Monthly Archives: March 2009

March 31, 2009, 6:44 pm

You can’t eat hope.

Wednesday night at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, I’ll be introducing—probably with a very, very short introduction—a double bill of Our Daily Bread and The Plow that Broke the Plains. You can find details here.

They’re pretty remarkable films, released only two years apart, but what a two years. The wild, really kind of crazy and fantastic hope1 in Our Daily Bread yields to the brutal, dismal—I don’t know if I want to say realistic per se, but certainly more realistic and inconclusive picture of The Plow that Broke the Plains. Just as, broadly speaking, you could say the New Deal went from the idea of We Can (and Should) Do Anything to We Need to Work within Clear Limits over the same period.

Really, I guess you should watch Vidor’s fable first and then Lorentz’s documentary.

Anyway, I’ll have something to say in this line tomorrow night.

1Which is described as …

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March 31, 2009, 4:16 pm

Also, it would make grades more… final, if profs were packin’.

Dear Texas Legislature,

I am given to understand that you are considering making it legal for students over the age of 21 to carry concealed weapons on campus.   The thought is that doing so would prevent mass murders like the one that happened at Virginia Tech.

It’s a pleasant daydream for these Walther Mittys.  One can imagine any number of ways, all out of bad action movies.  The tall young professor with the twinkling blue eyes, his class interrupted by a gunman, athletically rolls under the desk, brings up his weapon, and fires two shots into the torso of the assailant… the alternachick literature prof who had been a pacifist until she learned the error of her ways in Guatemala, pulls her weapon from her organic hemp rucksack, and wounds the gunman in the leg…. the elderly don with the tweed blazer and bowtie, calmly firing his antique revolver, ejaculating “You shall not …

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March 31, 2009, 12:39 pm

This just in: Errol Morris is all kinds of cool.

The latest evidence? He’s doing some sleuthing over at the Times about a Civil-War-era photograph. The first of what will be a five-part series is linked above.

Here’s the hook:

The soldier’s body was found near the center of Gettysburg with no identification — no regimental numbers on his cap, no corps badge on his jacket, no letters, no diary. Nothing save for an ambrotype (an early type of photograph popular in the late 1850s and 1860s) of three small children clutched in his hand. Within a few days the ambrotype came into the possession of Benjamin Schriver, a tavern keeper in the small town of Graeffenburg, about 13 miles west of Gettysburg. The details of how Schriver came into possession of the ambrotype have been lost to history. But the rest of the story survives, a story in which this photograph of three small children was used for both good and wicked purposes. First, …

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March 30, 2009, 7:01 pm

It’s a good time to be rich.

More precisely, it turns out that this is the right year to be applying to college if you’re the moderately talented child of exceptionally wealthy parents. Honestly, I had no idea there were so many ways around need-blind admissions.

March 29, 2009, 6:18 pm

Standards? Who needs them? Or, Thomas Urquhart & That Which Is Infinitely Superior to Cricket.

Teaching composition exclusively leads to (1) a greater appreciation for the pedestrian complexity of correctly subordinated clauses and (2) a bone-tiredness for the unmerited praise of student peer reviews.  As someone with a penchant for paragraph-length sentences, I find (1) wholly salutary; but (2) irks me endlessly.  Why?  In one of my undergraduate History of the English Language course, the professor handed out slips of paper on which he had written a single sentence and told everyone to decipher what it meant, because he wanted us to present the sentence and the paraphrase to the class in ten minutes.  My sentence read:

Another thing there is that fixeth a grievous scandal upon that nation in matter of philargyrie, or love of money, and it is this: There hath been in London, and repairing to it, for these many years together, a knot of Scotish bankers, collybists, or…

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March 27, 2009, 4:45 pm

The Republican Road to Recovery


March 27, 2009, 11:49 am

Stormtrooper Tactics

On this week in history, the German Army launched its last-ditch 1918 offensive, aimed at breaking the Entente lines in northwestern France and marching to Paris. The offensive was something of a throw of the dice, an attempt by the German High Command to try and win the war before the full flood of American soldiers crashed across the Atlantic. It nearly worked.

