Monthly Archives: November 2008

November 19, 2008, 4:47 am

President/Not a President

My Dear Students:

Though I may talk about Alexander Hamilton at considerable length in class, please do not assume on this basis that Alexander Hamilton was actually a US president. More significantly, please refrain from insisting — as several of you have already done on the tests I’m grading this evening — that Alexander Hamilton was “one of our greatest presidents” or that, much worse, that he was “our first president.”

Because I never said these things, and it hurts me to think that you may believe I did.

I am, however, pleased to see that so many of you have watched this definitive account of Hamilton’s early demise.  Though even this entertaining and informative video should not have led you to conclude that Hamilton was at any point the nation’s chief executive.  Because he was not.

That is all.


Your Affectionate Professor

November 18, 2008, 9:21 pm


Slaving away on my own personal make-work program, Kieran gets in on the fun we’re having with 1930s employment data.

Basically, the dispute is over how you compose your unemployment rate, and we could argue over that endlessly. Suppose we don’t? Suppose instead we discompose it, and see what’s going on with employment? Is the improvement in employment under the New Deal solely a product of “make-work”?


And combining nonfarm & farm employment isn’t a trick; in fact, farm employment stays nearly level but declines slightly.

Thanks, Kieran. Also, I clearly need to learn R.

November 18, 2008, 8:58 pm

I think the word you want is “yes.”

Mark Begich (D) defeats incumbent Ted Stevens (R) for Alaska’s US Senate seat. Senator Stevens?

November 18, 2008, 4:16 pm


Discussion of cabinet-staffing yields:

You don’t want the camel pissing in the tent.

True, but not unproblematic. There are of course two tent metaphors: better inside pissing out than outside pissing in, and the problem with letting the camel get his nose in the tent is, pretty soon you get the rest of the camel, too.

And these metaphors have, it seems to me, opposite implications for cabinet-staffing.

November 18, 2008, 4:06 pm

The South, still exceptional.

V.O. Key’s observation that whites who live near blacks in southern states are less positively inclined towards them is *still* visible in several states.

With yet more graphs. And a map!

November 18, 2008, 9:54 am

Practice makes perfect.

Still, b’s right, that background makes him look horrible.

November 18, 2008, 6:29 am

All noble things are as difficult as they are rare.

(First of a three-part series.. Primary references.)

On this day in 1676 (or thereabouts), the young Gottfried Leibniz secretly traveled to the Hague to meet with the esteemed and dangerous Baruch de Spinoza. The two met for at least three days, during which Leibniz pressed him on the points of their philosophies that had the most in common, which worried Leibniz greatly. To be a Spinozist was to be an atheist and a heretic, and to be an atheist and a heretic was a very bad thing for one’s reputation and career, such that denying that one’s philosophy amounts to Spinozism is something of a necessary hobby during the early modern period.

But before we discuss their secretive meeting, we should discuss the host. Leibniz may have been the smartest man ever, but Spinoza may have been the more rigorous and honest philosopher. Spinoza was born into the Jewish community in Amsterdam in 1…

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November 17, 2008, 11:54 pm

Yes, you are. And also a liar.

On this day in 1973, Richard Milhous Nixon held a press conference with reporters and newspaper editors gathered in Orlando, Florida for a convention at Disney World. In a lengthy question-and-answer session, Nixon admitted that he had paid only $792 in taxes for 1970 and $878 for 1971. And, as R.W. Apple of the New York Times noted, “the most vivid comment came when Mr. Nixon told the editors he was not ‘a crook’ — unusual language from a President, even one under fire.” Discussing charges that he had allowed the price of milk to go up in exchange for promises of campaign contributions from the dairy industry, a defiant Nixon stated that, “I’ve made my mistakes, but in all my years of public life I’ve never profited from public service. I’ve earned every cent. I’m not a crook.”

