Monthly Archives: December 2008

December 31, 2008, 5:30 pm


Duncan Agnew, a professor in a university at the very edge of the American West, sends along this solution to the “Tufte I ain’t” problem. I like it. Thanks!

He says anyone can feel “free to use, reproduce, and display this figure in any way you wish, with or without attribution.” Happy new year!

December 30, 2008, 12:40 pm


Have any good resolutions you’d like to share? I’ve got a few, but they’re pretty boring: getting back into shape, not worrying too much about work things I can’t control, reading more fiction. Like I said, boring. If yours are better, I’ll be happy to resolve to do those as well. Unless you’ve got some real high-end, proprietary-type resolutions, in which case you can still share, but I’ll stick to mine, thanks.

December 30, 2008, 11:25 am

Tufte I ain’t.

But I’m willing to learn. Properly rebuked for slapdash graphing, I’ve tried to improve the representation of WPA expenditures that appeared in this post, using the Greensboro font from

I’d be delighted to hear further suggestions and critiques. One thing I want to do, but can’t figure out how for a graph like this one, is to figure out how to make the biggest line discontinuous—that way I could change the scale so you could make more meaningful distinctions among the other numbers, while still appreciating that the top expenditure goes way off the scale.

UPDATED: Here it is with a scale in billions, per suggestions.

December 29, 2008, 2:23 pm

It’s a big gorge after all.

My daughter received the DVD of Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty for Christmas, which includes Disney’s Oscar-winning 1958 short Grand Canyon, with aerial photography of the eponymous chasm set to Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite.

I harbor a certain affection for Disney’s “high art for the common man” stuff. It strikes me as a wonderfully mid-century American ideal with no contemporary equivalent. Or am I wrong? Is there some modern parallel—with similar levels of exposure and plaudits—I’m not thinking of?

Yes, I know that picture isn’t from the movie. It’s the best I could do. Hey, we’re short-staffed, it’s the holidays, you know?

December 26, 2008, 4:06 pm

Outsider Art

I got fired from the only parenting blog I ever contributed to — no, really, it’s a funny story* — so writer’s block occasionally compells me to post dad-related crap here and over at LGM.  Like this painting my 2-year old daughter threw up before lunch.


*  It’s not really that funny.  The site ran out of money to pay me, and the editors didn’t appreciate the fact that I’d occasionally post video clips of R. Budd Dwyer trepanating himself on live television.

December 26, 2008, 7:06 am

No, not of Christmas. The movie.

The Spirit was not that good.

December 25, 2008, 6:27 pm

Harold Pinter, RIP

Harold Pinter—Undeserving Laureate of a Prize that Doesn’t Matter Anymore Because Who Still Reads Literature Anyway?—died yesterday after a long struggle with esophageal cancer.  He will be missed.  [Edited to remove an insensitive and unintentional pun.]

December 24, 2008, 8:53 am

“That’s rich. And also a really bad argument.”

I think Maddow does controlled outrage very well. Pollitt is rather good also.

Also, Serwer on civil rights and cultural changes and, of all people, Richard Cohen.

December 23, 2008, 11:49 am

Counterfactual and president-elect lulz.

I am confident Hillary Clinton’s election would have spared us this.

Also, is Barack Obama trolling Ivy League historians?

December 23, 2008, 8:22 am

Who can doubt it now.

Below (or by download here) you can hear me on Virginia’s Only Statewide Public Radio Program, “With Good Reason”, discussing—what else?—the Great Depression and the New Deal. This time by studio ISDN line rather than telephone, so I just have to live with the notion that that’s what I sound like.

Also, if you missed it, I criticize the New Deal here. I discover belatedly I was slightly scooped by Samuel Brittan, who made a similar argument here.

[vodpod id=ExternalVideo.764619&w=425&h=350&fv=playerID%3D1%26bg%3D0xF8F8F8%26leftbg%3D0xEEEEEE%26rightbg%3…

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December 22, 2008, 12:42 pm

My Suppurating Wounds: when history gets personal

This is a guest post by my friend Jana Remy, a Ph.D. Candidate at UC Irvine and the founder of the Making History Podcast and Blog.  A longer, ramblier, vicodin-inspired version of this post first appeared here.

My left leg was propped up on the edge of the gurney as the ER doc sliced open the abscess on my calf to release the pus he needed for a bacterial culture. He started to chatting with me deflect the tension of the moment. As he grabbed various vials and swabbed the bleeding wound he asked me why I was traveling alone in Denver. My reply, “I’m getting a PhD, writing a dissertation chapter on 19th century medical history in the American West. I’ll be working in archives at the Historical Society this week.”

My dissertation research about 19th century medical history is fueled by my experiences as a medical patient. Most recently, for the past four months I’ve battled a…

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December 22, 2008, 12:34 pm

I think I’m in love.

… with the RNA Biology journal.

Publication in the track will require a short manuscript, a high quality Stockholm alignment and at least one Wikipedia article

I imagine this requirement will not only put high-grade information in the (truly) public sphere instanter but also encourage researchers to explain their work in plain language.

It suddenly occurs to me, I guess I should do likewise even though no publisher of mine would ask it.

Via Ezra.

December 21, 2008, 11:08 pm

His only exaggeration was “hyper-timid incrementalist,” apparently.

Not.  Cool.

December 21, 2008, 6:49 pm

Combobulated: Being a Play in Which We Laugh at Arrogant Undergraduates

(In a small classrroom, a young professor is discussing an R.P. Blackmur essay on Shakespeare’s sonnets with a group of twelve or so students.)

TEACHER: Blackmur claims “the hues attract, draw, steal men’s eyes, but penetrate, discombobolate, amaze the souls or psyches of women.” What does he mean by that?


TEACHER: Break his sentence down. What does “discombobulate” mean?

STUDENT #1: Bored?

TEACHER: So Shakespeare’s language penetrates the souls of women by boring them? (two engineering majors giggle) How do you amaze someone by boring them?

STUDENT #2: (confidently) It’s a technical term from Switzerland. Watchmakers call the tiny gears inside a watch “bobulates” (beaming) and what a watchmaker does is he brings the bobulates together, and “com” is the Latin for “together.” So the proper technical term for this watch here (points to his wrist), or any working…

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December 21, 2008, 9:31 am

Hansel: Where did all the fiiiiiles go?

You know what trick is tired? Submitting work by email but “accidentally” attaching either the wrong file or no file at all. The prof emails to let you know, but you are– by amazing coincidence– “away from email” for a long time. Then the real thing shows up with “I’m so sorry but you see I thought I handed it in on time so you can’t possibly penalize me.”

Seriously, this happens a couple of times each semester. I’m sure some are legit (just as some grandmothers really do die) but it’s one of those too-clever-by-half sorts of moves where (I imagine) the student thinks he’s getting away with something and the prof thinks, Christ what an asshole, let me look for reasons to inflict pain.

Updated cranky thoughts: one funny aspect of this is how students’ abilities vary with the task at hand. It amazes me that the same student who cannot grasp even the rudiments of JS Mill’s…

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