war. After war broke out, he covered the savagery of the German invasion of Poland and followed the Wehrmacht as it fought its way into Paris before he was forced to leave in December 1940.

The following year—before the United States went to war—he published Berlin Diary, which laid out in visceral terms his response to the rise of the Reich. Witnessing a Hitler harangue in person for the first time, he wrote:

“We are strong and will get stronger,” Hitler shouted at them through the microphone, his words echoing across the hushed field from the loudspeakers. And there in the flood-lit night, massed together like sardines in one mass formation, the little men of Germany who have made Nazism possible achieved the highest state of being the Germanic man knows: the shedding of their individual souls and minds—with the personal responsibilities and doubts and problems—until under the mystic lights and at the sound of the magic words of the Austrian they were merged completely in the Germanic herd.

Shirer’s contempt here is palpable, physical, immediate and personal. His contempt is not for Hitler so much as for the “little men of Germany”—for the culture that acceded to Hitler and Nazism so readily.…

Shirer had a remarkable eye for the singular, revealing detail. For example, consider the one Eichmann quote he included in the book, in a footnote written before Eichmann was captured. Shirer takes up the question of the actual number of Jews murdered in what was not yet widely called the Holocaust and tells us: “According to two S.S. witnesses at Nuremberg the total was put at between five and six millions by one of the great Nazi experts on the subject, Karl Eichmann, chief of the Jewish office of the Gestapo, who carried out the ‘final solution.’” (He uses Eichmann’s first name, not the middle name that would soon become inseparable from him: Adolf.)

And here is the footnote that corresponds with that passage:

“Eichmann, according to one of his henchmen, said just before the German collapse that ‘he would leap laughing into his grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.’”

Clearly this footnote, mined from mountains of postwar testimony, was intended not merely to substantiate the number of five million dead, but also to illustrate Eichmann’s attitude toward the mass murder he was administering. Shirer had a sense that this question would become important, although he could not have imagined the worldwide controversy it would stir. For Shirer, Eichmann was no bloodless paper pusher, a middle manager just following orders, as Eichmann and his defense lawyer sought to convince the world. He was not an emblem of “the banality of evil,” as the political theorist Hannah Arendt portrayed him. He was an eager, bloodthirsty killer. Shirer will not countenance the exculpation of individual moral responsibility in the “just following orders” defense.

In fact, Shirer had a more encompassing objective, which was to link the obscene criminality of individuals to what was a communal frenzy—the hatred that drove an entire nation, the Reich itself. What distinguishes his book is its insistence that Hitler and his exterminationist drive were a distillation of the Reich, a quintessence brewed from the darkest elements of German history, an entire culture.

Shirer’s is one of a few impressive books I read when I was young that are the source of all the things I know that I don’t know where I know them from.

In Esquire:

While we’re watching the signal, if not single, liberal achievement — the BFD, if you will — of the Most Disappointing President Ever™ writhe before conservative jurists like a tasty Christian before so many lions deciding whether merely to rip out the mandate or devour it whole (the Scalia lion is, of course, played by Jeremy Irons and drawling, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”), let’s pause to remember how the Real Democratic Party™ acted when the High Court tossed out a law that was important to their constituents and agenda: They simply passed it again, with a different rationale.

You can read the whole thing if you like. There’s also this oldie, which at a glance I still stand by.

USA Today hed reads, “Higher education vanishing before our eyes”.

Even with top grades and extracurricular activities, students may find it difficult to gain acceptance to or graduate from a four-year university after recent cuts to higher education budgets.

The month of March has been particularly bad for colleges and universities nationwide, as budget negotiations have left many institutions of higher education in the red.…

California’s State University (CSU) system announced Monday that they would close the admission process for nearly all of its 23 campuses for the Spring 2013 semester, affecting almost 16,000 students wishing to attend.

In addition, every student applying for the 2013-2014 school year will be waitlisted while officials await Gov. Brown’s proposed budget initiative to increase taxes in November. If the measure is defeated, officials will be forced to cut enrollment by an additional 20,000-25,000 students.

“By limiting enrollment we are able to concentrate on our current students,” said Mike Uhlenkamp, CSU spokesman.

Current CSU students have seen their fees rise while their class sizes have increased and their course options have become more limited; all of which has helped to increase expected graduation time from four to six years, according to Uhlenkamp.

The CSU system has already lost approximately $1 billion, or 33%, in the last 4 years due to state budget cuts.

In Britain, the Labour Party justified doing this sort of thing by a change of colors: it became New Labour, shifting rhetoric and policy, with house philosophers and lots of Thatcherite flourishes. In the US, the Democrats have simply done it.

The Muppets provided joy from start to finish. I knew we were in good hands from the first big musical number – part of which is above – “Life’s a Happy Song.” It gets a full, MGM-musical style choreographical treatment. It states the movie’s major theme (it will be reprised in the finale). And it also sets up the story’s major problems – Walter needs to reach Muppethood, Gary needs to reach manhood. It’s a nice piece of writing work. And the lines, “Life’s a fillet of fish … Yes, it is” still make me laugh.

Most of all, though, the movie suggested to me that the Muppets would serve us best by returning to variety television; the movie made me want to watch new episodes of The Muppet Show and made me confident it could succeed. Jack Black and Zach Gallifianakis would be great guests, as would Jason Segel and Amy Adams. The existence of Funny or Die and College Humor suggests today’s comedians and actors are game enough for goofy bits.

This should happen.

The incomparable Michelle Vaughan, who did the typography for this marvelous piece of work as well as 100 tweets has done a much more affordable limited run of Rupert Murdoch’s tweets. I recommend them to all discerning readers with a spare $30 (plus S&H) looking for some frameable wit. (Murdoch would surely like you to think of him as framed.)

