Monthly Archives: March 2009

March 17, 2009, 6:26 am

What Victory Looks Like

[Cross-posted at the Jamestown Project]

One of the many issues of counterinsurgency campaigns is that it’s never entirely clear when the war is over. There’s rarely a surrender, as such, or a ceremony that can be anointed as The Moment. There’s no V-E Day, V-J Day, or anything similar. The point of insurgencies is to delay or deny that moment; the goal of counterinsurgencies is less to win a grand decisive battle or campaign than to convince large number of insurgents to give up the effort or, better yet, come over to your side (cf. Anbar Awakening).

The result is that knowing when the war is over, when one side has won a military victory, is frequently deeply difficult. When Teddy Roosevelt declared victory in the Philippines on July 4, 1902, it had more to do with domestic politics than military realities. Ironically, winning can lead to a withdrawal (“bringing the soldiers…

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March 16, 2009, 1:17 pm

I am unfamiliar with the proper treatment of bags of sand, for I am a Harvard man not used to menial labor

Via DeLong, Ross Douthat, make-out king of Cambridge:

One successful foray ended on the guest bed of a high school friend’s parents, with a girl who resembled a chunkier Reese Witherspoon drunkenly masticating my neck and cheeks. It had taken some time to reach this point–“Do most Harvard guys take so long to get what they want?” she had asked, pushing her tongue into my mouth. I wasn’t sure what to say, but then I wasn’t sure this was what I wanted. My throat was dry from too much vodka, and her breasts, spilling out of pink pajamas, threatened my ability to breathe. I was supposed to be excited, but I was bored and somewhat disgusted with myself, with her, with the whole business… and then whatever residual enthusiasm I felt for the venture dissipated, with shocking speed, as she nibbled at my ear and whispered–“You know, I’m on the pill…”

That poor woman. She makes the tragic…

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March 16, 2009, 10:17 am

Bracket creep.

Inside Higher Ed has a March Madness bracket determining winners by academic performance.

To select the winners, we used the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate — a nationally comparable score that gives points to teams whose athletes stay in good standing academically and stay enrolled from semester to semester. (Last year, the NCAA began using the scores to impose penalties on teams that underperform academically.) In instances where matched-up teams had the same Academic Progress Rate, we broke ties using the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate — which, unlike the federal graduation rate, considers transfers and subtracts athletes who leave college prior to graduation “as long as they would have been academically eligible to compete had they remained.”

Cornell loses to BYU. I am so ashamed.

March 14, 2009, 6:31 am

Notes from London

Finishing up a research trip to the archives in London, I have a number of notes.

  • When you are walking down the street in the center of London (aka the “Tourist Zone”), if a large group of tourists stop suddenly, causing you to have to either a) cannon into them, or b) jump sideways to avoid them, they are almost invariably Germans. Today, Covent Garden, tomorrow, Lebensraum.
  • The most exciting moments of several days at the National Army Museum Templer Study Center were a) discovering a picture of Japanese officers with freshly-decapitated Chinese prisoners in front of them, and b) the moment an elderly gentleman, getting his collection of militaria appraised, unwrapped the hand grenade. (Archivist: “Has that been disarmed?” Gentleman: “I suppose so. It hasn’t gone off in 40 years.”)
  • The congestion charge has reduced traffic in London enormously and made it much more livable. It…

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March 13, 2009, 12:42 pm

You thought I was going to mock the title, didn’t you?

Via Savage Minds, I came across this article from the July 2008 edition of Qualitative Inquiry:


I know everyone wants to cry Sokal and loose the hounds of sense, but the title is what the title is.  I’m more curious about this:

I was fortunate to be mentored by Corrine Glesne, an absolutely wonderful ethnographer (Busier et al., 1997; Glesne, 1989, 1998, 2003; Martin & Glesne, 2002).

Do my eyes deceive me, or are those citations meant to substantiate the absolute wonderfulness of Corrine Glesne?  Is this a cheap scheme to up the number of times people are cited in professional indexes?  If so, how is it nobody’s—wait a minute.  I just had an idea.

Have I ever told you how awesome you are?  I haven’t?  Well then, it’s about time that I did.  It is my professional opinion that you are awesome.  By the authority invested in me by the University of California, I hereby …

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March 13, 2009, 12:13 pm


We’ve had several requests for some California drought blogging. But Eric is too busy installing leaks in his manse’s plumbing (Just because, that’s why.) to think about the issue. And every time I start writing something, it turns into warmed-over Marc Reisner. So we’ve asked a friend, who works on state water issues and writes about water and climate change at On the Public Record, to post something for us. She actually seems somewhat more optimistic than I would have guessed. Unless you’re a salmon. In which case, the news isn’t good. But assuming you’re not — a safe assumption, as our outreach to the anadromous fish demographic isn’t going well — you should pour yourself a tall glass of water and read what follows.

Are we still in a drought even though it rained?