Otto Dix, Stormtroopers Advancing Under Gas (1924)

The Western Front in WWI had been a largely static war since the freewheeling days of 1914. In this, it resembled less battles and battlefields than sieges and fortifications. The trench system that stretched from Switzerland to the English Channel meant that the traditional methods of open warfare–flanking maneuvers, for example–had become essentially impossible. What was left were frontal assaults, with all the expected sanguinary implications. The central tactical…

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March 27, 2009, 8:20 am

What a State on the Edge of Failure Looks Like

[Cross-posted from The Jamestown Project]

When you have to agree to third party air strikes on your own territory, that’s a leading indicator:

All predator drone strikes have to be approved by the Pakistanis–and Zardari has approved four times as many in the past nine months as his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, approved in the year before that.

From here.

March 26, 2009, 10:49 am

What’s in your library?

Several comments to the Wild Things post discuss reading aloud to kids, which of course all good-hearted parents are meant to do for the tots.

But then there comes the stage when the children achieve escape velocity and launch into reading on their own, outstripping the need or wish to have you read to them. How do you help them find their way? Do you, at all?

I know Charles and Mary Beard constructed their house in part as an ideal school-out-of-school for their children—on a farm, and so in touch with country things; close to New York; stocked with nourishing books for the kids to read at leisure. Kind of a most benevolent Skinner box.

I know too in my own youth, I was awfully fond of … let’s call it “genre fiction” to be kind. At one point my father said, no, you won’t be writing a book report on … that, and gave me David Copperfield instead. Which of course I…

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March 25, 2009, 3:29 pm

But will they be circumcised?*

Litbrit, writing at cogitamus, celebrates the news that director Spike Jonze has adapted Where the Wild Things Are. While I echo her enthusiasm for the original source material, I’m not convinced by the above trailer that the film will satisfy my discerning tastes. For I share with the fans of Watchmen a sense that some printed texts are sacred and should not be rendered in moving pictures.

* See here.

March 25, 2009, 9:05 am

You’re still getting an F. Kant would have seen this.

Since it’s midterm time, you might find yourself on the business end of a request to improve a grade because “it’s really important that I get an A!” (I got one of these a little while ago: “I need to do well in your class because I’m not doing well in orgo!” My reply– why don’t you solve that problem by doing better in orgo?– was deemed unhelpful.) And you might be tempted to respond: that’s stupid, go away. Here’s how you can say something even better, namely, “I’d love to help you out, but the very nature of rational agency forbids it.” Or, here’s why Kant would tell you not to raise the grade.

March 24, 2009, 2:54 pm

Repeating it.

What happens when a liberal president cozies up to the banking class in his effort to get out of a world-historical economic crisis?

He was surprised and wounded at the way the upper classes turned on him…. Consider the situation in which he came to office. The economic machinery of the nation had broken down…. People who had anything to lose were frightened; they were willing to accept any way out that would leave them still in possession…. Although he had adopted many novel, perhaps risky expedients, he had avoided vital disturbances to the interests. For example, he had passed by an easy chance to solve the bank crisis by nationalization…. His basic policies for industry and agriculture had been designed after models supplied by great vested-interest groups. Of course, he had adopted several measures of relief and reform, but mainly of the sort that any wise and humane…

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March 24, 2009, 10:43 am

Boxers: Rebellion and Anarchy Are Expected

The first half of March witnessed three themes mingling in the New York Times coverage of China. First was the “Open Door” policy of Secretary of State John Hay, an attempt to leverage open the Chinese markets for American manufacturers.

Secretary of State John Hay

Second was the continuing imperial rivalries over China itself, most particularly that of Russia and Japan. Third was the growing perception that the Dowager Empress of China was resolutely anti-foreign and trying to do everything she could to break such influence in China. In this latter, the Boxers–or “Bozers” as one unfortunate typo declared in mid-March–were seen as one part of her anti-foreign effort. [1]

Hay’s policy seemed to be on the brink of global adoption, or so the President of the University of California, Benjamin Ide Wheeler (a Cornellian), said in a speech in San Francisco on March 11, 1900:

In the…

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March 23, 2009, 5:23 pm

You think you know what you mean? I’ll tell you what you mean.

(There was a post here.  Now it’s over here.  To me it resembled the first foray into something that might lead to something like this.  Apparently not.  No big deal.  But now you know why I have a complex.)

March 23, 2009, 3:24 pm

A method to our madness.

If you were teaching a methods/historiography course, what texts would you use? And yes, I know methods and historiography are two different things, thanks.