Monthly Archives: November 2008

November 30, 2008, 3:04 pm

“a din that nothing could down”

Football Players

On November 30th, 1899, at Sixteenth and Folsom Streets in San Francisco, Berkeley defeated Stanford 30-0 in the Big Game. The most famous trophy of the game was the Axe, which had been introduced in the baseball Big Game that spring. But with this victory, the second in a row for Cal football, Mayor James Phelan of San Francisco also awarded Berkeley a finer and more substantial trophy, a lifesize bronze statue called “The Football Players”, which stands today in a grove toward the west side of campus, on the way up into the university from downtown Berkeley.

Douglas Tilden was born in 1860, and attended the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley. He went to New York and then to Paris for further studies. He finished “The Football Players” at the end of seven years in Paris — note that, apart from being French, the players are dressed for rugby rather than American football. He …

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November 30, 2008, 10:14 am

There she goes again.

As Paul Krugman says,

Not much point in going through Amity Shlaes’s latest: after having inadvertently revealed that she has no idea what Keynesian economics is, she’s back on the warpath against FDR, and me.

Krugman deals with her wages argument there. But she gives half her column to the unemployment statistics story again, apparently in the hope that if she makes it seem complicated and controversial, it will look as if she’s got it right. Let me spend some virtual column inches on this one more time.

Amity Shlaes lives in New York. She has a unique advantage: in many cities, access to a world-class research library, if one exists at all, is open only to members of a university community. But in New York, the Public Library is a world-class research library.

Suppose like Amity Shlaes you’re in New York. Suppose further you’re a sufficiently honest and competent…

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November 28, 2008, 5:24 pm

“Everybody panicked”

Today is the 66th anniversary of the worst nightclub fire in American history. On November 28, 1942, Boston’s Cocoanut Grove — located just south of the Common — erupted in flames that killed hundreds within a mere 15 minutes.  The club was stuffed that Saturday night with sailors on shore leave, young men from other branches who were preparing to head overseas for the war, as well as football fans who’d watched Holy Cross dismantle Boston College, 55-12, earlier in the day.

The fire began innocently enough, when a busboy — trying to replace a light bulb — lit a match while fumbling about in the dark, looking for the socket.  Though he believed he’d extinguished it, the smoldering match accidentally set fire to a cluster of artificial palm fronds. As it turned out, the bulb he was trying to replace had been removed by a young couple who were making out at one of the tables in…

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November 27, 2008, 1:51 pm

Black people can’t swim, &c.

In the summer of 1968, Charles Schulz—born yesterday in 1922—decided not to take the path of least resistance.  In the first months of the Presidential race, the politics of Peanuts were as inscrutable as ever:


November 26, 2008, 5:04 pm

History is what (makes me want to) hurts (others)

Shorter Mark Steyn (and with apologies to Jameson):

Though I clearly know absolutely nothing about the state of history education, I feel pretty certain that if my son continues to learn about Rosa Parks, he’ll eventually find a career suppressing free speech, blowing up ancient monuments, stoning promiscuous women, and harassing ethnic and sexual minorities.

November 26, 2008, 2:54 pm

Happy Thanksgiving.

The president-elect at St. Columbanus school in Chicago today.

November 25, 2008, 5:14 pm

Shredding the Constitution: The Prequel

On this day in 1986, President Ronald Reagan announced that rogues in the White House had secretly diverted money from arms-for-hostages trades with Iran to the CIA’s rebel army in Nicaragua.

Investigators for Attorney General Ed Meese found the so-called “diversion memo” in the offices of National Security staff member Lt. Col. Oliver North.  North had tried to destroy all evidence of the diversion, but his shredder had jammed.  When he came back the next day, he found investigators in his office.  After they left with the memo, he returned to shred some more.

As all devotees of the Iran-contra affair know, North had been running two secret operations out of the Reagan White House.  He had sold arms to the government of Iran as part of a scheme to win the freedom of American hostages in Lebanon; and he had taken this money, along with other funds, and given it to the contras…

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November 25, 2008, 9:48 am

More or less bunk.

Ezra Klein asks if the Great Depression is relevant:

Romer does seem to be an expert on the Depression. She even wrote the Encyclopedia Brittanica entry on the subject. This is a point you frequently hear in Ben Bernanke’s defense, too: He’s also an expert on the Great Depression. But can this really be so useful? It’s hard to believe that a complex financial crisis in 2008 is so similar to a complex economic crisis in 1929 that you need an incredibly subtle understanding of the latter to effectively apprehend the former. Presumably most economists know enough not to repeat the basic mistakes of the 1930s, and the question is which economists know enough to avoid the possible mistakes of the 2000s. Is there any real reason to assume otherwise?