Beyond that, the President turned most of his…

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November 17, 2008, 6:08 pm

NPR Today


Pat: That’s really interesting, Jen, because you know what else is burning?  Felicia Smith of Santa Ana’s love for the kind of quality programming you can only find here on NPR.  She says it’s a constant companion, whether she’s on the way to work, running errands, or having unimpassioned sex with her fiancé of eleven years.

Bob: Speaking of impending nuptials, Pat, people really value their relationship to NPR.  Kat Little from Costa Mesa even compares the difference between being a listener and an active supporter to the hours between when a couple exchanges their vows and the moment the marriage is consummated.  “You’ve already made the commitment,” she says, “but only 100 percent of the way.  You need to go 110 percent and hit that already.”

Pat: Funny you should mention math, Bob, because here at NPR listeners will find exclusive maths they can’t …

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November 17, 2008, 2:52 pm

In which, for no good reason I can think of, I nitpick about something rather unimportant.

A number of people are writing about the techno-utopia that awaits us all during the Obama years, now that the President-elect has begun posting weekly addresses to YouTube. These are, it seems, Fireside Chats for the digital age.

That said, the first installment of Obama’s video outreach is a pretty tepid affair. There are no babies farting, no cats sexually assaulting stuffed animals, no Muppets. And President-elect Obama looks rather drawn to me.

Still, I was struck by a stock phrase that appears around the 2:30 mark: “the tyranny of foreign oil.” Way back when, in a time before time, when Matthew Yglesias still blogged at The Atlantic, he congratulated candidate Obama for avoiding this phrase and using in its place, “the tyranny of oil,” which struck Yglesias as less “xenophobic” and more “economically and…

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November 17, 2008, 1:15 pm

More race, region, and Obama.

Here’s a different way of looking at it: overlay Obama and Kerry results, see what you get. Obama’s in blue, Kerry’s in red, with linear fit lines to help see trends. Basically, all the lines are near to parallel, with the Obama one higher—except in the South.

(Continuing from here and here. Oh, and see also here.)

November 16, 2008, 5:48 pm

Race, region, and Obama.

Updated to add, here Andrew does it more thoroughly.

Using data from Andrew Gelman for county-level voting results (admittedly incomplete ones) here are some graphs about race, region, and the vote for Obama.

November 16, 2008, 2:31 pm

What actually happened.

Paul Krugman uses the magic history phrase in teaching George Will how to tell the truth about the 1930s.

(Just in case NPTO is still keeping score.)

November 16, 2008, 2:05 am

Aw, that could have been my head…

When I was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, I “taught” the future professional wrestler — and now Heavyweight Ultimate Fighting Chamption — Brock Lesnar.  FERPA probably constrains me from describing too precisely the semester we spent together, but let’s just say I was less than impressed with Lesnar’s academic potential; his essay on Kant’s anthropology of race was likely not his finest work.  Regardless, he won the NCAA heavyweight title that year, drawing (by the standards of college wrestling) enormous crowds to home meets, where he apparently had his way with all challengers. There’s no way to understate this: he was a massive human being in 1999, and nearly ten years of protein, lifting weights and beating the fuck out of people seem not to have diminished him.

Lesnar parlayed his amateur glory into a three-year run with World Wrestling Entertainment,…

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November 14, 2008, 9:25 pm


On this day in 1972, the Dow Jones industrial average closed above the 1,000 mark for the first time in its history. International Business Machines led the way, moving up more than 11 points, to 388. One trader remarked: “This thing has an obvious psychological effect. As for the permanence of it — well, I just don’t know.” The New York Times, meanwhile, compared the milestone to “the initial breaking of the four-minute mile,” noting that the stock exchange resembled a carnival:

At 3:29 P.M., red light bars flashed on above and below each of the time clocks surrounding the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. This was the traditional visual signal to show that one minute of training time remained. At the same moment, a bell began clanging on the speaker’s rostrum — the auditory warning.

Traders, brokers and clerks on the floor — aware that history was in the making…

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