Monthly Archives: February 2009

February 28, 2009, 9:39 pm

“So am I.”

This has been all over the place today, but if you haven’t seen it already, it’s worth your time. And if you’re feeling impatient, start watching at the 3-minute mark, when President Obama begins channeling Teddy Roosevelt.

February 27, 2009, 4:41 pm

A brief cultural history of blacks and watermelons

Via Sadly, No! I learn that the mayor of Los Alamitos—a city whose proximity to Los Angeles disqualifies its citizens from claiming they live behind the Orange Curtain—recently sent the city council an email entitled “No Easter egg hunt this year.”  It contained this picture:


When questioned as to the propriety of sending poorly-executed racist photo-shops to government employees, the mayor claimed to be “unaware of the stereotype that black people like watermelon.”  Putting the issue of what exactly is “funny” about the picture in the absence of said stereotype aside, there are some conservatives who claim that the real problem here is hypersensitive blacks and their “rat-fink” instincts:

The fink who ratted him out was a black woman who sacrificed friendship to the motto, “Never Fail to Be Offended.”

His commenters agree:

How dare [defenders of the rat-fink] be offended at…

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February 27, 2009, 3:41 pm

“know that he has not told you all”

On this date in 1864 Union prisoners of war began arriving at Camp Sumter, a shadeless, sixteen-acre marsh stockade where, as one former inhabitant later described it, the “spewings of toads and reptiles and swamp ooze, decaying wood, weeds and rank grass are distilled into poison.”  Known more conventionally as Andersonville Prison, the site became an enduring symbol of Confederate perfidy, the subject of dozens of ghoulish memoirs that sustained Unionist indignation for decades.

In a sense, the prison was a material consequence of the very cause for which the South was fighting.  When the Union armies began enlisting African Americans — including escaped slaves — in 1863, the Confederacy declared its intention not to return captive black soldiers, whom they insisted were still the rightful property of their masters.  In the wake of the Confederacy’s refusal, the prisoner cartel…

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February 27, 2009, 2:48 pm

“The South designed beautiful flags, but it was on the wrong side of history.”

Of all the things I’ve read about Lincoln recently, this very moving something-or-other is among my favorites. The idea that a person unfamiliar with Lincoln might meet and then find herself falling in love with him warms my heart.

(Thanks to a reader for the link.)

February 25, 2009, 11:32 am

Boxers: The Name of George Washington

More news from China over the ten days from February 15 to February 25, 1900. The most aggressive German missionary to China, Bishop Johnan von Anzer, returned to Europe to meet with the heads of state, including the Pope. His aim, as the Times explained, was to “induce all the European Governments interested to join in an attempt to convince the Peking Government of the necessity of suppressing all combinations and demonstrations against foreigners, and, if necessary to enforce this jointly….” At the end of the article came a brief line that illustrated the closeness between missionary activities and state imperialism, as well as serving as a nifty shot across the bow of the Catholic Church. “Emperor William,” the Times intoned (Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany), “attaches great importance to Bishop von Anzer’s counsels.” [1]

Meanwhile, the Times did not mention the Boxers. Other…

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February 24, 2009, 8:40 pm

And Bobby Jindal’s idea of a winning issue for Republicans is . . .








Words fail me.

Fortunately, I have pictures.  Stare at this picture:


Now do this Google Image Search, find that picture and click on it.  I’ll wait . . .

. . .

. . .

. . . now don’t you feel better?

EDIT: YMMV but I see this.

February 24, 2009, 2:56 pm

West Coast Shelled!

On that day in history, the Japanese submarine I-17 surfaced off the West Coast of the United States and fired a brace of shells at the Elwood Oil Refinery complex in southern California. The attack came after dusk on February 23rd, just as the nation was settling into their couches to listen to a fireside chat by FDR. Despite claims otherwise, this was the first foreign attack on the continental United States since the war of 1812.*

c.jpeg The shelling had no appreciable military effect, with none of the shells getting terribly near the refinery itself but instead blowing holes in nearby farm land. What it did provoke, however, was an intensive hunt for the submarine by American forces and a continuing wave of scares on the West Coast over the next few years, including one three days later, when reports of Japanese aircraft over Los Angeles sparked several barrages of anti-aircraft fire …

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February 24, 2009, 9:52 am

We talked about some old times.

A student points me to Ron Paul on the 1920-21 depression.

In 1921 we had a severe depression; it was over in one year. A little bit later in the 30s we had another one but then the government decided to do all these things, bail everybody out. Exactly what we’re doing now and it prolonged the correction.

The implication is that in 1921 the government didn’t “do all these things”. But of course the government did adopt policies to restrict trade and immigration.