Given what an ignorant slut* he seems to be, I guess I’m willing to be more charitable than Timothy Burke and accept that David Levy (not the good one, mind you) only worked fifteen hours/week during his academic career.

Really, though, rebutting this sort of disingenuous crap is beneath my dignity. But I do think Corporate Spokesperson Levy should be shunned. Beyond that, take a look at the Burke post. It’s smarter and more thorough than Levy deserves. And unlike Levy’s pat drivel, Burke opens up some avenues of discussion.

* Corporate category; I don’t care about the man’s sex life.

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My new book, The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China, came out today.

Makes a great present for any occasion.

Leftover ordnance is one of the legacies that lasts generations after the war itself concluded. The phrase “Iron Harvest” comes from the annual crop of exploded shells and bombs that French farmers in northern France bring to the surface when plowing their fields. Farming is a dangerous occupation in France.

But the Iron Harvest is not limited to World War I. World War II era bombs are sometimes found, particularly in areas heavily bombed during that conflict. The city center of Rennes was evacuated within the last few years when a 550 lb British bomb was discovered and had to be disarmed. A similar discovery required the evacuation of the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt

Nor is the ordnance always found in an active war zone. Recently, in Washington, DC, a construction crew building a new supermarket was somewhat surprised to discover an unexploded 1,000 pound bomb. The supermarket was being built on the site of the old Naval Gun Factory, a site that apparently the Navy had not cleaned up quite as well as they might have.

H57932

Even better? The Army has still not quite been able to figure out where all the old chemical weapons dumps underneath DC are, including some in heavily populated areas, one of which was nicknamed “Hades”:

[The] corps excavated part of the South Korean ambassador’s residence on Glenbrook Road. They discovered two pits on the ambassador’s property and then a third straddling the property line to the north, all of which contained munitions and glassware with traces of chemical agents.

Perhaps the most damaging form of unexploded ordnance, however, are the cluster bomb remnants and landmines that litter more recent battlefields, from Afghanistan to Vietnam to Korea. Just looking at landmines:

There are between 70 and 80 million landmines in the ground in one-third of the world’s nations. Landmines are indiscriminate weapons that maim or kill 15,000 to 20,000 civilians every year. They cost as little as $3 to produce, but as much as $1000 to remove.

At $1000/mine, that works out to $80 billion to remove all the mines, and that assumes that all the mines can be found. If northern France is any indication, they won’t be , and the legacy, as it has for the French, will be generational, the continuing toll of a fading war.

A reader reports the below glitch displaying this blog on iPhones. I don’t get it with mine. Do any of you? If so, please report what model and OS, and we’ll see if we can sort it out.

20120325-162541.jpg

I’ve probably never said this here before, but having finished my book on Sand Creek, I’m now co-authoring* a graphic history of the Civil War. As a consequence, I’ve been following this discussion with some interest. I don’t have much to add except this: I decided, very early in the process of writing the book, that we would NEVER put fictional words into the mouths of non-fictional historical figures. Which is to say, although my co-author badly wanted to insert a couple of gold bug stanzas into the Gettysburg Address, I put my foot down. On the one hand, this seems very much like what Silbey suggests should serve as best practices (both in literature and scholarship, if I understand him correctly). But on the other hand, I have to admit that we worked around the attendant problems by making up characters left and right to voice the dialogue and carry the weight of the story we’re trying to tell. I’m reasonably sure that this makes me a lousy historian in Silbey’s eyes and a lousy storyteller in Eric’s. Mission accomplished!**

* With Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. Who also worked on this project. Which is awesome.

** (Note to self: wear flight suit and codpiece, not academic regalia, to graduation this year. Unfurl self-congratulatory banner at key moment. Bathe in applause.)

- Hi, sorry to bother you, but could you please help me? I’m confused … the description of this collection says it has 44 boxes but then there are only 20 boxes listed.
– Hmm. Let me look at that for you … [clickety clickety clickety … pad pad pad … murmur murmur murmur … stride stride stride] Yes, that’s correct. There are 44 boxes, but 24 are uncatalogued.
– [heart sinking; the catalogued 20 are from a period completely irrelevant to your topic] Would it be possible for me still to see them please?
– [pad pad pad … murmur murmur murmur … stride stride stride] Yes, though you should know that once we catalogue them the box number may change.
– [calls boxes … boxes begin to arrive … begins looking]

On the one hand, this is terribly frustrating: you’ve no idea what you will get. On the other, it’s wonderful: you’ve no idea what you will get. There are papers in folders and papers in envelopes and loose papers, snapshots and certificates and invoices, family letters and official reports, all very much as if they were picked directly out of the subject’s garage on the day after his death and stuck in acid-free boxes and then left there for decades. There is nothing of real value, though of prudence and courtesy to the material you’ve taken a few notes and snapped a few photos. Boxes come and boxes go. Time ticks by. The archives will close in forty-five minutes. At which point, in the penultimate box – in the middle of the penultimate box – stuck in backward so the title tab is facing away from you and you might have missed it, there is a manila folder crammed about to a thickness of about an inch with onion-skin papers, labeled in unsharpened pencil with the title of your topic

An interview with moi is in this month’s Military History magazine. Introductory paragraph:

Northern China in the summer of 1900 was the scene of the Boxer Rebellion, one of the most spontaneous, disorganized, violent and downright peculiar uprisings of that or any other century. Vividly described and detailed by Cornell University historian David J. Silbey in his new book, The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China, the rebellion was at once a peasants’ insurgency, an attack on modernism, a clash of cultures and a game changer in the nascent international struggle for power in the Pacific in the new century.

With pictures!

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...."
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