Granting that I have a vested interest in the position that knowledge of history is relevant, here’s the specific case I’d make on behalf of…

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November 24, 2008, 8:37 pm


I’d already decided on “teledon” as a replacement for “doofus” for this kind of thing, and then lo and behold, I am opening act for a real-live teledon, my erstwhile colleague Niall. Those who like this sort of thing will enjoy listening here as I crack wise based on Keynes’s wit.

Also, jftr, the thing that sticks out to me about Geithner is his Bretton Woods/international economics experience.

November 24, 2008, 7:49 pm

That Romer article on the Great Depression.

Christina Romer, the appointee-designate (or whatever) as director of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors is said to have argued, in her influential article “What Ended the Great Depression?” [JSTOR link], that “expansionary monetary policy was the key to the partial recovery of the 1930s” and therefore, “monetary policy is key.” And indeed Romer does argue this, but contrary to a variety of panicky emails that have shot through my inbox, her argument is not inconsistent with the president-elect’s stated plan for fiscal stimulus. Why?

Romer’s argument goes something like this:

(1) Per E. Cary Brown, and Keynes before him, the New Deal did not provide enough fiscal stimulus to spur recovery during the 1930s—not that it didn’t work, but that it wasn’t tried.

(2) Yet there was significant recovery during the 1930s, both as to economic growth and to job growth.

(3) So we…

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November 24, 2008, 4:27 pm

President’s Slayer Shot in Dallas

On this day in 1963, Jack Ruby shot accused presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald on live television, thus providing material for thousands of conspiracy theory books (including mine).

Ruby, the owner of a strip club in Dallas, said he was distraught by the tragedy of the John F. Kennedy assassination, and especially by its effect on Jacqueline Kennedy.  He had visited the Dallas police station a couple of times during the 48 hours since Kennedy had been shot, milling around with reporters.  On November 24, he wandered into the city jail basement just moments before the police moved Oswald to the county jail.  As the prisoner moved past, Ruby lunged forward and shot him in the stomach:’s murder of the man who had earlier shouted “I’m a patsy” caused millions to suspect a wider plot.   Although the government’s official…

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November 24, 2008, 1:57 pm

Making a list, checking it twice.

A friend recently asked Eric and me for a list of ten history books that would allow an interested but non-expert reader to “understand America.” Leaving aside all of the obvious caveats, my list, which runs through the era of Reconstruction (sort of), can be found below the fold. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this question.

One more thing, when Eric presented his five choices, he quibbled with some of the particulars on my list. Which made me cry. So, if you want to see his list, you might be able to prevail upon him to share. Even though he’s notoriously very selfish.


November 23, 2008, 2:45 pm

Stanley, is that you?

[Editor's note: zunguzungu, long-time commenter and friend of the blog, has stepped up with a guest post today. Thanks for this. We really appreciate it.]

Henry Morton Stanley pretended to have written something in his diary on November 23rd, 1871. Perhaps he did, though the pages in his diary are torn out, so we can’t know for sure. The event he claimed to have recorded — but probably didn’t — also probably didn’t happen, or at least not the way it’s usually “remembered.” He most likely didn’t say “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” on meeting the older doctor (Tim Jeal says so in his new biography), and he didn’t even meet him in the jungle at all. He met him in a town, as this image from How I Found Livingstone illustrates:

As Claire Pettitt put it in her excellent Dr Livingstone I Presume?: Missionaries, Journalists, Explorers, and Empire, it’s a phrase we remember without really …

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November 23, 2008, 11:30 am

With Tyler against the strawmen and conservatives.

In the NYT, you’ll see the eminently reasonable and decent Tyler Cowen explain, “The New Deal Didn’t Always Work, Either.” It’s a good thing nobody’s arguing that, then, isn’t it? Here’s a few quick points.

(1) As Tyler points out, and as I say in my book, the New Deal featured some notable errors. Everyone’s favorite to hate is the National Recovery Administration, which (as Tyler puts it) “sought to cartelize industry, backed by force of law.” Even if it had functioned it would probably have ended up increasing both prices and wages, leaving no net improvement in purchasing power; in the event, it didn’t function. It was unpopular with the public and Congress, tasked with investigating itself, discredited and almost discarded by the time the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.1

Here’s the point to note: I’ve seen nobody argue, nor does Tyler cite anyone arguing, that,…

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November 23, 2008, 8:24 am


The academy has more than its fair share of people like Alexander McPherson, the UC-Irvine biologist who refuses! to go through sexual harassment training– training the UC is obligated to provide under state law. Now he’s thinking of retiring rather than complying with university regulations.