Interestingly, two of the first Hoover administration responses in 1930 were to restrict trade and immigration.

I think the lesson one would draw here is that policymakers, seeing that restricting trade and immigration went along with a swift end to the 1921 recession, tried them again in 1930. But they didn’t work. I don’t see any reason to conclude that the government opted not to intervene in 1921 and to…

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February 23, 2009, 5:11 pm

By all means, let them use their own rope.

From the live-blogging of the Oscars at Big Hollywood, I present the themes of the evening:


February 23, 2009, 10:23 am

The other kind of R and R.

Conversations with colleagues suggest there’s no consensus on how to reply to a journal editor’s request to “revise and resubmit”, accompanied by a sheaf of referees’ reports. I offer here some of my own suggestions of how to write a letter to a journal (or perhaps book) editor. Proposed prose is in plain text; its translation is in italics. It’s probably better not to confuse the two if you choose to apply this example.

This is meant to be a suaviter in modo approach. Your personal preferences or substantial convictions may lead you in a different direction. Broadly, I suggest turning these requests around as swiftly as possible, and opting not to address too directly the incompetence or rudeness (if any) of referees; you’ll see the kind of thing I mean below, I hope. In this venue I think it’s better simply to turn the blade than to strike back in kind.

February 22, 2009, 1:05 pm

Maybe the inmates are in charge of the asylum.

This keeps getting better and better.

First, the American Philosophical Association moves its Central Division meeting from April to February.  The Central often serves as a location for interviews for visiting appointments for the following fall, which have usually been advertised in the February “Jobs for Philosophers”, an advertising service run (I use the term loosely) by the APA.

Dates of Central Division Meeting: Feb 18-21.

Dates of publication of the JFP:  Feb. 20.*


But everyone’s known about this for weeks!  What’s new from the recently published JFP?

This gem of an ad:

FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY – FAU, BOCA RATON, FL. ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, COUNSELING CENTER, Florida Atlantic University. The Assistant Director provides psychological services for Florida Atlantic University students and provides administrative and supervisory leadership of the Counseling Center and…

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February 21, 2009, 12:51 pm

Oh, the irony.

I’m still fiddling with iTunes, which means that my well-documented stroll down memory lane continues apace. And while ambling through The Replacements’ still-excellent Let it Be last night, a question occurred to me: when did irony go mainstream? I ask because their cover of KISS’s “Black Diamond” remains great — because it’s a great song, after all — but it seems to have lost some of its edge. And I think that relative dullness is a result of irony having become bankable and then ubiquitous. Do we know when that happened? Or ’twas it ever thus?

I ask because when I was a kid, irony was my in retrospect totally annoying, not to mention trite coping strategy for dealing with a fallen world in which popular kids didn’t like me rife with commercialism. But now, irony itself is commercially viable. And my new coping strategy appears to be buying an iPhone, rejiggering my iTunes…

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February 20, 2009, 5:51 pm

How to teach [non-canonical] material responsibly in a composition class: Part II

eric suggested I x-post what I’ve written since Part the First.  I think what he meant was x-post the new posts as I write them, which I would do were re-uploading 40 some-odd images onto a different blogging platform not so time-intensive.  The new items are bolded.

My one reservation about posting these here is that they are less close readings and more attempts to give students the critical vocabulary required to perform a close reading.  What I mean is: I think my reading of Batman Begins provides compelling evidence that Christopher Nolan shot that particular scene such that Batman resembles a monster from a classic horror film.  What it doesn’t do is provide a reason Nolan would do that.  It is evidence in need of an argument—and deliberately so.  I try to avoid providing students with a thesis they can parrot back to me on their essays.  That final leap from what and how…

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February 20, 2009, 11:50 am

Memory lane.

I’ve been going through all of my old music over the past few days. Most of Liz Phair’s work has really held up over time. (As has Jen Trynin’s, which surprised me.) Fiona Apple’s, on the other hand, has not. Or maybe it was never very good in the first place. I was young back then. So who can tell?

February 19, 2009, 5:18 pm

Where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on[.]

The comments on Farley’s post about grade inflation and student effort had convinced me not to read the article that inspired them.  Then Shahar excerpted a different part of the article and I changed my mind:

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.

Did that prepositional phrase modify the researchers (they are at UCI) or where they did their study (at UCI)?  I couldn’t tell from the excerpt.  So I read the article.  It didn’t say.  So I read the study it cited.  It didn’t say outright—but it hinted.  The ethnic diversity of its sample breaks down like this:

51.2% East or Southeast Asian
18.9% Caucasian
10.7% Latino
1.1% African American

The ethnic diversity of a

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