Yes. We went into the winter with reservoirs empty from two dry years. We would have to have gotten 130% of…

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March 13, 2009, 9:31 am

Against self-polishing.

Historians consult sources that record past events, dismantle these sources into statements of fact, then reassemble these atoms into a synthesis of past events allegedly superior to the constituent sources. In the process we make many decisions: which sources to consult, which facts to distill from them, which facts to cull from the distillate and what emphasis to place on any of them. How do we make these decisions?

In October 1910, Carl L. Becker published “Detachment and the Writing of History” in the Atlantic Monthly, to reckon with this question.1

March 12, 2009, 2:32 pm

E. Digby Baltzell bit my style.

Really, this is Neddy’s beat. But: liberals have put out the welcome mat for Ross Douthat, new columnist at the NYT, partly because he’s closer to reg’lar conservatives than, say, William Kristol was. Well exactly: just look at the launch party for Douthat’s book (critiquing the insular culture of Harvard) hosted by Elbridge Colby. Finally, our people will have a voice on the Times op-ed page.

March 12, 2009, 1:29 pm

“This Is Just To Say”

by kid bitzer

I have been eaten
by the squid
that was in
the icebox

and which
was probably
you for breakfast.

Forgive me
it was so vicious
so slimy
and so cold.

(context and original.)

March 12, 2009, 10:44 am

A note on Division 1 athletics.

From the WSJ, Andrew Zimbalist on the economics of March madness.

… the schools themselves are usually the losers. According to the NCAA’s latest Revenues and Expenses report, in 2005-06 the median Division I men’s basketball team generated revenue of $480,000 and had operating costs of $1.33 million, yielding a net operating loss of $850,000. If capital expenses and full university overhead were included, these results would be even more dismal.

The most successful programs, of course, will do better (the top 10 basketball teams had revenues of more than $11 million), but even these programs frequently lose money when the accounting is done properly. Why?

Most of the 300-plus Division I schools aspire to make it to the March tournament. To do so, they have to spend big. Since they can’t go to a free-agent market to hire the best high-school players, they attempt to attract them in …

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March 12, 2009, 10:35 am

The intended audience speaks.

Dude overheard:

Brah, you watch Watchmen yet?… Brah, you got to. It’s like 300, but the story is all like deep and sh*t.

March 11, 2009, 8:39 am

Road to Wounded Knee.

If you can come to this, it’ll almost certainly be worth your time. And it’s free! Richardson is an outstanding historian, and a good presenter, and her reading of the political and economic events leading up to the Wounded Knee massacre is well worth your consideration.

March 10, 2009, 5:59 pm

Watching Watchmen: How unfilmable novels become unwatchable films.

(This beast began as the post I promised last week.  Now that I’ve played hooky all my points about the uniqueness of Watchmen‘s narrative mode seem more salient in light of their absence from the film.  So I decided to fold my review into the half-composed post.  But for the record I still never get around to discussing my larger theory of Manhattan as readerly proxy.)

Some books teach you how to read them: Ulysses, Gravity’s Rainbow, JR, and Infinite Jest spring first to mind.  From a purely formal perspective Watchmen belongs in their company.  It does to the conventions of comic narrative what Joyce did to realism, Pynchon did to pulp, Gaddis did to dialogue and Foster Wallace did to sentiment.  All the techniques discussed in the following had been used in comics before—there is nothing new under the oxen of the sun—but never in the service of creating a new breed of read…

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March 10, 2009, 3:33 pm

“There are freaks who love bull whips.”

So much of this is so good, and so much of this is so bad that it’s good, and some is just bad. Spielberg, Lucas, and Lawrence Kasdan brainstorm Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Lucas: I think basically he’s very cynical about the whole thing. Maybe he thinks that most archeologists are just full of shit, and that somebody’s going to rip this stuff off anyway. Better that he rips it off and gets it to a museum where people can study it, and rip it off right.

Lucas: … there’s a couple native bearers, whatever, and sort of a couple of Mexican, well not Mexican… Let’s put it…

Spielberg: They’re like Mayan.

Lucas: They’re the third world local sleazos. Whether they’re Mexicans or Arabs or whatever.


March 10, 2009, 9:28 am

Sympathetic interest.

On this day in 1926, Congressman Victor Berger (Socialist-Wisconsin) met Calvin Coolidge at the White House to ask the president’s support for a pardon of Eugene Debs, the Socialist leader and frequent presidential candidate who spent more than two years in federal prison for a speech of June 1918, whose “probable effect will be to prevent recruiting.”1 Coolidge reportedly displayed “sympathetic interest”—his predecessor Harding had commuted Debs’s sentence to time served.

When reporting on Berger’s meeting, the New York Times said Berger was trying to restore Debs’s citizenship, tout court; while it was apparently commonplace to refer to Debs having lost his citizenship as a result of the conviction, Nick Salvatore explains it was not so, though he might have lost his right to vote.

In September of 1926, Debs’s brother Theodore helped him to register to vote, so he could assert…

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